Friday, January 30, 2009

Small businesses can run into tax prep pitfalls

Income tax filing season can be a trying time for small business owners, and in a recession, even more so.

One of the biggest pitfalls owners are likely to encounter is a perennial one: poor record-keeping that not only makes it hard for them to complete their returns, but also to know where they stand financially. Another common problem is keeping up with changes in the tax laws, especially for state and local governments that are now looking for ways to increase revenue.

Ask tax professionals what their clients struggle with, and haphazard books and ledgers is often the first answer. Many business owners don't know how much money they have on hand, how much they owe and what their customers or clients owe them.

"You really need to control your books and understand what you're making," said Jeffrey Chazen, a certified public accountant with Eisner LLC in New York.

Some business owners use their checkbooks and credit card bills as their records. But it's a problem when "they can't locate all their check registers or all of their bank statements," said Gregg Wind, a CPA with Wind Bremer Hockenberg LLP in Los Angeles.

Others are even more disorganized, with boxes or piles of invoices, receipts and canceled checks that need to be sorted -- CPAs ruefully refer to these owners as "shoebox clients." These owners are in danger of missing out on important deductions and can end up overpaying the government. Or, if the government questions

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