What Airbnb’s Hotel Tax Means for Guests & Hosts

Here's what to expect, how to avoid problems and how to keep the tax man happy.

The summer travel season is nearly upon us and if you’re a fan of staying with Airbnb hosts instead of hotels, you probably already know some locations charge some or all of the same taxes that hotels charge.

If you don’t already know that, surprise! The number of locations charging taxes for that spare room or whole house is only growing. Beginning May 1, Texas will join 30 other states where taxes are charged at either the local or state level or a combination of both.

Clearly, there’s a financial benefit for the communities levying these taxes. The Dallas Morning News estimates Airbnb would’ve remitted an estimated $8 million in Texas state taxes in 2016. However, it’s not the states and cities that initiated the effort. For that, you can thank the hotel industry, which has been lobbying hard for the taxes.

Why?

“Airbnb has brought hotel pricing down in many places during holidays, conventions and other big events when room rates should be at their highest and the industry generates a significant portion of its profits,” Vijay Dandapani, chief executive of the Hotel Association of New York City, told The New York Times in a recent article.

While Airbnb has said on its website it is happy to collect its fair share of taxes, there’s clearly some negative feelings about how it’s all gone down.

“The hotel hypocrisy is almost unbelievable,” Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, said in an email. “The hotel cartel wanted Airbnb to collect taxes and when we implemented a way to do so, they changed their position and lobbied cities to leave millions of dollars on the table.”

The continuing fight has led to a variety of tax schemes across states and municipalities, creating a confusing landscape for hosts and guests.

What It Means for Airbnb Hosts & Guests

For Hosts

If you’re considering becoming a host, be aware that the taxes present some confusion for some people renting out their spaces.

The reasons are numerous and varied. To start, no one really likes paying taxes. But additional layers of frustration can come with the Airbnb taxes. They can be levied and remitted in different ways depending on the tax laws in particular states or municipalities and Airbnb’s agreement with those entities. Then there are the host’s options of how to charge guests once taxes are implemented. Many hosts get confused when it comes to collecting the tax, where to note it on the listing and the bookkeeping process.

Jeff Cook, who owns several properties in Pennsylvania, said sales and use taxes were already in place when he started hosting with Airbnb several years ago. “The biggest issue here is that many people weren’t paying it simply because they didn’t think they had to,” he said. “I paid it from the get-go, because I wanted my business to be legitimate.”

But it wasn’t easy. Cook’s price for guests bakes in the 6% state and 3% local tax, so he doesn’t note it on his site and doesn’t have to worry about asking for local taxes when guests arrive. His revenue is submitted to Airbnb, but then it gets a little complicated.

Airbnb removes their 9% fee and sends him the remainder, he said. “And then I have to figure out what the tax amounts are independently. If something could be done better … perhaps if they distinguished between the tax and the regular revenue that would be helpful. The lump sum is sent to me, I figure out what the correct tax amounts are, and then I submit a return and payment to the appropriate authorities.”

Laura Jesse, a host in San Antonio, said she’s ambivalent about the tax that begins in Texas next week. “I live near projects that were funded in part with the [state’s occupancy] tax,” she said. “I get a fair amount of convention business as I live near downtown, etc.”

As for raising her rates to offset the taxes, Jesse said she has no plans to do so at this time.

Of course, taxes aren’t the only costs Airbnb hosts face. Check out a few others. But the spare money can still help you do things like pay off debt (you can see how your debt affects your credit with a credit report snapshot on Credit.com). It’s also good to keep in mind that many of the expenses involved with renting out your space are tax-deductible. See which ones you can write off here.

For Guests

Taxes mean your stays are probably costing more – anywhere from 3% to 15% depending on locale and host. On top of that, the process can become confusing depending on how the host applies those taxes to your bill.

Airbnb addresses how that can be done on its Airbnb Citizen site, but there are no clear-cut guidelines available, so many hosts are left scratching their heads and conferring with other hosts on how they alert guests and even charge them.

Airbnb offers guidance thusly:

“If you determine that you need to collect tax, you can usually either add it within a Special Offer or ask your guests to pay it in person. In each case, it’s important that guests are informed of the exact tax amount prior to booking. If you choose to collect tax outside of your listing’s rates, please note that it should be collected only upon arrival and that we are unable to assist with collection.”

So, if your host suddenly asks you to hand over a little cash to cover the taxes, it’s probably not a scam. As Airbnb explains on its site, “this needs to be clearly stated on the listing prior to booking.” So, if the host can’t show you where that’s stated, you should be wary.

Hopefully, however, most hosts will bake in the taxes like Cook does, and you will see only a price increase at your favorite Airbnb homes. (Travel often? These travel rewards credit cards could be right for you.)

“I think separating taxes as a line item [on guest bills] would help clarify the issue for people,” Cook said. “I’m a big supporter of Airbnb. I think they are an awesome company, and as they evolve and grow, distinguishing tax through line items would be beneficial to everyone.”

Image: PeopleImages

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10 States With the Best Business Credit Scores

It’s no secret that personal credit scores are a barometer of financial strength. The better your score, the easier (and cheaper) it is to get things like a mortgage or car loan. But, did you know small business owners have a separate business credit score for their company?

The two scores share commonalities, both impact a business owner’s ability to get financing, but they also have surprising differences.

While personal and business credit scores are both influenced by region, new data from Nav.com reveals other factors, like local policy climate, can impact business credit scores. Nav used data from 15,500 of its small business customers to calculate the average business credit score for each state to find the top 10.

Business Credit Score 2017 Rankings

So, what is a solid business score? Unlike personal credit scores, the business credit score range is much smaller. Most models range from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the better. Each of the 10 states with the best business credit scores have scores of 45 or above — putting them in the low- to medium-risk range. Business owners with scores in this range will find it easier to qualify for loans and trade credit with more favorable terms.

If you own a business in a northern state, your business credit score is more likely to outshine the rest of the country. Eight of the 10 states with highest average business credit scores are located where snow can regularly fly, with one “roll tide” exception.

10. Michigan: 45.0

Michigan snuck into the top 10 with an average business credit score that makes it easier for business owners to get an affordable loan. The state ranks higher for business credit scores than it does for personal credit, where its 675 is almost equal to the national average. Its business score nearly mirrors its 12th place ranking for policy climate according to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council).

9. Maine: 45.7

Maine business owners enjoy both stronger than average business and personal credit scores. This is a winning formula for success, as both scores can be used by business lenders to get business financing. Its strong business credit score flies in the face of the SBE Council’s low, number 44 policy climate ranking, which is a surprising, recurring theme in our list .

8. Alaska: 45.7

The “great white north” trend continues, as Alaskan business owners maintain higher business credit scores than most of the country. Unlike others on the list, Alaska’s average personal credit score of 668 falls below the national average and it’s settled in the middle of the pack when it comes to policy climate.

7. Wisconsin: 46.1

It should be easier for Wisconsin entrepreneurs to find the cheese they need to run and grow their business thanks to a solid business credit score. Their residents also rank fifth in personal credit scores, thanks in part to having the lowest credit card delinquency rate according to TransUnion data. The state ranks below average for policy climate, but it doesn’t seem to be holding Wisconsin back.

6. Utah: 46.3

Talk about a state with business tailwinds. Utah’s business credit score is among the nation’s best, its personal credit score of 679 is above average, and its policy climate is comes in at No. 11. It’s no wonder why the beehive state consistently ranks tops in business growth.

5. Oregon: 47.3

Like others on the list, Oregon shows that strong personal credit health can translate to good business credit scores. The state’s top five ranking means its business owners with strong scores can negotiate better payment terms for goods and services from suppliers, like net-60 or net-90 day terms. Like Maine, Oregon ranks very low on the SBE Council’s policy index rating, but its business owners’ credit scores are thriving.

4. Alabama: 47.6

Alabama is the only southern state that cracked the top 10 list—although it has the 5th-worst personal credit score average in the country. Some of this can be explained by Alabama’s strong No. 9 rank for policy measures and costs that impact small business. Strong business credit scores will help most Alabaman companies, but for younger companies (under 2 years in business), business lenders will heavily weigh personal credit scores.

3. Nevada: 48.8

Nevada hit the business credit score jackpot, beating out all but two other states in the nation. It also ranks number one in the SBE Council’s policy index, which should mean that business owners there are less burdened by regulations and taxes. Despite those solid rankings, and reflecting the boom or bust persona of Las Vegas, it also has the third-worst personal credit in the country. For  business owners with strong enough business credit scores and financials, they may be able to overcome personal credit flaws when applying for lending.

2. Iowa: 49.2

Iowa may be first in the nation to pick the Presidential candidates, but it narrowly missed out on pole position for business credit. Business owners here also have the added benefit of strong personal credit, where it ranks in the top 10. Having strong credit scores in both categories can help the state’s entrepreneurs qualify for the money they need to expand — which should come in handy as Iowa’s economy is predicted to expand through 2017.

1. Vermont: 51.7

Like maple syrup on pancakes, Vermont’s business credit is sweet. Its average score takes the top spot in the country and it is the only state that cracks the 50 mark, signifying a lower credit risk. Again, we see that the SBE Council’s policy index ranking doesn’t necessarily correlate with business credit health, as Vermont ranks near the bottom on their list. The state’s stellar business credit score, combined with personal credit that ranks No. 2 in the country, makes for business success. Entrepreneurs in the Green Mountain State with strong business credit are most likely to secure affordable funding, with the best terms.

Considering U.S. small businesses produce 46% of GDP, their success can ripple across the entire economy. That success typically depends on access to affordable capital. One way you can set yourself up to qualify for the best funding is by maintaining a strong business credit profile. Low scores are the number one reason business financing applications get denied. You can get your free business credit scores, along with your personal credit scores, by visiting Nav.com.

A list of business credit score rankings for every state, maps, trends and methodology for Nav’s 2017 State Business Credit Snapshot are available here. Personal credit data was sourced from Experian’s 2016 State of Credit report.

Editor’s note: You can get a snapshot of your personal credit by taking a look at your credit report summary on Credit.com. This provides you with your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, plus a review of the five key areas that affect your scores.

Image: PIKSEL

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7 Essential Apps for Small Business Owners

Here are seven apps that can help entrepreneurs focus on running their business and less on the tools they’re using to do it

Chances are, if you ask a business owner or other entrepreneur what apps they rely on to help them stay on top of things you’ll get a response like this: “Apps? I don’t know. I’m too busy running a business to worry about apps” or “Hahahahaha! I’m not on top of things!”

Those are real responses from some highly entrepreneurial business owners to whom I posed the question. And, when you stop and think about it, their responses make sense. After all, most entrepreneurs aren’t going to mention that cup of coffee, their email or their phone as essentials to their daily work because they’re just so much a part of their day-to-day. Like oxygen or sunlight, you only really think about them when they’re suddenly unavailable.

The same holds true for genuinely helpful apps. They become fully ingrained into the user’s daily work and even personal lives. We looked across the spectrum at apps that help users communicate, organize their days, be more productive, keep their data and communications secure, and even help them learn.

The following are seven apps we think can truly help entrepreneurs focus more attention on running their business and less on the tools they’re using to do it.

1. KanbanFlow by CodeKick AB

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free Basic version, $5/user/month Premium version

If you need to manage projects, KanbanFlow can help you do it. This web-based app lets users see the entire workflow, from assigning tasks to uploading documents and scheduling due dates. The Premium version allows for file attachments, revision history and even the ability to analyze your work history.

2. ColorNote by Social & Mobile

Platforms: Android, iOS and Windows

Price: Free

This app essentially functions like digital Post-It notes. It allows you to create text notes, checklists, to-do lists, etc., and you can check off items as you complete them. The notes can also be color-coded to keep them organized, and you can even name the color groups. The notes can be added to your calendar and even be shared.

3. Evernote

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free with in-app purchase options

It’s like a notebook for your inner creative, allowing you to capture ideas based on pictures, drawings or writing, create project to-do lists around those ideas and also share them across devices and with others.

4. Duolingo

Platforms: Android, iOS and Windows

Price: Free

If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to take your business global (or at least into another country), learning a new language while trying to do it might seem daunting. But Duolingo aims to help you learn a new language in your down time, like on your commute, while exercising, or even while relaxing.

5. CamScanner by INTSIG

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free with in-app purchase options

This app turns your device into a scanner and also allows you to access, edit and manage documents anytime, even on the go.

6. CM Security by Cheetah Mobile

Platforms: Android

Price: Free with in-app purchase options

This security app offers all kinds of nifty features, like AppLock, which stops intruders who try to unlock protected apps on your device and notifies you with the intruder’s photo.

7. Polaris Office

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free Basic version, $3.99/month Smart version, $5.99/month Pro version

This app lets you create, edit and sync Microsoft Office files from your phone or device, and you won’t lose any of the formatting you worked diligently to create.

Small Business Financing 101

Of course, apps aren’t the only things that can help an entrepreneur successfully build and run their business. Having good credit can help tremendously, as well, since many lenders, including business credit card issuers, are going to pull a version of your traditional credit reports to see if they’re willing to extend financing for your business. (You can see how your credit is doing by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)   

If your credit is just fine, there are plenty of solid business credit cards (see our picks here) available that can help you finance some of your business expenses. The Small Business Administration also offers several loan programs designed to help budding and operational entrepreneurs and there’s also conventional financing at your disposal that you can look into. 

Just remember to manage whatever financing you use responsibly, since many business lenders require a personal guarantee and will report a default to the major consumer credit reporting agencies. You can find tips for making sure a business loan doesn’t wreck your credit here.

Image: Geber86

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4 Great Financing Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs

Starting a business certainly isn't easy, but veteran entrepreneurs have some resources they can look into tapping.

No one said starting a business would be easy. But if you served our country, chances are you may qualify for certain financial assistance that can lessen the burden.

According to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners data released in 2011, there were 2.45 million businesses with majority ownership by veterans. What’s more, they represented 9% of all U.S. firms. With veterans playing such a key role in our economy, it’s worth it to see what’s out there before bootstrapping (i.e., using your own money).

Of course, if you’re going to apply for financing, be sure check your credit. Many business loans, most notably business credit cards, require a personal guarantee, meaning a lender is going to look at your credit file before giving their approval. You can see where two of your credit scores stand by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. If you find your credit needs improving, try paying down high credit card balances, disputing credit reports errors and addressing delinquent accounts. (We’ve got a few more ways you can quickly boost your credit scores here.)

With that in mind, here are four financing resources veteran entrepreneurs can look into tapping.

1. Small Business Association

Perhaps the most established of the resources listed here, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several loan options for veteran-owned businesses.

“Depending on a borrower’s needs, these loans can be used for a variety of purposes,” and are guaranteed by the SBA, said Craig Heilman, deputy associate administrator, Office of Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration. “Any small business can apply, and we encourage them to work with their district office or partners to get lender-ready.”

The SBA Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 “reduces the upfront borrower fee to zero dollars for eligible veterans and military spouses for SBA Express loans up to $350,000,” the administration’s site says. Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital (LINC) helps small business owners, including veterans, get in touch with advisers who specialize in microlending, smaller loans and real estate financing. To connect with an SBA-approved lender, you can visit the SBA’s website.

2. The Veterans Opportunity Fund

Launched in Maryland in October 2013 by TEDCO Capital Partners, which manages a family of venture capital funds, the Veterans Opportunity Fund (VOF) was designed to focus on service members specifically.

“It is our belief that veteran-owned business represent an attractive investment opportunity that, when proper due diligence is applied, can produce superior return on invested capital,” the site says. Not only are these veterans highly skilled — and highly disciplined — they’re committed to giving back to their country. Up to $3 million is up for grabs, so make sure your startup meets their criteria: Ideally you’re based on the East Coast, affiliated with technology and in the early revenue or testing stage.

3. The Veterans Business Resource Center

Though the St. Louis Veterans Business Center (VBRC) does not offer grants or financial aid per se, it does provide training on several aspects of entrepreneurship, from marketing to sales to business planning, and much more.

“There are adjusted fees for some classes, and clients who need on-site consulting are charged at a sliding scale,” the site says, but for the most part, there is little to no charge. “The VBRC emphasizes a distinctive veteran-to-veteran approach through extensive utilization of the many established and successful veterans in the St. Louis metropolitan area,” the site says. The organization focuses its efforts in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. “This veteran-to-veteran approach permeates all aspects of VBRC’s services from training and consulting to advocacy, networking and mentoring,” the site says. 

4. Veteran Entrepreneur Portal

Though the Veterans Administration doesn’t offer financing programs for entrepreneurs, said Randy Noller, who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, “our office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) does provide some help to veterans to get contracts with government agencies, etc.”

The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP), on the VA’s main site, makes it easier to locate Federal services online. Complete a questionnaire to see which government resources are best, or gather information directly on loans like the Fixed Assets CDC/504, which offer small businesses long-term, fixed-rate financing for major assets like land and buildings. You can also learn about CAPLines loans, which are ideal for meeting short-term working-capital needs.

Remember, whatever financing route you pursue, it’s important to read loan contracts carefully so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. You’ll also want to vet prospective lenders or offers thoroughly since, unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers out there that target vets. We’ve got more tips for veterans looking for a loan here.

Image: michaeljung

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9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs

For many entrepreneurs, there is no topic more fraught than taxes. In fact, a 2015 survey of small business owners found that 40% say dealing with bookkeeping and taxes is the worst part of owning a small business and that they spend 80+ hours a year dealing with taxes and working with their accountants. Taxes can be time-consuming, confusing, and a drain on your finances if you don’t prepare well. So whether you choose to do your taxes on your own or hire a professional, this guide can provide some sound advice and hopefully make tax time a little less taxing.

 

#1 Select the Right Entity for Your Business

 

One of the first decisions you’ll make when setting up your business is whether to function as a sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, or corporation. In her recent blog post, Wendy Connick, an IRS enrolled agent and owner of Connick Financial Solutions, says “the type of business entity you choose will have a huge effect both on how you pay taxes and how much tax you pay. It’s wise to consider the pros and cons of each business structure before making a final decision.”

Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest way to form a business, as it is not a legal entity. The business owner just needs to register the business name with the state and secure the proper local business licenses. The downside is that the sole proprietor is personally liable for the business’s debts.

Partnership

A partnership is similar to a sole proprietorship, but two or more people share ownership. Both partners contribute their money, labor, or skill to the business and share in its profits and losses.

Limited liability company (LLC)

An LLC provides more protection from liability than a sole proprietor or partnership but with the efficiency and flexibility of a partnership.

Corporation

A corporation is more complicated and usually recommended for larger companies with multiple employees. It is a legal entity owned by shareholders, so the corporation itself, not its shareholders, is legally liable for business debts.

Unlike other business entities, corporations pay income tax on their profits, so they are subject to “double taxation,” first on company profits and again on shareholder dividends.

To avoid double taxation, corporations can file an election with the IRS to be treated as an S Corporation. S Corporation income and losses “pass through” to the shareholder’s personal income tax return instead of being taxed at the corporate level.

Some small businesses and freelancers may save on self-employment taxes by registering as an S Corporation and paying themselves a salary. Sole proprietors, partners, and LLC members pay self-employment tax on their entire business net income, but S Corp shareholders only pay self-employment taxes on their wages. They can receive additional income from the corporation as a distribution, which is taxed at a lower rate.

Connick says “many small business owners start out as sole proprietors and adopt a different structure once the business gets big enough to make it worthwhile (which would typically be when the business is making over $50,000 a year).”

 

#2 Get an Employer Identification Number

 

All businesses, even sole proprietors should get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Technically, sole proprietors can use their Social Security number (SSN) as the business’s identification number, but that means providing an SSN to any clients or vendors who need to issue a 1099, a move that can leave you more exposed to identity theft.

Applying for an EIN from the IRS is free and can usually be done in a matter of minutes using the IRS’s online form.

#3 Make Sure Your Business Isn’t Just a Hobby

 

You know you’re in business to make money, but would the IRS agree? If your company is operating at a loss, the IRS could reclassify your business as a hobby, resulting in some serious tax consequences.

A business is allowed to offset taxable income with business expenses, but hobby expenses cannot be netted against hobby income. Instead, they are deducted as miscellaneous itemized deductions on Schedule A and limited to the amount of hobby income reported on Schedule C. This means a hobby business can never result in a net loss, and you may be prevented from deducting hobby expenses entirely if you don’t itemize deductions.

If you’ve been making money in your business for a while and just have one bad year, you don’t have to worry about the IRS reclassifying your business as a hobby. If you’ve been losing money for a while and especially if your business involves some element of personal pleasure or recreation (such as horse racing, filmmaking, or restoring old cars), you’ll want to make sure you’re treating your business like a business in case the IRS challenges your losses.

The IRS takes several factors into consideration:

  • Does the amount of time you put into the business suggest an intention of making a profit? Side projects are more likely to face scrutiny because you’re spending the majority of your time at another full-time job.
  • Do you depend on the income you receive from the business?
  • Were any losses beyond your control or occur in the startup phase? Losses due to poor management and overspending are less likely to hold up under examination.
  • Have you changed operation methods to improve profitability? Many business experience setbacks. If you learn from mistakes and try to correct your course, the IRS is more likely to agree that you have the intention of running a profitable business.
  • Do you have the knowledge and experience necessary to be successful in your field?

If you are concerned about an IRS challenge of your losses, there are a few steps you can take to treat your activity as a business:

  • Keep thorough business books and records.
  • Maintain separate business checking and credit accounts.
  • Obtain the proper business licenses, insurance, and certifications.
  • Develop and maintain a written business plan.
  • Document the hours spent working on your business, especially if it is a side project.

 

#4 Track Income and Expenses Carefully

 

Maintaining separate business checking and credit card accounts is not only a good way to demonstrate that your business is not a hobby, but it’s also an excellent way to simplify tracking business income and expenses.

Benjamin Sullivan, an IRS enrolled agent and a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group LLC in its Austin, Texas, office, says “small business owners can get a tax benefit from almost anything that is an ordinary and necessary business expense. Travel, meals, advertising, and insurance costs are just some of the popular deductions.”

Use small business bookkeeping software

Small business accounting software like FreshBooks, Xero, or QuickBooks Online can help you easily and quickly track your business revenues and expenses. They can usually be set up to import transactions from your business checking account automatically and let you snap pictures of receipts with your phone.

Whether you choose to use a software program or just a spreadsheet, establish a system for organizing records and receipts right from the beginning. “Little expenses can add up quite a bit over the course of a year,” Connick says, “but you can’t deduct them if you don’t know what they are.”

Special rules for travel, meals, and entertainment

It is especially crucial to maintain good records for business travel, meals, and entertainment expenses. The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct 100% of their business-related travel and 50% of the cost of business meals and entertainment expenses, whether you are taking a client out for a meal or traveling out of town. Because these categories are prone to abuse, the IRS requires documentation to substantiate that these expenses have a legitimate business purpose.

For meals and entertainment, in addition to a receipt that shows the amount, time, and place, taxpayers should also make a note of the individuals being entertained and the business purpose. Meeting this requirement can be as simple as jotting down a note on your receipt or in your calendar regarding who you dined with and the business matters discussed.

For travel expenses, hotel receipts must include a breakdown of the charges for lodging, meals, telephone, and other incidentals. Your hotel should be able to provide an itemized receipt at checkout.

Save cash instead of taxes

One trap that small business owners often fall into is spending money to save on taxes. At year end, many entrepreneurs look at business profits and think they need to spend their cash to avoid a big tax bill. Don’t spend a dollar to save forty cents in tax. If you truly need a new computer, extra supplies, or a new vehicle, buy it. Don’t spend money just to avoid a tax bill. Remember, taxes are a cost of doing business. If you’re paying taxes, you’re making money.

#5 Set Aside Money for Taxes

 

When you set up a separate business checking account, it’s also a good idea to set up a separate savings account to help you organize funds and set aside money for taxes.

Our tax system is a “pay as you go” system. When you receive a paycheck from an employer, money is regularly withheld on your behalf. When you are self-employed, making estimated tax payments is your responsibility. If you don’t pay in enough during the year to cover your income tax and self-employment tax, you may have to pay an underpayment penalty.

Estimated tax payments are due on the 15th day of April, June, September, and the following January. You have a few options for calculating what you owe each quarter:

Use Form 1040ES

This form includes a worksheet to help you estimate how much you owe for the current year. (Corporations use Form 1120-W to calculate estimated taxes.)

Look at last year’s return

If you’ve been in business for a while and there are no significant changes this year, you can aim to pay 100% of last year’s tax as a safe-harbor estimate (110% if your adjusted gross income for the prior year was more than $150,000).

Make a quarterly estimate

If your income fluctuates, you may prefer to make a quarterly calculation. Calculating estimated payments is complex. It depends on your tax bracket, deductions, credits, etc. In this case, it’s best to work with a tax professional who can consider all of the factors and recent changes in the tax law.

Sullivan says, “Tax planning isn’t a one-time exercise that should be done at the end of the year or at tax time. Instead, tax planning is an ongoing process of structuring your affairs in a tax-efficient manner.”

#6 Don’t Forget to Track Your Mileage

 

When you drive your personal vehicle for business, you have two options for deducting business automobile expenses: the standard mileage rate or actual expenses.

The IRS releases the standard mileage rate annually. The rate is $0.54 per mile for 2016. It goes down to $0.535 cents per mile for 2017. You simply multiply the standard mileage rate by the number of miles you drove for business during the year.

To use the actual expense method, total up all of the costs of operating your vehicle for the year, including insurance, repairs, oil, and gas, and multiply them by the percentage of business use. For example, if you drove 10,000 miles during the year and 5,000 of those miles were for business, your percentage of business use would be 50%. If it cost $7,000 to own and operate your vehicle, your deduction using the actual expense method would be $3,500 ($7,000 x 50%).

You can use whichever method gives you the largest deduction. However, if you want to use the standard mileage rate, you must choose it in the first year the car is used for business. In subsequent years, you can choose either method.

Whichever method you choose, you must track your business miles. You can do that with a paper log kept in your glove compartment or with an app such as MileIQ or TrackMyDrive. “Note that ‘business purpose’ is a pretty broad category,” Connick says. “If you drive to the supermarket and pick up some pens for your home office while buying groceries, the trip counts as business mileage.”

 

#7 Consider the Home Office Deduction

 

Some business owners avoid claiming the home office deduction, believing it to be an audit trigger. That may have been true in the past, but today’s technology has made home offices much more common. Connick suggests entrepreneurs shouldn’t fear the home office deduction if they meet the requirements. “It’s no longer audit bait,” she says, “especially if you use the safe harbor method to calculate your deduction.”

To take advantage of the home office deduction, you must use the area exclusively and regularly, either as your principal place of business or as a setting to meet with clients. The home office deduction is based on the percentage of your home used for the business. You can choose either the traditional method or the simplified method for deducting expenses.

Under the traditional method, you’ll calculate the percentage of your home that is used for business by dividing the square footage of your office by the square footage of your entire home. For example, if your home is 1,500 square feet and your office occupies 150 square feet, the business percentage is 10%. Then, you can deduct 10% of all of the expenses of owning and maintaining your home, including mortgage interest, real estate taxes, utilities, association dues, insurance, repairs, etc.

Under the simplified method, you’ll take a deduction of $5 per square foot, with a maximum of 300 square feet. So if your home office measures 150 square feet, the home office deduction would be $750 (150 x $5).

 

#8 Save for Retirement

 

For most self-employed people, the simplest option for retirement saving is an individual retirement account (IRA). Anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA, but with an annual contribution limit of just $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older), you may want a retirement savings option that allows you to save more.

Connick says her number one tip for entrepreneurs is to open a SEP-IRA. “These retirement accounts are cheap to open and maintain,” she says. They also “have a high contribution limit, and contributions are fully tax deductible.” SEP-IRAs allow entrepreneurs to contribute up to 25% of their net earnings from self-employment, up to a maximum of $53,000 for 2016.

The deadline to contribute to a SEP-IRA is the due date of your return, including extensions. So 2016 contributions can be made until April 18, 2017, or October 15, 2017, if an extension is filed.

 

#9 Get Help from a Professional

 

Connick recommends that entrepreneurs hire a professional to do their taxes. “If you pick someone who knows their stuff,” she says, “you will likely save more than enough off your tax bill to pay for their fees. For that matter, tax preparation fees are deductible!”

When choosing a tax professional, look for someone with experience working with self-employed taxpayers. The IRS maintains an online directory of return preparers who have additional credentials, such as EAs, attorneys, and CPAs. Search the directory to find a professional near you with the credentials or qualifications you prefer.

If there is one thing all entrepreneurs can agree on, it’s that everybody dreads tax season. Having a basic understanding of tax law, maintaining organized records throughout the year, and working with a professional can help you make the most of this least wonderful time of the year.

The post 9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Best Credit Cards for Small Businesses

Note from the Editor: The information related to Chase Ink Business Preferred Card credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

 

As a small business owner you know you need to manage your cash flow and plan for financing. Credit cards can be an ideal way to meet those needs. But business owners need to be savvy cardholders. Small business credit cards come with unique risks that personally affect entrepreneurs.

 

In this roundup we cover the risks and advantages of small business credit cards. And we’ll show you what card fits your business needs.

 

Best Cards for Financing

If credit cards are an important source of financing and capital for your business, then you need to be a savvy borrower. Look for cards with compelling terms, and take the time to understand the fine print. Remember, the card may be in the business’s name, but you’re personally liable for the debt. Don’t take on more debt than you can handle.

Best 0% Financing

The American Express Blue for Business card offers 12 months of 0% APR for financing. If you fail to pay back your purchases within 12 months, your interest rate will move to 11.74%-19.74%, depending on creditworthiness. You lose access to the introductory rate if you make a late payment.

The 12-month 0% APR window is one of the most generous offers available. On top of generous financing, you earn rewards for spending.

Rewards include 10x points per $1 spent on the first $2,000 in qualifying purchases at U.S. restaurants for the first six months. You can also earn 10,000 membership rewards points after making your first purchase. Plus, you will receive 2x points on qualifying purchases on the first $50,000 in the first year. Every year, you’ll also receive a bonus of 30% of the previous year’s points earned.

The card offers perks including secondary car rental insurance, purchase protection, extended warranties, baggage insurance, trip accident insurance, and travel hotline help.

The Fine Print
  • Introductory rate: 0% APR financing for 12 months. You must pay on time, or you lose this rate.
  • APR: After 12 months, 11.74%-19.74%, depending on your creditworthiness
  • Penalty APR: 29.74%
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: Up to $38
  • Returned payment fee: $38
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $5 or 3%
  • Cash advance APR: 25.74%
  • Rewards: 2 points for every dollar you spend in the first year up to $50,000. 1 point per dollar spent. 10 points for every dollar you spend on dining in the first six months.
  • Bonus: 2 points for every dollar you spend booking travel at amextravel.com

Apply Now

Low Interest Rates

If you and your business have excellent credit, the Platinum Plus for Business MasterCard from Bank of America offers low ongoing financing. This is a great card for businesses with periodic short-term borrowing needs. Besides interest rates as low as 9.74%, it offers a seven-billing-cycle 0% APR promo rate and $200 statement credit if you spend $500 in the first 60 days.

Plus, the card offers travel accident insurance, secondary rental insurance, and automatic downloads to QuickBooks.

Remember, it’s not wise to use a small business credit card for long-term financing. Many credit unions will offer low rates on installment business loans.

The Fine Print
  • Introductory rate: 0% APR financing for seven billing cycles.
  • APR: 9.74%-20.74% variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness (after seven billing cycles)
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: $19-$49 (depending on your balance)
  • Returned payment fee: $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 4%
  • Cash advance APR: 24.74%
  • Sign-up bonus: $200 statement credit if you spend $500 in your first 60 days
  • Rewards: None

Apply Now

Cash Flow Management

Managing cash flow can be one of the most difficult problems facing small business owners. The Plum Card by American Express makes cash flow easier. The Plum Card is a charge card not a credit card. This means that it is designed to give you access to short-term working capital. However, it is not a good source of financing.

If you pay your bill within 10 days of statement closing, you’ll get a 1.5% discount on eligible charges. Otherwise you have a full 60 days without interest before you need to make a payment. Beware, these benefits come at a steep price. After one year, you’ll pay a $250 annual membership fee. Plus, carrying a balance on a charge card comes with huge penalties. The first time you go past due, you’ll be charged 1.5% of the balance. After that, they charge a late fee of 2.99%. The minimum fee is $38.

The Fine Print
  • Late fee: 1.5%, then 2.99%; minimum of $38
  • Returned payment: $38
  • On-time payment bonus: 1.5% discount if you pay balance within 10 days of statement closing
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, $250 thereafter
  • No cash advance
  • Rewards: None

Apply Now

Imperfect Credit

If you’re struggling to get approved for a small business credit card, the Spark Classic from Capital One offers an excellent option. The card has a high variable APR (23.49%) and mediocre rewards (1% cash back). But Capital One will approve business owners with just average credit.

This isn’t a great card for borrowing, even in the short term. However, the Spark Classic will give you some working capital, and it will help your business build its credit. Just remember to pay your bill on time each month and to keep your credit use low.

The Spark Classic also offers perks like purchase protection, free extended warranties, and travel and emergency assistance. These protections offer tremendous value to business owners.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 23.49% variable APR
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: Up to $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 3%
  • Cash advance APR: 23.49%
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases

Apply Now

Cards for Service Members

Former and current members of any branch of the military can join Navy Federal Credit Union and apply for these high-quality credit cards. The Visa and MasterCard have the same fees and conditions, but they offer different perks.

 

Navy Federal Credit Union’s Visa for Business credit card gives former service members access to low interest rates and rewards spending. This can be an excellent choice for service members with excellent credit who may have to borrow for short-term needs.

The card gives access to the Visa SavingsEdge program, which gives up to 15% off business purchases at qualifying retailers. However, the card doesn’t offer extended warranties or other protections, so it isn’t always the best choice.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 9.65%-18.0%
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: Up to $20
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $20
  • Cash advance fee: $0 at Navy Federal Credit Union branch ATM, 50 cents domestic, $1 foreign
  • Cash advance APR: APR + 2%
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent

Apply Now

Navy Federal Credit Union’s MasterCard for Business credit card gives former service members access to low interest rates and rewards. The low interest rates make it a compelling choice for service members with short-term borrowing needs.

The card gives access to the MasterCard Easy Savings program, which gives automatic 10% rebates at a network of gas stations, auto repair shops, and shipping companies. This can lead to significant savings. The card also connects to the MasterCard Business Network, which makes expense reports easy. However, the card doesn’t offer extended warranties or other protections.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 9.65%-18.0%
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: Up to $20
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $20
  • Cash advance fee: $0 at Navy Federal Credit Union branch ATM, 50 cents domestic, $1 foreign
  • Cash advance APR: APR + 2%
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent

Apply Now

Best Cards for Rewards

Many small business credit cards offer compelling rewards to cardholders. These rewards can allow you to reinvest in your business, or you can take them for personal use. If you choose to use a rewards credit card, try to avoid paying interest. Most of these cards are not good choices for short-term borrowing.

Travel Perks

If you’re a frequent traveler, these small business credit cards give you access to incredible perks. But be sure to read the fine print. These cards have a few gotchas attached.

 

The American Express Business Platinum Card is a charge card with a premium price tag ($450 per year) and premium benefits for some users. Please note, it is not a credit card; you should not plan to borrow money with this card. These are the most significant perks:

  • Global Lounge Collection access
  • $200 airline fee credit (for checked bags, inflight refreshment, etc.)
  • One free Global Entry or TSA Pre? application fee (allows you to expedite security at select airports and U.S. Customs)
  • Free inflight Gogo Wi-Fi and Boingo (land-based Wi-Fi)
  • Secondary car rental insurance
  • Baggage insurance
  • Travel accident insurance (if you become injured or sick)
  • Purchase protection
  • Free extended warranties
  • 50% airline points redemption bonus on first- or business-class tickets (if you spend 100,000 points on a business-class ticket, you’ll get 50,000 points back 6-10 weeks later)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Program and Fine Hotels and Resorts Program (perks like in-room WiFi, complimentary breakfast, and other hotel perks)
The Fine Print
  • Annual fee: $450
  • Late fee: 2.99% or $38, whichever is greater
  • Returned payment fee: $38
  • No cash advance
  • Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $10,000 within three months of card membership. Earn 25,000 more points after spending an additional $10,000 within your first three months.
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent
  • Bonus rewards: 1.5 points per dollar for first $5,000 spent in a year; 2 points per dollar spent through amextravel.com.

Apply Now

As a business owner, little incidentals can add up in a big way. The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card mitigates these costs by providing high-value insurance protection to you and your employees. Not only will you earn rewards (outlined in the fine print), you’ll enjoy these perks, too.

Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance
If your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather, or other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $5,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels.

Trip Delay Reimbursement
If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.

Travel Accident Insurance
When you pay for your air, bus, train, or cruise transportation with your card, you are eligible to receive accidental death or dismemberment coverage of up to $500,000.

Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
Decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card. Coverage is primary when renting for business purposes and provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for theft and collision damage for most cars in the U.S. and abroad.

Baggage Delay Insurance
You are reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays over six hours by passenger carrier up to $100 a day for five days.

Lost Luggage Reimbursement
If you or an immediate family member check or carry on luggage that is damaged or lost by the carrier, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.

Extended Warranty Protection
This warranty extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.

Cellphone Protection
Get up to $600 per claim in cellphone protection against covered theft or damage for you and your employees listed on your monthly cellphone bill when you pay it with your Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. There is a maximum of three claims in a 12-month period with a $100 deductible per claim.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 16.49%-21.49%
  • Annual fee: $95 per year
  • Late fee: $15-$39, depending on balance
  • Returned payment fee: $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $15 or 5% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 25.49%
  • Sign-up bonus: 80,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent, 3 points per dollar spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable or phone services, or online advertising (social media or search engines)
  • Bonus: Points worth 25% more when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards(Chase’s travel website)

Big Introductory Bonuses

Business owners who know they’ll spend a lot in a short period of time should take note of these cards. These bonuses provide excellent value if you can meet the spending requirements. But be wary: these cards have high interest rates. You won’t come out ahead if you end up financing a big purchase with these cards.

The Business Platinum Card offers excellent travel perks, but it offers an unparalleled sign-up bonus, too. Right now, you can earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $10,000 within three months of card membership. You’ll also earn 25,000 more points after spending an additional $10,000 within your first three months.

If you plan to spend $20,000 or more in the next three months, this bonus is worth the highest value when redeemed for travel rewards. Depending on which option you choose, this bonus may offset annual fees. You need to churn through a lot of money to meet the spending minimums, but this is a lucrative bonus.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card offers ideal perks for frequent travelers, but right now you can get a great sign-up bonus, too. By spending $5,000 in three months, you’ll earn 80,000 points. This bonus is worth $1,000 if you spend your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel.

In addition to the lucrative bonus, you can earn everyday spending rewards (including 3 points per dollar spent in certain categories) and valuable trip insurance.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

Cash Back Rewards

Every business owner can benefit from more cash in their pocket. These cards give you the best cash back offers for everyday spending. You can find better rewards if you use multiple cards, but these have excellent rewards for those who don’t want to mess around with multiple cards. Plus, these cards have excellent protections, too. But be careful when you finance with these cards; they don’t offer great terms for borrowing.

 

The Spark Cash card from Capital One offers unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, and it is free for the first year. Plus, if you spend more than $4,500 in the first three months of holding the card, you get a $500 cash bonus. After the first year, you’ll pay $59 to hold the card. After the first year, if you spent more than $3,000 per year, it’s worth it.

The Spark Cash card also offers valuable protective features like purchase protection, free extended warranties, primary auto rental collision coverage, and more. Overall, the Spark Cash card gives straightforward rewards to business owners with excellent credit.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 17.49% variable APR
  • Penalty APR: 29.9% (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: Free for the first year, $59 per year afterward
  • Late fee: Up to $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 3% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 23.49%
  • Sign-up bonus: $500 reward when you spend $4,500 in the first three months
  • Rewards: 2% cash back on all spending

Apply Now

The Spark Cash Select card from Capital One offers a rare combination of friendly financing terms and rewards. You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back rewards on all purchases, and you’ll receive a $200 sign-up bonus if you spend $3,000 or more in your first three months.

On top of that, you’ll have a 0% APR financing rate for nine months, and an APR as low as 13.49% afterward.

This isn’t the most lucrative rewards card, but you won’t pay an annual fee. This makes it a great card for businesses that don’t spend as much on a credit card.

The Fine Print
  • Promo APR: 0% for nine months
  • APR: 13.49%-21.49%, depending on your creditworthiness
  • Penalty APR: 29.9% (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Late fee: Up to $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 3% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 23.49%
  • Sign-up bonus: $200 reward when you spend $3,000 in the first three months
  • Rewards: 1.5% cash back on all spending

Apply Now

Best Category Bonuses

If you and your employees spend a lot of money in a limited number of categories, you might want to consider a rewards card with heavy bonuses in those categories. These cards offer at least 3 points for every dollar you spend in a given category. That’s the equivalent of a 3% reward.

Remember, rewards cards aren’t usually a good choice for financing purchases. Look to pay off these cards every month.

Online Advertising

Businesses that regularly advertise on social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or via search engines (Google, Bing) can earn impressive rewards on their marketing spending. These are the best cards for heavy online advertisers.

 

You’ll earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on online advertising. In addition, you’ll be eligible for travel perks, sign-up bonuses, and more.Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

The American Express Business Gold Rewards Card allows you to choose to earn 3 points per dollar spent on any one of the following categories: advertising in select online media, airfare from airlines, gas, shipping, or computers and cloud services from select providers. You’ll earn 2 points per dollar on the categories you don’t choose.

All other spending earns 1 point per dollar you spend.

As a sign-up bonus, you’ll earn 50,000 points if you spend $5,000 or more in your first three months of holding the card. In addition to the rewards, you get trip accident insurance, extended warranties, and purchase protection.

Since the Business Gold Rewards Card is a charge card, you shouldn’t plan to borrow with the card. But the rewards for online advertisers are excellent. Just watch out for the $175 annual fee that kicks in after the first year.

The Fine Print
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $175
  • Late fee: 2.99% or $38, whichever is greater
  • Returned payment fee: $38
  • No cash advance
  • Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 within three months of card membership
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent
  • Bonus rewards: 3 points in one category (pick between advertising in select online media, airfare from airlines, gas, shipping, or computers and cloud services from select providers).
  • 2 points rewards on remaining four categories.

Apply Now

Dining and Travel

Dining and travel cost a lot, but these cards offer enticing rewards. The cards we recommend offer more than 3% cash back on restaurant spending, travel, or both. Plus, they have other compelling perks. But most of these cards aren’t great for borrowing, so check the fine print.

 

The American Express Blue for Business card offers the single best dining deal, at least during your first six months. During the first six months of holding the American Express Blue for Business card, you’ll get 10 points for every dollar you spend at a restaurant up to $2,000. Once the six-month offer period is over, you may want to turn to other rewards programs from the cards we outline below.

This is also one rewards card that has a decent financing option. Right now you can get 0% APR financing for the first twelve months.

Learn more here about the perks, rewards, and fine print before you apply.

Looking to thin down your wallet? A Sam’s Club Business MasterCard, doubles as your membership card. But it’s not just for wholesale shopping. Spending on the Sam’s Club Business MasterCard gives you the opportunity to earn 3% cash back rewards on all restaurant spending worldwide. It also gives 5% cash back rewards on gas (except when purchased at other wholesalers) and 1% on all other spending.

Road warriors and frequent business entertainers will love this card. Plus, the $45 statement credit (if you spend $100 the day you open it) pays for your annual Sam’s Club membership.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 15.15%-23.15%
  • Penalty APR: 29.99% (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: $0 (requires $45 Sam’s Club membership)
  • Late fee: Up to $39.99
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $5 or 3% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 20.15%-26.15%
  • Sign-up bonus: $45 statement credit when you spend $100 on your first day (applying in-store makes this easy).
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all spending. Maximum of $5,000 back in a given year.
  • Bonus rewards: 3% on dining and travel expenses. 5% on gas (up to $6,000 in gas purchases). Gas cannot be purchased from other wholesale clubs.

Apply Now

If you prefer Costco to Sam’s Club, the Costco Anywhere Visa Business Card offers similar terms. Their 4-3-2-1 program includes 4% on gas purchases (up to $7,000 per year), 3% cash rewards for all dining and travel expenses, 2% on Costco purchases, and 1% on all other spending.

While the rewards are sweet, the terms can be expensive. This is not a good card for borrowing, so be sure to pay it off each month.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 0% for seven months, then 15.74%
  • Penalty APR: 29.99% (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: $0 (requires $55 Costco membership)
  • Late fee: Up to $37
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $37
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 5% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 22.49%
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all spending.
  • Bonus rewards: 4% on gas (up to $7,000 in gas purchases). Gas cannot be purchased from other wholesale clubs. 3% on dining and travel expenses. 2% rewards on all purchases from Costco and Costco.com.

Apply Now

If you’re a frequent business traveller, Chase Ink offers the best rewards. You earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on travel, but you get a travel bonus. Every point is worth 1.25 points when you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Travel perks also include trip insurance, auto rental collision damage waivers (this is primary coverage), and more.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

Gas

 

As a small business owner, you know that driving can be an economical choice, but you can also earn rewards for all those miles on the road. Sam’s Club Business MasterCard gives 5% cash back rewards on gas (except when purchased at other wholesalers), and 1% on all other spending.

Even if you don’t frequent Sam’s Club, this is the best category for rewards for gas purchases.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

Learn More

Risks of Using Small Business Credit Cards

Many business owners see credit cards as an easy solution to their capital needs. But small business credit cards have unique risks. Savvy entrepreneurs will consider the risks before opening a new line of credit. These are the most important considerations.

 

1. Personal Liability

As a small business owner, you’re personally liable for credit card debt. Business bankruptcy won’t protect you. Whether your business succeeds or fails, you have to pay back the debt.

The only way to get rid of small business credit card debt is to declare personal bankruptcy. Bankruptcy destroys your credit history for a few years, and it stays on your report for 7-10 years.

Don’t treat a credit card like venture capital. It’s not. You need to repay it.

2. Credit Bureau Reporting

Small business cards don’t report to the credit bureaus the same way personal cards do. Depending on which card you choose, if you pay your credit card on time, you may not see any information on your personal report. For most business owners, that is a good thing. It will keep your personal credit utilization low.

However, an unpaid bill will show up on your personal credit report. A bill that goes unpaid for 60 days will generally appear on your personal credit report. Some banks offer more generous reporting and some less. You can speak with a banker to determine your bank’s reporting standards. Still, your personal credit score can take a hit at the same time that your business credit runs afoul.

When you take out a business credit card, put precautions in place to protect yourself. You can limit employee spending, and remove authorized users. You can also set up automatic payments each month.

3. Not Protected by the Credit CARD Act

In 2009, Congress passed the Credit CARD Act. The act curtailed predatory lending behaviors, including raising interest rates on existing balances. It also required credit cards to be more transparent about rates and fees.

This act does not apply to business credit cards. With a small business card, banks can raise the interest rate on your existing balance at any time. A higher interest rate means a bigger minimum payment and a longer time to pay off your debt. If you’re using your small business credit card to finance something, you could be at risk.

Still, many banks will not raise your rate if you have an excellent history of on-time payments. It is simply a risk to understand.

Another risk related to the Credit CARD Act is the possibility of double-cycle billing. Business credit cards do not require an interest accrual grace period. This means you may begin accruing interest on purchases right away. We only recommend cards that have a grace period of at least 23 days built in. If you choose a different card, be sure to check for this in the rates and fees schedule.

4. Employee Risk

Small business credit cards make it easy to watch employee spending. Still, they pose serious risks. You’re personally liable for any employee spending on a credit card. If you wouldn’t trust an employee with your wallet, don’t trust them with a company card. Employees can rack up debt and leave the company. That leaves you with a bill and no recourse to get the money back.

The Best Ways Use Small Business Credit Cards

Once you understand the risks of small business credit cards, you can also understand their best uses. Over 65% of small businesses use credit cards on a regular basis. Some use them for rewards, and some for financing. In fact, close to 10% of all small business financing comes from credit cards.

Here are some of the best ways to use a small business credit card.

 

1. Earning Rewards and Protection

If you pay your small business credit card in full each month, you can earn substantial rewards. Many business credit cards offer perks, including cash back, travel rewards, extended warranties, trip insurance, and more. As a business owner, you can reinvest the rewards into your business or take them for personal use.

2. Managing Cash Flow

Cash flow problems destroy small businesses, but credit cards provide short-term working capital. If you have a sales cycle that lasts 30 days or less, a credit card can fund inventory purchases. By the time your bill comes due, you’ll have money to pay it off. If you follow this practice, you’ll pay no interest, and you’ll manage your cash flow.

Credit cards can simplify employee monitoring, too. Most business credit cards allow you to place individual restrictions on employee use. That means you can limit how much and where employees can use company cards. But your employees may manage to misuse the cards. If they do, you will be stuck with the bill.

3. Building Business Credit

Businesses have credit reports just like people. Business credit cards can help you build your score. To build your business credit, hold the card under your employer identification number (EIN).

When your EIN establishes a record of paying its bills on time, it makes your business creditworthy. That means you’ll have an easier time finding long-term loans at great rates.

63% of all small businesses carry debt. Having a lower interest rate on that debt could make the difference between success and failure. This means every small business should take their credit history seriously from the outset. Small business credit cards may allow you to build that history without paying interest or fees.

4. Short-Term Borrowing

Small business credit cards have high interest rates, but they can work for short-term borrowing. If you know that you’ll only carry debt for a few months, you may want to finance something with a credit card.

Credit cards do not have origination fees or prepayment penalties. Sometimes this means that they offer the best terms for short-term borrowing. Just be careful when you borrow, and pay it back quickly. High interest debt compounds over time.

If possible, borrow on a card with a 0% introductory offer. Remember, failing to pay off 0% interest purchases may result in back interest. Be sure you understand the risks before you borrow.

The Worst Ways to Use Small Business Credit Cards

Small business credit cards aren’t always the best tool to get the job done. These are a few times when you should avoid using credit cards.

 

1. Personal Expenses

Bad accounting sinks many entrepreneurs. Always keep your personal spending off of your business credit cards. This will simplify bookkeeping, and it will keep your business credit utilization low. If you need to borrow for personal expenses, look for a low-interest credit card instead.

2. Long-Term Financing

Due to the high interest rates, most businesses should not finance long-term commitments using credit cards. Instead, consider an installment loan from a local credit union or a bank.

Applying for an installment loan can be a pain, but the lower interest rate will be worth it in the long run. Keep money in your pocket and avoid small business credit cards for long-term financing.

3. Cash Advances

Cash advances are the most expensive way to use a credit card. Banks begin charging interest right away, and the advance has a higher interest rate. Cash advances also have high fees of up to 10% of the amount you withdraw.

If you need cash, withdraw it from your business checking account instead, or take out a traditional loan.

4. Financing a Failing Business

Do not use credit cards to help a failing business limp along. Too many people will not give up on their idea even when the execution doesn’t work out. Credit card debt will bury a failing company and erode your personal wealth.

Remember, negative credit behavior will show up on your personal credit report. Plus, courts hold you liable for all credit card debt your business incurs. Use an objective lens to decide whether you need to shut down your business.

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Trump’s Executive Order to Limit Regulations: What It Means for Your Business

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Just 10 days after taking office, President Donald Trump continued to check items off his campaign promise list as he signed his latest executive order on limiting regulation of small businesses.

The executive action, titled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs” was signed Monday morning after President Trump met with small business owners. The four-page document outlined two key changes to current government operations. First, any new regulation an agency enacts must be met with two regulations that will be eliminated. And second, there will be a cap on the cost of new regulations for the federal government, which will be $0 for fiscal year 2017.

The action gives substantial power to the Director of the Office of Management & Budget, who has yet to be confirmed. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina) is currently up for that position and Senate hearings were held last week as part of his confirmation bid. The Director, under Monday’s executive order, would determine the incremental costs allowed for each agency as well as how the costs of regulations would be measured.

Experts on governance echoed skepticism at how the executive action would actually be implemented.

William Gale, a fiscal policy expert at the Brookings Institution, told the Washington Post, “The number of regulations is not the key. It’s how onerous regulations are. This seems like a totally nonsensical constraint to me.”

What Does This Mean for Your Business?

Levi King, CEO and Co-Founder of Nav, is concerned about the implementation of the action, but the spirit behind it is a step forward for small businesses.

“If small businesses are focused on paperwork and licenses, if half their money’s spent satisfying government regulations, they won’t be in business long,” King said. “I support smart regulation, but eliminating bureaucratic rulemaking that stifles innovation and discourages new jobs and growth would be a welcome development. On the other hand, as we saw with the airport chaos this weekend, major policy changes require a thoughtful, measured approach.”

While the executive action does a lot to limit the cost of additional regulation for the federal budget, the decreased cost to small business owners is yet to be seen. In the NSBA survey, nearly 40% of respondents said new regulations had a “very significant” impact on their plans to grow or expand their business.

Streamlining and simplifying government regulation of small businesses was a major topic of last week’s Senate confirmation hearings for Linda McMahon, Trump’s nominee to head the Small Business Administration, with Republicans and Democrats urging that there were necessary changes needed to make sure small business understand regulations and are also getting more access to government contracts. (You can read more about the hearing here.) So, it should come as no surprise that limiting regulations is a focus of the new administration.

President Trump was surrounded by small business owners as he signed the executive order Monday, but the law itself mostly pertained to limiting the cost of regulatory oversight on the federal government. A recent survey on small business regulations from the National Small Business Association found that small business owners reported spending an average of $12,000 a year on regulations and 58% of owners said federal regulations where the most burdensome source. The Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Labor were cited as the federal agencies with the most burdensome regulations in the survey, with the IRS dominating the vote.

For many small business owners, $12,000 a year is the difference between profit and loss, especially if you’re in your first few years of business. And when margins are tight, taking out business loans to finance a new hire to help you become compliant or to pay for legal expertise to help you navigate the regulations can get expensive fast, especially if you have a bad business credit score.

Image: vgajic

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4 Simple Ways to Keep Your Business From Wrecking Your Money

Here are four tips for managing small business expenses in 2017.

Managing a small business can be exciting but also comes with a lot of responsibility. As a small business owner, you may be faced with a lot of financial decisions, which can require much thought and planning. Here are some tips on how to effectively manage your finances.

1. Create a Budget

A budget will help you stay on track with your finances on your business journey. You might want to consider having a marketing budget and an office-expense budget to help. A budget can also count as the decision maker when planning new financial opportunities for your business.

If you see you are about to go over budget, don’t fret! Sit down and see where you can cut costs. You might want hold off on that $3,000 marketing strategy until the following year so you have enough funds to hold you over. Consider reworking your budget every month and seeing where you can save so you are never in the red.

2. Get Organized

Do you have a place where you keep invoices and other financial documents? If you want your business to be successful, it is important that you know where all documents are placed at all times. Any lost records or important financial documents may cause costly issues later on. Consider keeping everything, including information on business credit cards, in a computerized program that can be backed up and keep your documents safe.

3. Separate Personal & Business Expenses

You may get very confused and create a big mess if you don’t separate your business and personal expenses. It also can get very confusing deciding which transactions were for your business and which weren’t. This will eventually lead you to fix up the mess later on — which can get costly. Avoid this problem altogether by separating both expenses. If you think you are too deep in this already, consider speaking with a financial adviser or planner to help you get situated. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free, with updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.)

4. Prioritize Staffing

You may be wondering why staff is important to managing your finances. But this is actually one of the most important parts of your business that is often overlooked. There may come a point in your business when you should expand and add new members of staff, and there may be a time where you need to make cuts. You might have to reevaluate your budget and expenses to make this happen. You also want to make sure you don’t expand your staff too fast and go completely over budget. If you need to fill a position and don’t think you will have the proper funds for a yearly salary, you can consider hiring freelancers or outsourcing companies.

Image: poba

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Merchants Can Sue Networks Over the Chip Credit Card Rollout, Judge Finds

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Small merchants who sued the credit card associations alleging a conspiracy connected to the conversion to chip credit and debit cards may proceed with their lawsuit, a judge has ruled. Billions of dollars could be at stake.

California federal court Judge William Alsup ruled Sept. 30 that a set of small merchants who sued Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express over the so-called EMV conversion back in March may indeed win their case and denied the card associations’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The small merchants say their fraud bills have skyrocketed since conversion to chip debit and credit cards was mandated Oct. 1, 2015, blaming a backlog in bank-mandated certification of the chip card point-of-sale terminals they purchased. Stores that don’t use chip cards must now foot the bill for certain kinds of fraud, but the merchants maintain they were placed in an impossible circumstance by their banks and MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express.

Consumers can see evidence of the conflict when they shop at a store with a chip-ready point-of-sale terminal that hasn’t been turned on; it may even have a sticker that says “Swipe Card.”

On Friday, Alsup ruled the merchants’ allegations that the associations conspired against them when setting the conversion date and liability rules has enough evidence to proceed.

However, the legal victory by merchants is only a first step. Next, they must be certified as a class, and ultimately, they would have to win their case at the trial level.

Still, with the ruling, the merchants have cleared a significant legal hurdle. Now the associations must submit to discovery.

“We are disappointed that the court denied our motion,” MasterCard said in a statement. “As we move into the next phase of the process, we believe we have strong case that will allow us to put this matter behind us and focus on driving our business and relationships with our customers.”

American Express, Discover and Visa declined to comment.

As I’ve written before, the lawsuit claims the initial two plaintiffs — Milam’s Market and Grove Liquors — faced 88 chargebacks for fraudulent transactions totaling $9,196.22 from MasterCard and Visa between October 2015 – when the liability shift took place — and March 2016, plus a $5 chargeback fee for each item.

The stores were penalized because they weren’t yet accepting the new chip-enabled EMV credit cards. In the lawsuit, the stores said they had purchased the necessary equipment, but were not able to turn the readers on until certification — a step they allege was out of their control.

The associations argued against the conspiracy allegations by saying that they had input from merchants while setting the liability deadline. However, Judge Alsup found the small merchants’ arguments convincing enough to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

“Defendants … argue that the presence of merchants ‘in the room’ renders the alleged conspiracy implausible,” he wrote in his motion. “Not really. We would expect the giant retail chains to be involved in the planning, for they would be the first to get certified.”

In other words, involvement from the large retailers in the planning process doesn’t necessarily preclude the associations from conspiring against small retailers, the judge found.

“Plaintiffs have also alleged certain ‘plus factor’ that, when considered cumulatively, nudge the alleged conspiracy from conceivable to plausible as to Visa, MasterCard, and American Express,” Alsup continued.

The case against Discover has a nuanced difference, but Alsup ruled separately that its motion to dismiss was also denied.

The judge did dismiss merchant banks from the lawsuit, but noted that a case against them could be pulled back into the lawsuit if evidence points toward involvement in a conspiracy.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Visa and MasterCard have both announced initiatives to ease the burden of the kinds of things the merchants have complained about — namely caps on small-dollar chargebacks and a streamlined process for certification. The judge noted those steps were only taken after the lawsuit was filed.

“In the end, our hope is to secure some relief for the millions of merchants — many of them small businesses — who have suffered and continue to suffer enormous losses from this conspiracy,” Patrick J. Coughlin, an attorney representing the grocery store owners, said in a statement.

Remember, EMV chip cards are designed to prevent fraud in-stores, but they do little to shield against online card fraud, so it’s a good idea to still keep a close eye on your statements. And, if you ever have reason to believe your personal information was breached alongside your card numbers, keep an eye on your credit. (You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing two of your credit scores for free every 14 days on Credit.com.) A sudden drop in your scores is a sign identity theft is occurring.

Image: Valeriya

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Warning: The Best Small Business Credit Cards Do This

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If you have a small business, you might be tempted to open a small business credit card. When used properly, small business credit cards can provide you with free working capital, rewards and the ability to manage the expenses of you and your employees more easily. However, there are real risks that you need to consider.

  • You are personally liable: when you apply for a small business credit card, you are signing a credit application that makes you personally liable for any spending that happens on that card. If your company fails to reimburse you or goes bankrupt, you will still be held responsible for making payments and should expect collection activity from your credit card issuer.
  • Your personal credit report and credit score can be impacted: with most cards, the balance will not appear on your credit report so long as you are current. However, if you miss payments, many major credit card issuers will report the balance and delinquency to your credit report. And if the credit card issuer ever sells your debt to a collection agency, you can expect a collection item to hit your personal report as well.
  • Your interest rate can be increased on your existing balance: In 2009, the CARD Act was passed. The legislation made it very difficult for credit card issuers to increase rates on existing balances. However, the law only applied to consumer cards: the interest rate on your small business account can increase at any time. If you want to use your small business credit card to borrow, you will not have certainty regarding the interest rate.
  • If you give cards to your employees, you are likely personally liable. Many small business credit cards give you the option of adding credit cards for your employees. Usually that means you are adding an “authorized user” who will have the same charging privileges as you. It is like adding your husband or wife as an authorized user to your personal credit card. If your employee goes crazy at the local bar or books a flight to Tahiti, you are personally liable for the charges.
  • CARD Act protections do not extend to small business credit cards. In addition to the limitations on price increases mentioned above, none of the other CARD Act protections apply to small business credit cards. I will explain all of those protections in more detail later.

Small business credit cards can still be a great tool (I use one). Just make sure you understand the risks and the alternatives. In general, a small business card can be an excellent deal if you earn points and pay your balance in full and on time, accruing no interest. In addition, the cards can be a useful way to fund very short-term borrowing needs. However, if you need to borrow a larger amount over a longer period of time, an installment loan with a fixed interest rate from a marketplace lender or local bank would likely be a better option.

If you are shopping for a loan, you can read more about the best small business loans

I will now explain each of the potential risks in more detail below:

Personal Liability

If you have a small business and need to borrow money, you will likely need to take provide a personal guarantee, which means you would be held personally liable for repayment of the debt. This risk is not unique to small business credit cards. If you take an SBA loan, borrow from a marketplace lender or go to your local bank, you will likely need to provide a personal guarantee.  You really need to think twice before borrowing. If your business needs working capital to fund orders, make sure you pay close attention to the credit-worthiness of your customers before taking on too much debt to fund their orders. And you also need to be very honest with yourself if your business is in financial difficulty. It might be surprisingly easy to borrow money, even when your business is struggling. But if your business ultimately fails, you don’t want to create unnecessary debt that will follow you even after your business is closed.

Personal Credit Report

Most small business credit cards will not report to consumer credit reporting agencies so long as your account is current. This is important, because you do not want the balance on your small business credit card to appear as personal debt. However, if you stop paying your small business credit card (and default), you can expect the negative information to end up on your personal credit report.

Many major credit card issuers will start reporting to your personal credit report as soon as you are seriously delinquent. In general, once you are 60 days past due you can expect the negative information to hit your report. The reporting will have a big negative impact on your score. Delinquencies of 60 days or more can easily take 100 points or more from a credit score.

Even if your small business credit card does not report to the credit bureau, a default can still appear on your report. Typically, credit card companies will write off the debt at 180 days past due and sell the debt to collection agencies. At that point, the collection agency registers a collection item on your credit report. And, along the way, you could also have a legal judgment.

In a best case scenario, the debt does not appear on your report. But if you miss your payments, you can expect big derogatory marks to hit your score, in addition to the collections activity.

Your Interest Rate Can Increase

If you miss a payment, even by just one day, you should expect a big increase in the interest rate on your existing balance. Even worse, your rate could be increased even while you are current. For example, if you max out your credit card you could appear riskier to the bank. Because you appear risky, the bank could increase your interest rate.

This could have a big impact. Imagine you have a $15,000 balance at a 15% interest rate. If the rate increases to 25%, you could see an increased monthly interest charge of $125. Your debt could cost you an extra $1,500 a year with no warning and no possibility to avoid the interest rate increase.

If you need to borrow money, you should consider a term loan from a marketplace lender or your community bank. With a term loan, you can get a fixed interest rate. For example, Funding Circle offers loans with an APR as low as 5.49% and Lending Club offers an APR as low as 7.77%. When you take a term loan, you are at least locking in the cost of your borrowing.

Before the CARD Act, the credit card industry was guilty of outrageous interest rate increases, especially using the vague language of “universal default.” That is why the CARD Act made such interest rate increases impossible. Unfortunately, small businesses never received that same protection and need to proceed with caution.

Note: you can use a personal credit card for business expenses. Because you are personally liable for the debt regardless, this could be a good option. The benefit is that the interest rate cannot be increased on your debt so long as you are current. (Remember that most interest rates are variable – so the rate could increase as the Prime rate increases, but you would not see an increase for punitive reasons). The risk is that you would be putting that balance on your personal credit report, which could impact your credit score and your ability to qualify for products like mortgages, because the underwriters would treat that debt as personal debt. If you want to find a consumer credit card, you can read our Best Credit Card Guide.

Employee Cards Can Make You Liable

Often you might want to give credit cards to employees so that they can make business purchases. Most credit card issuers will allow you to give supplementary credit cards to employees. There are two big benefits to this service. First, you can earn points or miles on purchases made by your employees. Second, you have complete visibility of the money being spent by your employees.

But there is a big risk. By giving a card to your employee, you are giving them access to your credit limit. It is just like a supplementary card that you give to your husband or wife. If your employee decides to have a big night out at a bar or a flight to Tahiti, you will be personally liable for the charges. Just be very careful before you agree to an arrangement like this.

Other CARD Act Protections

There were a number of consumer protections provided by the CARD Act that do not apply to small business cards. These include:

  • Penalty Fee Restrictions: penalty fees have to be “reasonable and proportional” to the relevant violation of account terms. In general, penalty fees for consumers should be restricted to $25 for a first late payment and $35 for each subsequent late payment.
  • Overlimit Fee Opt-In: issuers can only charge an overlimit fee if the customer opts in to overdraft protection.
  • Payment timing: Payments must be due on the same day of every month, reducing the risk of confusion.
  • Payment Allocation: When the payment amount exceeds the minimum due, issuers generally need to apply the amount above the minimum due to the balances with the highest interest rates first.
  • Monthly Statements: The statement needs to show how long it would take, and how much it would cost, to pay off the debt if only the minimum due is made. In addition, the statement needs to show the payment required in order to pay off the balance in three years.
  • Ability to pay: Card issuers cannot open a credit card or increase a credit line unless the ability of the consumer to repay is taken into account.

All of the protections listed above are required for consumer credit cards, but are not required for small business cards.

In many cases, credit card issuers have decided voluntarily to provide some of these protections to consumers. However, it is important to understand that these protections, when provided, are at the discretion of the bank and can be removed.

Small Business Credit Cards Can Still Provide A Valuable Service

When used properly, a small business credit card can still provide excellent value. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Small business credit cards can be a great way to manage discretionary expenses, particularly when combined with services like Expensify and integrated with QuickBooks. T&E, travel and other expenses can quickly get out of hand, and creating electronic records of every transaction can help the budgeting and management process.
  • A small business credit card is a free line of credit if you pay the balance in full and on time every month. In effect, you are being given a free working capital line of credit. For example, if you use Google AdWords to acquire customers, you can get 20 – 25 days (depending upon the length of the grace period) before you have to pay the bill. This can be very helpful for cash management purposes.
  • For short-term borrowing needs (for example, 30 days), a small business credit card could be the least bad option. Imagine you need to borrow $15,000 for 2 months until you get paid for a job. At an 18% interest rate, it would cost you about $450 of interest to borrow the money for two months. That is a lot cheaper than most merchant advance businesses, which have interest rates well above 40%.
  • You have the potential to earn rewards. It is easy to earn at least 2% on your spending, which can be serious money depending upon the spending needs of your business.
  • The debt associated with your small business will not appear on your personal credit report so long as you remain current, which can help keep your credit score up.
  • One of the greatest accounting risks faced by small businesses is that they co-mingle their personal and business accounts. By using a separate card, you can ensure you don’t mix up your personal and business expenses.

Just remember – if you have a longer term borrowing need, it is better to go through the process of applying for a term loan. Although the process will take a bit longer, you should be able to get a much lower, fixed interest rate.

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