Saturday, June 28, 2014

B Corporations, Be the Change

In this episode of Populist Dialogues, Sandra Morris, CEO of CafeGive Social, and I sit down with host David Delk to discuss B Corporations.  #BtheChange




Saturday, October 12, 2013

How Will Healthcare Reform Affect You and Your Taxes?



It’s massive, and it’s complicated. At more than 2,400 pages, the Affordable Care Act (ACA for short) has left businesses and individuals confused about what the law contains and how it affects them.

The aim of the law is to provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans. To reach that goal, the law requires large companies to provide health insurance for their employees starting in 2015, and uninsured individuals must get their own health insurance starting in 2014. Those who fail to do so face penalties.

Insurance companies must also deal with new requirements. For example, they cannot refuse coverage due to pre-existing conditions, preventive services must be covered with no out-of-pocket costs, young adults can stay on parents’ policies through age 26, and lifetime dollar limits on health benefits are not permitted.

The law mandates health insurance coverage, but not every business or individual will be affected by this requirement. Here’s an overview of who will be affected.


FOR BUSINESSES – It’s all in the numbers
· Fewer than 50 employees
Companies with fewer than 50 employees are encouraged to provide insurance for their employees, but there are no penalties for failing to do so. A special marketplace will be available for businesses with 50 or fewer employees, allowing them to buy health insurance through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).
· Fewer than 25 employees
Small companies that pay at least 50% of the health insurance premiums for their employees may be eligible for a tax credit for as much as 35% of the cost of the premiums. To qualify, the business must employ fewer than 25 full-time people with average wages of less than $50,000. For 2014, the maximum credit increases to 50% of the premiums the company pays, though to qualify for the credit, the insurance must be purchased through SHOP.
· 50 or more employees
For companies with 50 or more full-time employees, the requirement to provide “affordable, minimum essential coverage” to employees has been delayed for one year and is not required until 2015. Originally, employers had been required to file information returns that reported details about the health insurance they provided, with penalties to apply if the insurance did not meet standards. Companies complained that they needed more time to meet the reporting obligations, and in response the IRS made the reporting requirement optional for 2014. Without the reporting, the IRS could not determine penalties, so the penalties also were postponed for a year.

Bottom line: the IRS is encouraging companies to comply in 2014 even though there are no penalties for failure to do so.
· The business play or pay penalty
Starting in 2015, companies with 50 or more employees that don’t offer minimum essential health insurance face an annual penalty of $2,000 times the number of full-time employees over a 30-employee threshold. If the insurance that is offered is considered unaffordable (it exceeds 9.5% of family income), the company may be assessed a $3,000 per-employee penalty. These penalties apply only if one or more of the company’s employees buy insurance from an exchange and qualify for a federal credit to offset the cost of the premiums.


FOR INDIVIDUALS – It’s all about coverage
Currently, attention is focused on the health insurance exchanges or “Marketplace” that opened for business on October 1. Confusion about the Affordable Care Act has left many people thinking everyone has to deal with the exchanges. The fact is that if you are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or an employer-provided plan, you don’t need to do anything.
Also, if you buy your health insurance on your own and are happy with your plan, you can keep your coverage. However, the only way to get any premium-lowering tax credits based on your income is to buy a plan through the Marketplace.
· The exchanges (Marketplace)
Each state will either develop an insurance exchange (Marketplace) or use one provided by the federal government. The Marketplace will allow those seeking coverage to comparison shop for health plans from private insurance companies.

There will be four types of insurance plans to choose from: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The more expensive the plan, the greater the portion of medical costs that will be covered. The price of each plan will depend on several factors including your age, whether you smoke, and where you live.

Many individuals will qualify for federal tax credits which will reduce the premiums they actually pay. Each state’s Marketplace will have a calculator to assist individuals in determining the amount, if any, of their federal tax credit.
· The individual play or pay penalty
If you’re one of the 45 million or so Americans without health insurance, you will need to get coverage for 2014 or pay a penalty of $95 or 1% of your income, whichever is greater. Low-income individuals may qualify for subsidies and/or tax credits to help pay the cost of insurance.

The penalty increases to $325 or 2% of income for 2015 and to $695 or 2.5% of income for 2016. For 2017 and later years, the penalty is inflation-adjusted. Those who choose not to be insured and to pay the penalty instead will still be liable for 100% of their medical bills.

NOTE: If you will be shopping for health insurance on the Marketplace, be aware that there’s no need to rush to enroll; the enrollment period runs from October 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014. Take the time you need to review your options and select what’s best for you and your family.


MORE ABOUT THE LAW AND YOUR TAXES

In addition to the penalties required by the Affordable Care Act, the law made other tax changes that could affect you. Among them are the following:
· Annual contributions to flexible spending accounts are limited to $2,500 (indexed for inflation).
· The 7.5% adjusted gross income threshold for deducting unreimbursed medical expenses increases to 10% for those under age 65. Those 65 and older can use the 7.5% threshold through 2016.
· The additional tax on nonqualified distributions from health savings accounts (HSAs) is 20%, an increase from the previous 10% penalty.
· The payroll Medicare tax increases from 1.45% of wages and self-employment income to 2.35% on amounts above $200,000 earned by individuals and above $250,000 earned by married couples filing joint returns. This rate increase applies only to the employee portion, not to the employer portion.
· A 3.8% Medicare surtax is imposed on unearned income (examples: interest, dividends, capital gains) for single taxpayers with income over $200,000 and married couples with income over $250,000.

The Affordable Care Act may be one of the most complicated and confusing laws ever passed, but one thing is very clear: the law will affect the taxes of most Americans. In order to manage your tax bill, you will have to factor the new health care rules into your overall personal and business tax planning. For guidance, contact our office.

To begin checking out your state’s exchange (Marketplace), start at www.healthcare.gov – the federal government’s website on the Affordable Care Act.







NOTE: This Memo is intended to provide you with an informative summary of the tax issues connected with the Affordable Care Act. This massive package of legislation contains varying effective dates, definitions, limitations, and exceptions that cannot be summarized easily. For details and guidance in applying the tax provisions of this law to your situation, seek professional assistance.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Ishmael", have you read it?

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is my favorite book.  It's a paradigm shifting book that I think visitors to my blog would enjoy.
"Teacher seeks pupil.  Must have earnest desire to save the world.  Apply in person."


If you haven't read Ishmael, go get the book.  Do not Google it or you'll end up reading reviews about the book that will influence your own thoughts.  The best way to enjoy the book is to get a copy and read it yourself.   If you have read it, I'd recommend Daniel Quinn's other books as they provide further insights.

I consider Quinn to be one of the 20th century's great thinkers.

Here's a short film about the kind of impact "Ishmael" has on some readers.   I hope you enjoy.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Gay Marriage Wins!



Same sex married couples got a victory last week when the Supreme Court struck down a law defining marriage as between a man and woman only, for federal legal purposes.  Another Supreme Court ruling allowed for the resumption of same-sex marriages in California.

Currently, 13 states (CA, Conn., Delaware, Iowa, Maine, MD, Mass., MN, N.H., N.Y., R.I., Vt., and WA) plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages.

As a result of these court rulings, same-sex married couples can now file a joint return.  Generally speaking, married filing jointly will produce less tax for the married couple if the spouses have widely disparate income levels.  It is possible that many two-earner couples will end up paying more in taxes as a result of this ruling.

Estate planning and Gift tax issues will be simpler.  Married same-sex couples can now use the unlimited estate tax marital deduction and, they can elect portability, so at death, any unused estate and gift tax exemptions will pass to the surviving spouse.  They can also make gifts and transfers of property to each other without paying income or incurring gift tax.  Additionally, they will now qualify for gift splitting which allows them to potentially double the size of cash gifts by treating the gift as coming half from each.

Same-sex spouses will be eligible for tax free employer health coverage.

Workers can be reimbursed from their health flexible spending accounts (FSA) and health savings accounts (HSA) for their same-sex spouse's medical expenses.


Retirement plans are also impacted.  Same-sex spouses will now automatically qualify for survivor and death benefits under pension plans, 401(k) plans, etc.  Spousal IRAs can now be set up for nonworking same-sex spouses.  There are also favorable withdrawal rules for spouses who inherit pension accounts allowing them to take the money more slowly than what was allowed under the nonspouse-beneficiary rules.

Many open questions remain, especially for married couples who have moved and now find themselves living in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriages.  It's also unclear at this time whether civil unions or domestic partnerships will be able to file joint returns.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Three Numbers Everyone Should Know


Justin Bieber was on the August 2012 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.  About a week after the issue came out, the publishers were surprised to see that an article by Bill McKibben had gone viral and had more than 10x the activity as the Bieber story.  McKibben’s article was entitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” and in it he highlighted three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is.

The First Number:  2 degrees Celsius

This is the only number that politicians at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference could agree upon.  Because neither China nor the United States, which account for 40 percent of global carbon emissions, were willing to commit to any meaningful concessions, in the end, all the world leaders could agree to is that “global temperature increases should be below two degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).”  The “Copenhagen Accord” as it is called, went on to say, "we agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required... so as to hold the increase in global temperature below two degrees Celsius."

It’s important to note that average global temperatures have risen just under 0.8 degrees Celsius to date, and this rise has caused far more problems than scientist predicted.  (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is now five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.)

Given those impacts, many scientists now believe that two degrees is far too lenient a target.  NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet’s most prominent climatologist says, "The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster."

At this point, 167 countries, of 87 percent of the world’s carbon emitters have signed on to the Copenhagen Accord endorsing the two-degree target.  At this moment, it is the official position of planet Earth that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius.

The Second Number:  565 Gigatons

Scientists estimate that we can pump approximately 565 more gigatons of CO2 in the air by 2050 and still have a four in five chance to stay below two degrees.  The 565-gigaton number still doesn’t provide 100% certainty which makes it a bit like playing Russian roulette with our climate.

The idea of a global “carbon budget” emerged about a decade ago as scientists wondered how much fossil fuels could be safely burned.  It should be noted that computer models calculate that even if we stopped releasing CO2 today, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees as the CO2 already released continues to heat the atmosphere.   Adding the 0.8 increase we’ve already had to the 0.8 degrees that is coming even if we stopped all emissions today means we are 80 percent on our way to the two-degree target.

Obviously, these numbers aren’t exact but the 565-gigaton figure was derived from one of the world’s most sophisticated climate models and has been confirmed by other models and scientists around the world.  As the models improve and more simulations are done, the 565-gigaton figure continues to stand.

In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its latest figures showing that CO2 emissions rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before.    This number has gone up every single year except for a slight dip in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis.  While efforts to increase renewable use and improve energy efficiency have been significant, these increases in emissions show that those efforts have had only a marginal impact on global CO2 emissions.  In fact, study after study predicts global CO2 emissions to keep growing around 3 percent a year and at that rate, we will blow through the 565-gigaton figure in just 16 years. 

A child born today won’t even be able to drive by the time we pass the 565-gigaton number if we stay on our present trajectory.  And remember, that 565-gigaton number isn’t the carbon budget for the next sixteen years; it’s the carbon budget for the next thirty-eight.  Given the path we are on, Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist said, “When I look at the data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.”  That is nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which many predict would create a planet straight out of a science fiction novel.

The message from scientists to reduce CO2 has been consistent for nearly 30 years now but the results are mostly the same:  scientific warning followed by political inaction.  This is what must change if we are to avoid a total catastrophe while most of us are still alive.

The Third Number:  2,795 Gigatons

This is the number that ought to scare you the most.  It is also a number that highlights the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. 

Last summer, a team of financial analysts and environmentalists published a report in an effort to highlight the risk climate change poses to their portfolios.  The 2,795 gigatons is the amount of carbon contained in the proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the hydrocarbon corporations and the countries (Venezuela, Kuwait, et.al) that act like hydrocarbon companies.  The 2,795 gigatons of carbon is fossil fuel we are currently planning to burn.  And the key point here is that 2,795 gigatons is greater than 565 gigatons.  Five times greater!

We have five times as much fossil fuel as inventory on the books of these entities as climate scientists think is safe to burn over the next 38 years.  We’d have to keep 80% of these reserves in the ground and off the market to avoid the two-degree number.   Now that we know these numbers, short of a massive intervention, our fate seems certain.

It is important to note that for all practical purposes, these reserves are already priced into our economy.  Wall Street values these 2,795 gigatons at nearly $27 trillion.  To keep 80% in the ground would mean a $20 trillion write off, not something they are willingly going to do on their own accord.  As McKibben states in the article, “we can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but when you add up the numbers, we can’t have both.”

Do the math he says:  2,795 is five times 565.  That’s how the story ends.

What To Do

Individual actions just aren’t enough.  I’ve stopped driving and many of our customers drive very efficient hybrid cars but we have 30 years of data to prove that these actions alone won’t keep us below the 565 gigaton figure.  The reality is that most people like cheap flights to distant lands, flat screen TVs, and the convenience of a single passenger automobile.  And few people are going to give those up if everyone else is still consuming them.

A more efficient method would entail policy changes at the political level though we’ve had limited success on that to date.  The hydrocarbon industry is the richest and they spend billions to protect their suicidal business model.  Here in North America, we are fighting about the Keystone Pipeline which would release as much as 240 gigatons of carbon if we allow the Canadian Tar Sands to get to market.  Thus far, President Obama has not committed to stopping that project and in fact, has allowed construction to begin on parts of it.

Here in the Northwest, the possibility of coal shipments through our communities from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming continues to move forward.  The total basin contains some 67.5 gigatons worth of CO2, or more than 10 percent of the available atmospheric space.  James Hansen has stated “that it will be game over for the climate” if this coals comes to market.

What all of this makes clear is that the planet does have an enemy that is far more committed to action than government or individuals.  That enemy is the fossil-fuel industry and it will be our generation’s task to stop them.  Alone among industries, the fossil fuel industry is the only one allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free.  Nobody else gets that break.  The main reason for this anomaly is that up until the past 30 years, we didn’t know that CO2 was heating the planet and acidifying the oceans.  We now know and the price becomes one of our central issues.

By putting a price on CO2, through a direct tax or othermethod, we could enlist the power of markets in the fight against global warming.  Consumers would get strong signals to use fewer hydrocarbons and other forms of energy would be on an equal footing with oil, coal, and natural gas.  Pricing carbon will put a crimp in their profits and we know they’ll fight this based on pure self-interest.

However, this is the moral issue of our times.  Because this is a moral issue with planetary consequences, we are building a global movement to rival any we’ve ever seen.  Corporations once made lots of money in South Africa under apartheid until a global movement of divestiture and isolation overturned a system that some thought never would change.  Our challenge is to understand the hard cold math and to act accordingly.

Movements rarely have predictable outcomes.  Please join me in spreading these numbers, joining the movement, and taking action.  This is the moral issue of our time and nothing will give us greater joy than wining a fight we must win. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Building Blocks of a Sound Business Plan


As a company matures out of the start-up phase and begins to grow and become profitable, it is important that your business plan mature as well.  Here are four important pieces that you should including in a mature business plan.

Retirement Planning


Many business owners tend to put all their money back into their business.  While growing and funding your business is important, neglecting to diversify your retirement funding can be disastrous to your long term plans.  I talk to many business owners who depend on their business as a significant source of retirement income and yet their business current plan fails to address the unique needs and opportunities of owning a business.

Estate Planning


Most people think estate planning is only for the very wealthy though that isn't true.  Business owners have a significant portion of their estate - and the source of their family's income after their death - tied up in a business.

Without proper planning, the untimely death of a business owner can result in a significant tax liability for the family, which can potentially lead to negative cash flow and even insolvency.  A mature business plan will address these issues so that the wealth you've created isn't lost to taxes.

Key Employee Planning


Your "key" employees are one of your most important business assets and critical to the success of your business.  Losing a key employee to death, disability, or even a competitor can lead to a substantial financial loss for your business, potentially impacting your current lifestyle and could even delay your planned retirement.

There are employee benefits you can provide which are designed to motivate, reward, protect, and retain them for the long term.  There are even some benefits you can target specifically and exclusively at key employees, like an Executive Bonus Plan.

Succession Planning


Studies show less than a third of small business owners have a success plan in place and about the same number of businesses actually survive into the next generation.  A succession plan can help you spell out the terms for what happens to your business when your no longer there.  Proper planning ensures that you leave the company on your terms regardless of what happens.  I covered more about this in my blog post Reasons You Need an Exit Strategy.

A comprehensive business plan will address each of these important issues.  I rarely see these addresses in start-up plans though they certainly should be part of your planning process as your company matures and are some of the things we address at TriLibrium working with our business customers.  We know proper business planning can make the difference between just surviving and true success.

Call me if you would like to discuss any of these issues.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Reasons You Need an Exit Strategy


Most business owners concern themselves with growth and expansion, and sometimes, how to make ends meet.    When starting or buying a new business, the last thing on your mind is how to exit.  However, an exit strategy is a key component of a successful business plan and too few owners give this proper consideration.

An exit strategy is nothing more than your plan on how you intend to leave the business.  In the end, you will either sell, close, or die.  Each of these situations offers different opportunities and challenges, but the main point of this blog post is that a business owner needs an exit strategy and here are some reasons to have one.

An Exit Strategy Allows for Retirement

Most business owners have a significant portion of their net worth tied up in their business.  With a proper planning, you can turn this net worth into cash to provide you with a comfortable and worry free retirement.

An Exit Strategy Provides for the Future


Your family and employees depend on your business and without proper planning, your death or disability could be tragic for them.  By planning for this fairly common situation, you can make sure your business continues on in your absence and provides for their future needs.

An Exit Strategy Can Provide Cash to Pursue Other Dreams


Regardless of your age, many business owners dream of starting another business or becoming an angel investor to other businesses.  Selling your business can provide the cash to follow these dreams and a well structured strategy will help you maximize what you take from the business and provide the liquidity to pursue new opportunities.

An Exit Strategy Will Appeal to Investors


Most outside investors want to know how they are going to get repaid.  For many investors, an exit strategy is a must because they want their investment protected.  By building this into your plan, potential investors will understand how you are looking out for their interests.

An Exit Strategy Will Help You Know When to Quit


Another reason to think about your endgame is understanding when is it time to pull the plug.  Without thinking about this, it is easy to continue throwing good money after bad in a business venture that clearly isn't making it or working the way you planned.  By planning for this contingency in advance, you'll have clear mileposts to help you decide how and when to end the business, regardless of its success.

It's important that you plan for your business exit.  I guarantee you'll leave your business someday and proper planning can make the difference between a successful exit and one that's not.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Occupy Portland update

Because I'm a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement and specifically Occupy Portland, I need to provide an update here as to my current thoughts about the Occupy Portland encampment.

I live downtown and am able to stop by the camp regularly.  My guess is that 300-400 people are camping there each night.  Out of this group, perhaps 20% represent Occupy Portland (activists motivated to create change in our society and economic system) with the remainder comprised of homeless folks, street youth, mentally ill citizens, and a variety of others.

Because of this, the camp only partially represents Occupy Portland.  The camp is a landmark and a physical space for us but the spirit of the Occupy movement goes well, well, well beyond the camp.

And this word just in as I was writing - Mayor Sam Adams has given the camp until Sunday top vacate of risk arrest.

I for one hope we vacate peacefully and on our terms as we come up with Occupy Portland v2.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Move Your Money - A National Week of Action

I've blogged about the importance of moving your money from the large corporate banks and Wall Street institutions to local banks and credit unions.  In this blog post about local banking, I provided some criteria for choosing a local bank.  In this blog post, I addressed the Move Your Money movement and provided some links to useful information and resources.  
Now, the Occupy Portland movement is asking supporters to remove their money from the Wall Street banks this week, and to move that money to a community bank.  I hope you will join me in this collective action. 
If we, the 99 %, removed our money from the big banks, we will send a clear message that conscious consumers will not support the unethical business practices of the mega banks. The 1% will take notice. 
As we know, there are better alternatives than big banks. Safe, convenient credit unions and smaller, local banks can supply all the services you need.  People protesting in Occupy Portland are sacrificing safety, home, and family time to shed light on the terrible abuses the banks have perpetrated on all of us.  However, the occupiers cannot do it alone; we all need to work together.  It is time for you to put your money where your mouth, soul and future are. So here is the plan:
·      Open a new account at a local credit union or small local bank.
·      Transfer your funds to the new account from your by bank account by Nov 5th
·      Follow your big bank’s procedure for closing your accounts.
It's that easy!
Here are some important pieces that will help clarify why this is so important and motivate you to move forward:
 
1If you want to know more about this grassroots movement please see this ABC's World News Tonight report click here:
 
2. Check out this cool video about the project to move your money here: http://moveyourmoneyproject.org/watch-video
Also check out there website here: http://moveyourmoneyproject.org/
 
3. If you want to know the difference between banks and credit unions click here:  
 
4. If you want to find a local small banks and credit unions click here (Note that this document is dated August 2010 and information may have changed):
5. If you want to feel the power and pure joy we feel when we fight back, check this out.
Please share this information widely.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy Wall Street / Portland - Next Steps

I live fairly close to Occupy Portland so I'm able to stop by and visit fairly often.  At the encampment you'll find a mixed bag of issues, people, demands, strategies, tactics, concerns, and stories when visiting.

One common thing is clear however:  The need for systemic change.

While our current system has created vast and concentrated sums of wealth as well as abundant consumer options for Americans with spending money, the current system has also created:
  • Unemployment that hovers near 20 percent
  • 1 in 4 American children living in poverty
  • 50 million Americans without health insurance
  • The greatest prison population 
  • Multiple wars for resource control
  • Ecological devastation that puts the entire planet at peril
  • A corrupt political system where money buys votes and access
  • Millions of American home foreclosures
  • 40 years without real wage growth
  • College students burdened with massive debts owed primarily to the 1%
  • Wealth for richest 400 Americans that is equal to the wealth of the poorest 150,000,000 Americans
This list could go on and on.  

Learning the skills of an MBA, I was taught to look for root causes when solving problems.  The list above is a not a list of problems, but rather symptoms of much deeper problems.  Problems we must solve.

Because we must solve these problems, it is important for everyone to get involved.  How are you engaging with this vital revolution?

My first recommendations is for citizens to find out what is really going on.  You won't get this information from mainstream press so you need to find other channels.  What would you have known about the Egyptian revolution if you only listened to Egypt's official broadcasts?  Do you think Libya's official press did a good job telling the story of the resistance?

If you are getting your information from the mainstream corporate press you are getting filtered information when direct information is easily accessible.
  1. Visit an Occupy camp near you (Portland's is next to city hall and can be visited 24/7.  Hop on a bus and go check it out for yourself.  
  2. Watch the events on Livestream (www.Livestream.com and search for your favorite Occupy event).  Portland's events can be seen here:  http://www.livestream.com/occupyptown
  3. Visit the official webpage for your local Occupy event.  You can get unfiltered news about Portland's occupation at www.OccupyPortland.org
Two nights ago in Portland we had our first arrests related to the Occupy Portland events.  One of the most informative videos I saw about the events is here:  

My challenge to you is to get involved.  Will you join me?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Much is Enough?

In March 2010 I sold my house and moved into a downtown apartment.  One of the reasons for moving was to downsize my footprint.  I wrote about this in a 2-part blog post (Downsizing Part I and Downsizing Part II).  At the time of the move, I got rid of at least 50% of my possessions and felt some relief from the burden of having too much stuff.

Fast forward to October 2011.  I've now been in my apartment for 18 months and I've probably only touched/used 50 percent of what I moved from my house to my apartment.  Fully 1/2 of everything I moved sits in cabinets, a storage locker, closets, and drawers untouched from the day I moved.  Yet, I am still challenged to get rid of it.  What is this attraction to our stuff?

As you know, the sustainability mantra is reduce, reuse, and recycle.  These actions are listed in decreasing orders of environmental impact because never buying and using something is far better for the environment than buying it and reusing it, or buying it and recycling it at the end of its life.

As I'm writing this I'm thinking about the events at Occupy Wall Street.  I understand the need for change and yet the question is in what direction?  If we have full employment and a global consumer society we'll destroy the biological systems that make life possible.  The "system" is driving all of us to work, work, work and consume, consume, consume yet that isn't leading to the world we both want and need.

The good news about downsizing 18 months ago and the ongoing realization that I still have way too much stuff is that I'm not buying anything.

I already have enough - And less stuff is actually more fulfilling after you've got the basics covered.

Now we just need to figure out how to have a successful economy that isn't based on unsustainable and unsatisfying criteria.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Main Street Businesses should join with Occupy Wall Street

I've been down at the events at Occupy Portland every day for at least a few hours since the events started here in Portland on October 6th.  There truly is a wide variety of people involved.  While we need many more voices engaged, one thing clearly missing up to this point is the voice of Main Street businesses and the people who actually create jobs, make payrolls, and contribute to our communities in so many ways.  The movement is anti-Wall Street, not anti-business.


When I attend the events, I see the need for far more people to be involved in the discussions than are currently present.  While those of us with businesses probably find it hard to get down to the occupation and be involved, it is imperative that we get involved in what I believe is likely to be the biggest social change movement in my lifetime.


Business as usual cannot continue.  Business as usual cannot continue.


I wrote that twice to emphasize a point.  People are pissed off and in the streets because we have an economic system that is NOT meeting the legitimate needs and aspirations of a free people while simultaneously destroying the biological systems that life depends on.


Here are some sobering facts:
  • 1 in 4 US children in poverty
  • A corrupt political system controlled by money
  • 20%+ unemployment or underemployment
  • Multiple wars for resources and control
  • 50 million Americans without health insurance
  • The largest prison population in the world
  • A security state second to none
  • Wealth disparity that rivals third world nations
  • The daily destruction of biological necessities like clean air, water, land, diversity, and a stable atmosphere


We have an economic system that works amazingly well for the 1%, and pretty darn good for another 10-15% while leaving vast amounts of people in desperate poverty or surviving pay check to pay check.  We can do better.


Our system isn't broken, it's actually working wonderfully well according to it's design.


In order to make the necessary system changes, we need lots of people involved.  That's how we all can help birth a new society.


I did a blog post more than two years ago about systems I think you'll find interesting.  You can read it here.


The sign I'll be carrying at the next rally will say "It's the System Stupid"  I hope you'll join me at an occupation near you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy Portland


Yesterday, I attended the Occupy Portland march with approximately 10,000 others.  We completely filled Pioneer Courthouse square and spilled onto the adjacent streets.  Due to work, I was only able to participate for an hour.

I returned to the occupation around 8pm in the evening to join in solidarity with this movement to change the system.  The vibe was incredible and everyone was friendly and hopeful.  The demands are for systemic change.

Around 10pm a woman came by and asked if anyone wanted to teach a class.  I volunteered to teach a class on economics starting at 10:15pm.  At the appointed time, we formed a circle on the lawn and about 20 people joined me for an economics discussion.  The group eventually grew to well over 50 people.

Without resources, I discussed some of the following:
  • The SYSTEM
  • Circulation of money
  • The FED and the creation of money
  • A giving economy
  • Happiness index and other metrics
  • Labor, capital, and managerial classes
  • The scale of the system
  • Alternatives, Alternatives, Alternative as a few different ideas.
  • The Paradigm of the current system
It was a rich and rewarding experience to share my business and economics expertise.  I ended up staying until 1am when I walked home and slept in my warm bed.

Rather than go directly to work, I returned this morning at 7:30am and ended up working as a spokesperson/information sharer as well as doing call in reports for KBOO community radio.  I also did a number of TV and radio interviews as well.

When I arrived, the General Assembly (GA) was taking place and there were approximately 500+ people in attendance.  I counted more than 60 tents though many had already been packed away.  The police had given us until 9am to clear the park as the Portland Marathon had rented out the space for their weekend event.

Behind the scenes were furious negotiations with the police, Portland Marathon, the Mayor's office, and representatives of Occupy Portland.  OP moved from two parks and consolidated into one and I believe Portland Marathon made the decision to share the park with us rather than have us removed.  That decision allowed the peaceful demonstration to stay in place so we could relax and move forward rather than worrying about the logistics of moving.

Around 9:40am, I again led an economics discussion and gathered probably 50+ people for the discussion.

At 11am I had to return to work.  I will back tonight.

We have an opportunity to change the system but we need more people to get involved.  Democracy is not a spectator sport.  The current system wants all of you to just go back to work so the 1% can get even richer while we destroy the planet through an unjust economic system.

Will you join me in changing it?

If so, you have to get out into the streets.  There is something vastly different about speaking face to face in human size groups that cannot be replicated through mass media.  Unless you have attended an event, you have no idea what is going on.  It would be like trying to taste a meal by listening to the food.
I know the Arab uprising occured and I saw it on TV but the only way to know what was really going on was to be a part of it.  This is our Arab uprising.  We need a new system and we need it now.  We need ALL people of goodwill out to help us create it.

The current economic system in the US produces:
  • 20% + unemployment/underemployment
  • 1 in 4 children in poverty
  • Multiple wars for resources and control
  • A security state 2nd to none
  • The largest prison population on the planet
  • Ecological destruction
  • 50 million without health insurance
  • Wealth disparity that rivals third world nations.
We can and must do better.  I hope you'll join me TODAY in helping nurture this unbelievable moment.

If not now, when?  If not you, who?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Home Office Deduction - Exclusive Use


If you use your home for work or business, you may be entitled to the home office deduction. The home office deduction is one of those wonderful tax deductions that allows a taxpayer to turn an otherwise non-deductible personal expense into deductible business expense.

Over a series of posts, I'm going to review some of the rules and nuances of this deduction. You can find more information in IRS Publication 587 or the IRS YouTube video.

The first thing to note are the specific rules you must follow to get this special deduction. If you fail to follow the rules, you will generally lose the deduction.

To qualify to deduct expenses for business use of your home, you must use part of your home:
  • Exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business,
  • Exclusively and regularly as a place where you meet or deal with patients, clients, or customers in the normal course of your trade or business,
  • In the case of a separate structure which is not attached to your home, in connection with your trade or business,
  • On a regular basis for certain storage use (Inventory storage or product samples)
  • For rental use (See IRS Publication 527)
  • As a daycare facility
If you are an employee, you may also qualify for a deduction if you meet the tests noted above plus:
  • Your business use must be for the convenience of the employer, and
  • You must not rent any part of your home to your employer and use the rented portion to perform service as an employee for the employer.
The IRS notes that if the use of the home office is merely appropriate and helpful for the employer, you cannot deduct expenses for the business use of your home.

The key words that often catch the unwitting taxpayer are exclusive and regular use. Many court cases hinge on the interpretation of these two words. In today's post, I'll review the exclusive use test.

The first thing to note is that you don't have to meet the exclusive use test if you are taking the home office deduction as a daycare facility, or for the storage of inventory or product samples. There are some specific rules you need to meet for these exceptions though I'll refer you to IRS Pub 587 to read those yourself.

Because exclusive use seems to be a very high bar, I'm often asked if there are exceptions to this rule beyond those noted above. In other words, does the IRS really mean "exclusive?"

The law [IRC Sec. 280A(c)(1)] is very clear on this matter - the use must be exclusive. Almost any personal use for the area destroys the deduction.

In Speers v. Commissioner (T.C. Memo 1994-157) the court ruled the exclusive use test is an "all-or-nothing standard." Combining business and personal use precludes the deduction - ANY personal use destroys the deduction.

Despite this clear standard, the courts have carved out de minimis exceptions to the exclusive use test.

In one case, a taxpayer claimed a home office deduction for a walk-in closet in his studio apartment. To get to the bathroom, the taxpayer had to walk through the closet allowing the IRS to challenge the exclusive use test. The court ruled in the taxpayer's favor saying this incidental use to walk to and from the bathroom did not violate the exclusive-use test.

In another case [Culp v Commissioner (TC Memo 1993-270)], a taxpayer stored a lawn mower in the garage he claimed as a home-office deduction. The court again ruled on behalf of the taxpayer claiming the space occupied by the lawn mower amounted to de minimis use and did not alter the deduction.

In an example of how even minor personal use can destroy the deduction, look at Langer v Commissioner [TC Memo 1992-46]. Mrs. Langer ran a piano lesson business from her home and had a special area set aside for this exclusive purpose. However, during the year she had an open house allowing guests to use the room. The court ruled that this use violated the exclusive use test and Mrs. Langer lost her deduction.

We'll continue with this subject in future blog posts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Avoiding Taxes The Way Big Corporation Do


I'm interested in tax fairness. It doesn't seem fair to me that giant multi-national corporations, with their teams of lawyers, accountants, and lobbyists, are able to rig the game so they pay no income taxes despite significant profits.

By not paying their fair share, the burden on the rest of us increases while at the same time, our nation's financial outlook worsens as a result of what I believe to be both a spending and revenue problem.

Yesterday, I had an op-ed in The Hill, discussing this issue. The article was called Avoiding Taxes The Way Big Corporations Do where you can read more about my views and this issue.

The Willamette Week had a great article back in April entitled 9 Things The Rich Don't Want You to Know About Taxes where they highlighted the impact of corporate and individual loopholes that seem to be available to only an elite few.


Monday, June 13, 2011

B Corporation Community Grows


Last week I attended a local B-Corporation event at The Joinery. The B-Corp community keeps growing and now includes more than 420 business organizations representing more than $2 billion in annual revenues. Oregon has 27 B-Corps.

Four states (Maryland, Virginia, Vermont, and New Jersey) have now passed B-Corp legislation. New York is on the cusp, and bills have been introduced in over half the states. According to Stephanie Ryan from B Lab, the legislation has been passed with bipartisan, and nearly unanimous support, when the final vote was taken.

I still consider the B-Corp certification as the gold standard for green minded businesses due to the rigor, transparency, scope, vision, and accountability of the B-Corp certification mark.

B-Corp is launching version 3.0 of the assessment tool later this summer. I highly recommend that every business benchmark themselves using the free assessment tool. It will help you lead a better business.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Extensions


Individual tax returns (Form 1040) are due Monday, April 18th. Returns postmarked after this date, unless properly extended, incur a failure-to-file penalty on the balance due of 5% per month (to a maximum of 25%). Additionally, there are also failure-to-pay penalties and interest charges as well.

You can file for an automatic six-month extension by filing Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return) on or before the April 18th filing deadline.

The instructions for filing a Form 4868 require taxpayers to:
  • Properly estimate their tax liability using the information available to them;
  • Enter their total tax liability on line 4 of Form 4868; and
  • File Form 4868 by the regular due date of their return.
Normally, filing this form results in an automatic six-month extension of time to file without any late-filing penalty. However, filing this form does not extend time to pay any income tax liability due.

Some people have the misconception that the filed extension also applies to extending the time when taxes are due. This is not true and you should note that balances due in excess of 10% of the total tax shown on the return will incur penalties and interest for underpayment.

One thing to note is the requirement to "properly estimate" the tax liability. It is possible for the IRS to invalidate an improper extension (one that didn't estimate the tax liability) exposing the taxpayer to substantial failure-to-file penalties. This isn't something I've seen a lot of but given the need for additional revenues and computer sophistication, it easy to imagine this becoming more prevalent.

Accordingly, my advice is to make sure you spend a little time properly estimating your tax liability before sending off your extension. It is risky to just put down zeros when you know you owe taxes.

And as a final note, don't forget to properly extend any state and/or local returns as well. Some will accept the federal extension and some won't. You need to check their specific rules. As with the federal government, the extensions to file do not extend the time to pay any taxes due.



Thursday, March 10, 2011

Same-sex Marriage


The Obama Administration and his Justice Department have stated they can no longer defend the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). However, the final say on this subject (whether marriage can be restricted to the legal union between a man and women) is likely to be settled by the Supreme Court, and probably not for a year or more.

In the meantime, legally married same-sex couples can file protective refund claims for all open tax years if they would benefit on their taxes by joint filing. If these protective refund claims are filed and the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, you'll be entitled to your refunds.

It should be noted that DOMA impacts more than just income taxes. Were DOMA to be held unconstitutional, the following would also be affected:
  • Gifts between spouses would get the unlimited gift tax marital deduction;
  • Bequests to surviving spouses would not be subject to estate taxes and the survivor would be entitled to any unused estate tax exemption of the decedent;
  • Employer provided health care for same-sex spouses would be tax free.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Do you have a foreign financial account?


If you own or have authority over a foreign financial account including bank, securities, or other types of financial accounts, in a foreign country, and if the aggregate value of these accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year, then you are required to report that information to the Department of Treasury, by filing Form TD F 90-22.1.

This form is due on or before June 30 each year (following the year you are reporting on) and is NOT to be filed with your Federal income tax return. There is NO extension of time to file this report.

Failure to file this informational return can result in fines of up to $500,000 and up to 5 years imprisonment. Individuals and organizations that meet the requirements are required to file.

The form is pretty easy though given the potential fines and jail time for not filing, is not one you want to miss.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tax Cheats


Cheating on taxes is illegal. Tax avoidance is okay, tax evasion isn't.

Tax evasion is incredibly stupid as there are so many ways to get caught. As a CPA with former tax auditing experience, trust me when I tell you there are many, many, many ways to be caught.

And one thing to remember about an IRS audit is this: Unlike a court of law where you are innocent until proven guilty, when the IRS comes knocking, with them you are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no statute of limitations on tax evasion. Failure to report wages or hiding income could come back to bite someone years and years later.

When caught, tax cheats face substantial penalties, interest on the unpaid tax, embarrassment, criminal charges, and potential jail time.

I was recently speaking with two people when one admitted to being paid under the table to tutor children, and the other admitted to hiring household help (landscapers, babysitters, and house cleaners) without checking their authority to legally work in the United States or properly dealing with employer reporting and taxation issues.

Every tax cheat I have ever known has their self-serving reasons for cheating. Both these women tried to justify their actions though their excuses amounted to little more than "I don't want to pay more taxes."
"The subject of every State ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the State." ~ Adam Smith (1776)
I don't know anyone who wants to pay more tax although this is the way we fund our government and the many services it provides us. Though as Adam Smith pointed out, we all ought to pay our share according to our incomes and people who cheat to avoid this public responsibility, hurt the rest of us who do our civic duty.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Small Business Health Insurance Credit


If you saw President Obama give last week's State of the Union speech, you would have heard him mention how Jim Houser, Co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic, would be getting a $5,000 tax credit to help his small business provide health insurance to his employees under the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Jim and the Hawthorne Auto Clinic are customers of ours and we computed the tax savings for him that the President used in his speech. Jim was in the balcony for the speech and I'm both proud of him for his activism and leadership that got him there, and I'm proud of TriLibrium for being just one step removed from the White House.

The tax credit is available to certain small business with tax years beginning in 2010, for those that provide health insurance coverage to their employees. It is also available to certain non-profits and even household employers.

The rules are too complex to go into here but the IRS has a frequently asked questions page that should answer many of your questions. I suggest you start their and then speak with your CPA to find out how you can benefit from this legislation.

Friday, January 28, 2011

1099s


Who do you need to send a 1099 to?

The following list covers the majority of circumstances that require businesses to issue a 1099-Misc to an individual or business and the situations where 1099s are not required. Let’s start with a list of excluded transactions.

Excluded transactions include:
  • Most payments to corporations (see exceptions below)
  • Payments for merchandise
  • Payments of rent to real-estate agents or corporations
  • Business travel allowances paid to employees
  • Wages paid to W-2 employees
  • Payments to tax-exempt organizations
1099s are required for:
  • Payment for services in excess of $600 paid during the year
  • Rent payments exceeding $600 paid to individuals or businesses which are not incorporated
  • Any fishing boat proceeds
  • Medical and healthcare payments in excess of $600, including payments to a corporation
  • Cash payments for fish (or other aquatic life) in excess of $600, including payment to a corporation
  • Royalties or broker payments in excess of $10
  • Gross proceeds to an attorney in excess of $600, including any law practices that are incorporated

When are they due?

Copy B and Copy 2 of Form 1099-MISC must be sent to the recipient by February 1st, 2011. The due date is extended to February 16, 2011, if you are reporting payments in boxes 8 or 14. File Copy A of the 1099-MISC with the IRS by March 1st (Extended to March 31st if you file electronically).

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Failure to furnish correct payee statements can have large consequences. Fines start at $30 per information return if you correctly file within 30 days of the due date; $60 per return if more than 30 days late but before August 1; $100 per return after August 1 or if you don't file. Intentional disregard of the requirements raises the fine to $250 per return.

Additionally, failure to file may also put your deductions at risk.