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I trust everyone had a safe and fun 4th of July weekend! I went to the plaza here in downtown Sonoma and enjoyed the parade. Talk about a Norman Rockwell setting and slice of life. Well, when my husband and I were setting up our chairs, who happened to be right next to me but a good business associate. Not a client but a networking buddy. We chatted, ran over to Steiner’s and had a bloody Mary together. Hung out at the BBQ in the plaza afterwards. Never did talk business but we cemented our relationship a little more. He’ll remember me when it’s time to refer clients.

So what do you think? Can I write off that Bloody Mary? Can I write off the hot dog and potato salad? Is this a deductible business entertainment expense?

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but a smug IRS agent quizzing you about this scenario would joyfully proclaim, “Disallowed!”  There are rules. And essentially, the rules say, “If you’re having way too much fun, it’s not a deductible expense.” But let me quit mincing words here and give you the real lowdown.

Rule #1 – First of all, any entertaining you provide must be directly related to the active conduct of your business or associated with a directly related discussion that preceded or followed the meal or entertainment. This means that hanging out with a business associate or even a client simply to promote goodwill is not deductible nor is giving a party for the sake of establishing goodwill. In order to deduct the cost of entertainment, you must conduct business before, during, or after the event. So we’re talking product demonstration, reveal of a new product or service, or a sales pitch. And the environment must be conducive to conducting business. The IRS believes it is impossible to convince a table-dancing drunk with a lampshade on his head to try your new and improved product.

The IRS once disallowed the write-off of tickets to a baseball game because the loud atmosphere at a ball part does not allow for a comprehensive business discussion.

And giving a sales pitch at the end of a party is much like talking politics with sugar infused 5-year-olds. As a write-off, it’s not going to fly.

Rule #2 – The guest list determines the extent to which you can write off an event. Given you are following Rule #1, you have a 100% write off if:

  1. The party is open to the general public, or
  2.  The party is for employees and their spouses.

You follow the 50% limitation rules that apply in general to meals and entertainment and write off half the cost if:

  1. The party is for customers and prospective customers and/or
  2. Independent contractors associated with your firm (they cannot be classified as employees for this purpose).

There is no write off for attendance by family members even if they are employees or owners. The expense is considered personal and no deduction is allowed. If there is a mix of employees customers and family members, allocate the expense and deduct accordingly. For example, if 10 employees and 30 customers attend, and the party costs $400, you may deduct 100% of 25% of the cost (employees) and 50% of the remaining cost (customers). And you thought there’d be no math. Sorry about that. Your deduction works out to $100 (cost allocated to employees) + $150 (cost allocated to customers) for a total write off of $250.

Rule#3 The entertainment may not be “lavish or extravagant.” That’s another one of those subjective, gray areas that can be argued to death with an auditor, his manager, all the way up to tax court. But why go there? Keep it simple. If your company grosses $100k a year, you likely shouldn’t be helicoptering in your guests. You get the picture.

It’s fine that you follow the rules, but proving you did is another matter. You want to have documentation to prove your case in the event of audit. Here are some tips:

  1. Make sure the invitation announces a business purpose. Such as “Brunch on us! Test drive our new cholesterol-free egg beater omelets.”
  2. Keep a guest list. Have attendees sign a guest book or track RSVPs so you can prove an accurate allocation of the expense.
  3. Take pictures of guests looking at your new products or a video clip of your product demonstration; anything that proves the business purpose.
  4. Keep all receipts for all expenses incurred.
  5. Maintain all of the above documentation in your tax file.

And a final tip: When providing the expenses to your bookkeeper, separate the cost of the party that is 100% deductible to a different category from “Meals and Entertainment.” Track it under “Promotion” or “100% Entertainment” to ensure the full write-off at tax time. Otherwise, your accountant will likely apply the 50% rule to everything under “meals and entertainment” and you will have lost a valuable write-off.

Okay, ready now? Cool. Let’s party!

Bob, a longtime client, showed up at my office during tax season bringing all his receipts and organizer. “You don’t have much in the way of medical expense,” I told him as I perused his itemized deduction worksheet.

“Nah, just some co-pays.”

I looked up from his organizer, surprised he hadn’t said, “WHAT?” After all, Bob is deaf as a stone and has been for years. That’s when I noticed a hearing aid in each ear. “You just get those?” I asked.

“I got them last year.”

“Did Medicare cover them?”

“Nope, I paid for them out of my own pocket. I got top of the line too. These suckers cost me seven grand.”

“And you got them in 2014 – last year – right?” He nodded. “You didn’t list the expense in your organizer, Bob. What’s the matter? You don’t want to write them off?”

His jaw dropped. “I can write them off?”

“Yeah, it’s a valid deductible medical expense. Good thing I noticed because I just saved you $2500 in taxes. How about that Bob?”

And Bob’s not the only one who doesn’t realize what is and what isn’t allowable when it comes to medical expenses. Lots of folks have misconceptions about what can be deducted.

First of all, one must be able to itemize deductions in order to take the medical expense deduction. The IRS grants us an option of the standard deduction – generally taken by renters and lower income individuals or itemized deductions – generally available to homeowners and higher income individuals.  Either the standard deduction or the total of itemized deductions (reported on Schedule A) is subtracted from your income. Income tax liability is calculated on the remainder. So the more itemized deductions you can list, the more you will save in taxes.

Know this; you generally have to have an awful lot of medical expenses in order to take these expenses as an itemized deduction. You don’t just list your medical then deduct it. After totaling your medical expenses, the IRS requires that you subtract 10% (7.5% if you are 65 or older) of your adjusted gross income from the total of your medical expenses. You then write off the remainder.  So if you made $100,000 last year, you can write off the amount above $10,000 ($7,500 if 65 or older) in medical expenses. If you’re healthy, you might not have enough medical bills to enjoy the write-off. But don’t quit reading yet. You can deduct more than just doctor visits.

A complete list of deductible medical expenses is available in Publication 502. Most people track medical insurance, doctor visits, prescriptions, eye and dental care. You may be surprised to find the following are deductible medical expenses:

  1.  Capital improvements to your home or vehicle to accommodate a disability
  2. Transportation and lodging in another city if the primary purpose is medical care
  3. Medicare premiums deducted from your Social Security check
  4. Chiropractor, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, psychologist, psychiatrist, marriage counselor, naturopath
  5. Alcohol and drug addiction for inpatient treatment at a therapeutic center, including meals and lodging
  6. Dentures, birth control pills, and pregnancy test kits, fertility enhancement
  7. Cost of buying, training, and maintaining a guide dog or other service animal when required to assist you or your dependent with physical disabilities
  8. Unused sick leave to pay for your health insurance premiums
  9. Cost of medical conferences and transportation to same if the topic concerns the chronic illness of yourself, your spouse or your dependent
  10. Adapters to television sets and telephones for the hearing-impaired.
  11. Braille instruction, Braille books and magazines
  12. Bandages
  13. Health, dental and eye insurance, long term care insurance, HMO fees, disability insurance withheld from your paycheck
  14. Lead-based paint removal in your home
  15. Cost of weight loss clinic if prescribed by a doctor for treatment of obesity or hypertension
  16. Cost of medical care, lodging and meals in a nursing home if there for medical reasons
  17. Medical mileage – trips to see practitioners, pharmacy, etc
  18. Cosmetic surgery for breast reconstruction after a mastectomy for cancer or to correct a birth defect or other condition that interferes with one’s health.

Generally cosmetic surgery is not deductible.  However, a stripper won a court case several years ago and was allowed a deduction for breast enhancement. However, it was not allowed as a medical expense. Instead, she was able to write it off as an “ordinary and necessary” business expense.

Also not deductible are vitamins and supplements, gym membership, dance lessons and swimming lessons even if recommended by your physician, prescriptions for controlled substances (marijuana, laetrile, etc. that violate federal law) or prescription medicines from foreign countries, hair transplants and teeth whitening.

Taxpertise tip of the day: stack your medical expenses into one year. So for example, if you had a surgery this year and also need a root canal and new glasses, don’t wait until January to have that work done. Do it now so you can maximize the tax benefit. You cannot pay for them now and take the deduction unless you actually undergo the treatment or procedure.

If you are self-employed, you likely use your personal car or truck for business as well as pleasure. If so, the business portion of your vehicle expense is deductible.

 

If you work for The Man and use your vehicle on the job and are not reimbursed for your mileage, you have a write off as well.

 

Did you know that you can write off mileage every time you run to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription or visit your eye doctor or embark other trip for medical purposes? And if you do volunteer work for a qualified nonprofit, your unreimbursed volunteer mileage may be deductible.

 

It gets better. If you work two jobs and drive between job #1 and job #2 (without going home first), you can deduct those miles. I have a client who saves about a grand a year in taxes because he writes off the mileage between his two jobs.

 

You’re thinking, “Yeah! This is great!” Sure, it’s great, but it’s not necessarily easy. Naturally, there are rules to follow, forms to complete, data to track. In fact, the IRS regulations state that you should basically attach a clipboard to your steering wheel and keep a mileage log. You need to track every deductible mile you drive. You must report the exact number of total miles you drive every year breaking out commuting mileage, which, by the way is not deductible, personal miles driven, and business miles; like you’re really going to jump on that one. Even if you make it a New Year’s resolution, it’s hard work to keep a complete and accurate mileage log.

 

I’ve been representing taxpayers in audits for more than 20 years and here’s the deal when it comes to that mileage log: The auditor asks for it and I say “Come on, you know nobody, absolutely nobody, keeps one.” (Well I did have a client once who kept one but was he ever audited? No!) So the auditor will argue for a bit saying he can disallow the deduction because no contemporaneous records were kept. I carry on about how it’s unreasonable to expect folks to really do this, and finally the auditor consents to a reconstruction.

 

So if you have an appointment book (always retain your appointment books in your tax file) you can go through it and using Mapquest if necessary, compile the numbers the IRS is looking for.

 

You should keep some basic records that are easy to manage:

 

  1. On January 1 log in your beginning mileage from your odometer into your appointment book.  If you use a PDA, record the mileage on a sheet of paper and place it in your current year tax file.
  2. Put a note on your December 31 calendar to list your ending odometer reading.
    1. Note: If you’re going through an audit and don’t have odometer readings, look for repair receipts near the beginning and end of the year. The odometer reading will be listed there and it’s possible to extrapolate the numbers.
  3. By subtracting your beginning from your ending odometer reading you will have your total mileage figure for the year. The IRS asks for this number on your tax return.
  4. Mark as many business destinations as you can throughout the year in your appointment book. At year end do a rough calculation to determine what your deductible business usage is.
  5. If your business usage is greater than 50% you may qualify to deduct that percentage of your total actual expenses including: gas and oil, tires, repairs, maintenance (car washes, etc.), insurance, loan interest, vehicle registration, and depreciation. Or you may elect to take the standard mileage rate times the total business miles driven. Your tax pro can help you decide which method is best for your particular situation. If you use your vehicle less than 50% for business, you can only take the standard mileage rate.

Due to the advent of PDAs, appointment books are becoming obsolete. If you use an electronic calendar and printout capability is not available, than you will want to log reminders to mark the odometer readings and store that information in your tax files. Quarterly, you should manually track business versus personal usage to establish and substantiate your percent of business usage.

 

It’s unfortunate that we have to spend so much time keeping these sorts of records, but you will be happy you did if the IRS knocks at your door.

Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame, the standup/movie/music icon, has added entrepreneur to his list of achievements. But the businessman is staying in character with the Tommy Chong we have all grown to know and love. It’s all about weed. His new business venture in Colorado is manufacturing two products for distribution: Chong Star, a form of weed high in CBD and THC named after Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) in which Chong was a contestant last season, and “Tommy Chong’s Smoke Swipes” which instantly rid clothes and hair of smoky smells from cigars, cigarettes and cannabis. Chong tells me that Len Goodman, a judge on DWTS and a heavy cigar smoker, swears by the swipes product.

According to Chong, growing, distributing, and selling marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes is legal in Colorado as long as the product stays within the state borders. The product is also subject to sales tax which is levied at the dispensary level. Chong believes that levying a sales tax is tax overload on citizens. He says, “We are already taxed to death on everything.”

However, these activities are still illegal at the federal level. Even so, Chong does not fear reprisal from the Feds. He feels that pending court cases on the side of legalizing marijuana and, finally, recognition of its medicinal qualities will soon result in federal legalization of the drug.

Chong credits his remission from prostate cancer to the use of a hemp product under the direction of his naturopath in Canada. He strongly believes in its medicinal qualities. You certainly don’t have the litany of “side effects include…” when it comes to marijuana. “After all,” Chong adds, “The worst thing that can happen if you smoke too much marijuana is that you will regurgitate. This demonstrates that the body is equipped to handle it. When it comes to marijuana, the medical benefits far outweigh these issues.”

Chong adds that government resistance to legalization can also be attributed to their inability to regulate. He states, “You cannot regulate marijuana in the same way you can regulate alcohol because there is no one manufacturing point. It’s a cottage industry.”

The trend toward legalization is also evident with the leniency the IRS has demonstrated the last few years towards the marijuana industry. Previously, business owners were required to report their illegal income without the benefit of taking deductions against it. Things have changed. Beginning in 2011, deductions for cost of goods sold, which are the costs involved in production are allowed on tax returns. Most marijuana farmers are using the “full absorption costing rules” and “unified capitalization rules” to include administrative, overhead and direct costs normally not associated with cost of goods sold. In other words, they are basically writing off every expense. And the IRS is allowing it.

Chong is excited about his new enterprise. Although, he says, “Owning a small business is like doing time in jail. You are dedicated to that business. You don’t have a life. It absorbs all of your time. When I was in jail I had more time to myself than I had on the outside.”

Chong was jailed in 2003 for 9 months for selling marijuana paraphernalia.

Chong is joined by his son Paris and John Paul Cohen, a former Sanwa Bank executive, in his new business. “These guys handle the business end of things. I am not a businessman; I am an artist,” Chong states. It’s his wife Shelby, who he says has the business brains in the family. She has an accounting background. He always heeds her advice.

Chong says the best business advice he’s ever received is to prepay his taxes. “If you pay too much, you get a refund. And you’re not on the red flag list. Because you paid in advance, they’ll likely leave you alone.”

The best advice he has to offer to other entrepreneurs, however, is what he tells his son, “Research, research, research. You need to know habits and trends. There’s no excuse to not know everything you need to know. The knowledge is at your fingertips.”

Tonight will be our first date. Luke is taking me to dinner. Just two more hours before I get to see him! I feel a tingle as I move the queen of hearts below the king of spades. I’m like a teenage girl with the rush and crush of it all. You’d never know I was a 34 year old professional woman. I feel like snapping my gum and calling my girlfriends flat out on my stomach on the bed with legs raised behind me kicking off shoes and yammering into the phone, “and he’s all, and I’m like, and he’s like…” Christ. But I can’t help the delicious burst of joy that’s running from my tummy into my chest.

My life is about to change. I smile and move the four of clubs across to the five of hearts. Yes, my life is about to change. I can just feel it. A new man. A new adventure.

I look up. Andie is shouting, “You can’t go in there! You can’t go in there without an appointment!” And from the hallway, the thundering of heavy footsteps advancing across the oak plank floor. “Wait!”

Then a man rushing through my open office door. His handsome face is puffy, red and vaguely familiar. It blurs as he speeds to the front of my desk. He upends a black satchel and my eyes grow large as they move from his face down to stacks of bound hundred dollar bills tumbling onto the desktop, off the desk onto the floor. Mounds and mounds of them. I can’t even guess how much.

“Pay the IRS for me.” The words tumble just as rapidly from his mouth as the packets tumble onto the desktop. A waft of stagnant scotch hits my nose. Is he drunk?

I finally recognize the new client with the horrendous tax problem who paid me a small advance a couple of months ago, signed the IRS’ Power of Attorney form, but never returned with the paperwork I needed in order to proceed. “Simon? What’s going on?” He is so intent on his task that he doesn’t answer. “Simon?” I prompt again this time a little more insistently.

Simon scoops the last banded pack from the satchel, finally looks at me and says, “I trust you Kim. Pay the IRS for me. I’ll be in touch.”

By then Andie is in the doorway but rears back quickly when he barrels back through it. We watch him leave then stare at each other slack jawed for a beat. Then I’m up and running after him. “Simon! Wait!” He’s gone through the front door. I whip the door open, step out to the landing, and pause. I look to the right, nothing. I look to the left and see him running down the sidewalk. Shielding the late afternoon sun from my eyes with one hand, I call out to him again, “Wait, Simon. You have to come back!”

A squeal of brakes causes me to look across the street. A bronze vintage Oldsmobile, something out of the 1960’s, pulls to a stop. A woman in big round sunglasses, sun hat, and gloved hands, lowers the window, brings up a revolver and shoots Simon. I watch as he crumbles to the ground and the satchel flies out of his hands.

The car door swings open and the woman starts to get out but looks over at me as I scream. She turns toward me, raises the gun and before I can react, she fires. I hear a hiss and smell gunpowder as the bullet whizzes by my ear and lodges into the door frame behind me. Throwing myself to the ground, I crawl back inside and slam the door with my foot. I hear the crack of one more bullet then hear the sound of peeling rubber.

I stay on the floor. Tears erupt from my eyes as I hyperventilate. Alarmed, Andie is leaning over me. “What happened? What’s going on?” Her voice is anxious.

I put my hand over my heart and breathe deeply, exhaling loudly, trying to slow my breathing. Finally, I can speak. “Call the police, Andie. Call the police. And get an ambulance. She shot Simon.”

“What? Who? Who shot Simon? What?”

I glower at her. “Andie. Just. Call. Now.”

The door bursts open. I scream and pull myself into a fetal position, covering my face with my hands. Andie jumps back. After a terrifying moment, I hear her say, “Damn! I was just about to call you.”

Slowly, I pull my hands down from my face to see a police officer, hand poised over his weapon. It’s Mac, Officer McCarthy, who interviewed me several months ago when Dominic Rodriguez disappeared. Outside I hear another officer speaking into a two-way, asking for an ambulance.

I sit up feeling a tad embarrassed. Andie lowers a hand to help me up. I brush off my skirt. Mac sighs and drops his hand to his side. “It’s Kim, right? Kim Stillwell?” I nod as he pulls a small notebook from a chest pocket. “Well, you want to tell me what happened this time?”

Harley the Dawg says: You may be able to write off a service animal, security dog (they scare me), and herding farm dog. Talk to your tax pro to see if you qualifyPicture of a dog  in a party hat

I’ll bet you didn’t know that some of these are deductible!

For more information, read my article for FOXbusiness.com

A Novel – Excerpt From Chapter One

“Kim, your one o’clock is here.” Andie’s voice comes through the intercom over little waves of static.

I swing my chair back around from the window where I had been gazing at the view of rain streaming from a sky that looks just as slate gray as the sidewalk below it. The view is gorgeous even if the day is dreary.  My office overlooks the plaza, a gem of a park with tall redwoods and green grass crisscrossed by walking paths in the center of downtown Sonoma.  Exotic ducks from all over the world grace the pond in the southwest corner. At one time chickens roosted near the pond and would wander all over the downtown area giving new meaning to the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” My window’s exterior is nicely framed with a Meyer lemon tree plump with fruit and white blossoms plump with promise. If the rain doesn’t knock them off, that is.

It couldn’t be the view so I’m guessing it’s just the unseasonal rain that has me down. The mad rush and long, long hours of tax season have been over for six weeks but I haven’t had a vacation yet. Okay, I took a spa day but that proved to be tantalizingly depressing, knowing it will be another two months before I can enjoy a proper hiatus. And boy, do I need one. It’s that and the rain that pushes me into doldrums. I press the intercom button. “Have him take a seat. See if he wants anything to drink. I’ll be out in about five.”

I pull a little compact out of my purse and check my makeup. Not that I wear very much. I come from a family blessed with great skin – pale with naturally rosy cheeks that set off my blue eyes and long blond tresses. I refresh my passion pink lipstick, shuffle the papers on my desk into a basket, stand and straighten my pencil skirt. Most tax professionals in this wine country tourist town dress casually, some even show up to work in shorts on a hot day but I like the idea of formal office wear – like what I have on today: a light pink Chanel suit with Gucci heels. Totally trendy. Even if I am all business, I’m still a woman. I enjoy the flirty half-buttoned blouse that shows off some cleavage. My mom used to say, “If you got it, flaunt it.” And like Mom, I do, so I do. A little bit sexy is fine, but most of all my clothing must be classy.

I button my suit jacket as I head to reception to receive my new client. He’s a musician. I’ve handled a few artistic types before so this is nothing new. Scattered, oblivious, usually not numbers oriented and always scared of the IRS. If only they knew that the IRS is not as demonic as they imagine. In fact, I’ve run into quite a few mensches in that bureaucratic jungle.

As I open the door to the reception area, I see the back of my new client’s head and I stop dead in my tracks. Suddenly it feels as if the wind is knocked out of me. Recovering, my breath hitches.  From the top of his chair I see thick wavy brown hair tucked behind his ears sweeping just below his collar line then curling up. His broad shoulders bend over an open worn leather satchel on his lap. I have a feeling I’ve known him all my life. I hear a voice inside of me saying, “Is he your soul mate?” And I have this weird out-of-nowhere thought that I will marry this man.

Overcome, I return to the hall where I gather myself. I lean against the wall and mutter, “What the hell was that?” Okay, I’m used to encountering good looking men – they’re all over town, in all the clubs and at business affairs. I’m constantly surrounded by them. And I’ll look at a guy and go, ‘oh yeah, I’d like some of that.’ Or I’ll look at a guy and even if he’s drop dead gorgeous, I might find there is absolutely no connection, no chemistry whatsoever. But I have never looked at the back of some guy’s head, even if he has luscious hair that I’m dying to run my fingers through and thought, ‘I wanna marry him.’ Marry? I haven’t even seen his face. And I haven’t thought about marriage since my ridiculous jump 14 years ago when I was just a babe of 19 into supposed wedded bliss that lasted all of six months. And now all of sudden words like soul mate and marriage have dropped into my brain like a ten pound barbell landing on my foot.

Okay, Kim, take it down a notch. I exhale. I’ve been exceptionally happy on my own. Maybe that’s what happens with maturity, in arriving at your 30s, you don’t want all the drama and unhappiness that seems to sprout up in most relationships.

What I’d like to know is how in the world I could be so taken and shaken by someone whose face I haven’t even seen yet? Oh, I’ve heard of this before. Where a woman points to a stranger across a crowded room and tells her BFF, “I’m going to marry him.” And sure enough she does, usually two weeks later or maybe even the same day. And they go off hand in hand for the next 60 years into the sunset, smiling contentedly at each other. But I always figured that was just part of some movie.  This can’t really be happening to me now. Or is it?

I take another breath and decide I must be losing my ever loving mind. Maybe I stood up too fast from my desk. Yeah, that has to be it. I take another deep breath and exhale loudly. With new resolve I open the door to reception and say, “Luke? Luke Hunter? The wavy brown hair turns, I swear in slow motion like a shampoo commercial, and large intense blue eyes meet mine. He’s got the most handsome yet rugged face I’ve ever seen. Chiseled perfectly formed lips, high cheekbones and ears that are just a little too big. I stanch the melt down I feel coming on.

“That’s me.” Luke shuffles some papers into the leather case and rises from his chair. I almost gasp again. He is tall. I mean really tall. His smile is engaging. I grin back hoping that I’m not leering.

“I’m Kim Stilwell.” I extend my hand and it all but disappears into his firm grasp. He’s leaned in and I get a whiff of clean but earthy masculine scent. A little tingle runs up my spine as I attempt to maintain a business like composure. “Follow me back, please.”

Fountain PenI’ve started writing my next book.

I’ll share snippets from the book with you it in future posts.

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©2013 Taxpertise | Bonnie Lee, E.A. | Ph: 707.935.1755 Fax: 707.938.1891 | 453 2nd Street West, Sonoma, CA 95476