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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

Right, so we Moms work at home, but how do we go about claiming tax deductions for costs towards the running of our businesses? I am presently trying to get my web page design business up and running, but will need to obtain a loan for advertising and some extra equipment, like extra telephone line, fax machine etc. As my office will be in my home, what tax benefits can I claim? Also, I provide "free" advertising on my site for locals, and sometimes travel to "events" to obtain photographs and content for my website. Can one claim for mileage/maintenance and entrance fees?

Can anyone point me in the right direction? Also what are the benefits of registering a business and how does one 'make' the business separate from the family? Say if the business runs into trouble and loses money for some untold reason. I don't want this to affect the well-being of the family for any reason. What do you have to do to protect them against such an event?

Answer from our Guest Expert Lillyvette Montalvo

Hi, There, Fellow Mom!

I'm a regular at that cafe too -- you know, "the working moms cafe!" I'm not an accountant or an expert in the WAHM field. But I'm a working mom who does financial consulting and I do have some tricks of the trade for you anyway! I have an accountant take care of my taxes -- just to make sure I'm completely "covered" and legal. But since I need to get all of my business info to him, I know exactly what you're looking for!

First, A Biz Tip Appetizer for You

Make sure you have a business plan in place before starting your business. Although it doesn't have anything to do with your taxes or claiming certain benefits, it does give you some very necessary direction for your business. This is a "must" for all business owners. And the good news is you can have a business plan developed free of charge at your local university's Small Business Development Center. (See www.sba.gov for a list of SBDCs and SBA offices in your state.) Or, you can check the local book stores for good start-up business plan books.

For Your Main Entree: Loan Options Extraordinaire!

  • In terms of obtaining a loan, you may want to work with your local SBA office. They work with start-ups and will try to see if they can guarantee a loan for you. Don't bother going to your local banker for a commercial loan -- you don't have any business credit history built up and that's their main ingredient for approval.
  • In addition, if you have overdraft protection in your personal checking account, find out what the credit limit is and how much interest they charge you for it. This is a pretty good way to get some money quickly if you don't have many alternatives available. However, be sure you make payments consistently so you don't accumulate too much interest or find yourself in unnecessary debt.
  • Same advice goes for your credit cards. If you have credit limits you can use, you can purchase some of your equipment that way. But be extremely cautious with this option: find out what the interest rate is on your credit card and try to pay these expenses off quickly...don't let that charge sit on the back burner for too long or you'll get burnt and that fax machine won't be such a great deal anymore!
  • As your business grows, you may want to seek alternative financial tools, such as accounts receivable financing, or even consider leasing equipment instead of purchasing it so you can take advantage of some tax benefits.

Save Money with a Phone Line Choice

Save some money on the phone bill by adding on another residential line to your home/office instead of a business line. This doesn't cost as much. Once you've built up your business, you can switch to a business line agreement with your phone company. You pay more for the business line because your biz is then automatically listed in the biz section of your white pages. Since you're going to have business cards and letterhead with your phone number, you can be your best advertisement, for now.

Get Free Milk from the Marketing Cow

Speaking of advertisement, take advantage of the marketing "freebies" available to you. These may allow you to start building some credibility in your field without breaking the bank. Here are just a few ways to do this:

  • Pen some articles for various publications on your business topics and send them to interested publications and websites. Don't make these too commercial on your business; rather, provide good info a publication could publish for its reader. Giving you the credit and free publicity!
  • Write news releases about newsworthy events regarding your business. Let other sites and publications know you're up and running and see if they'll feature your business.
  • If you don't fear public speaking, offer up yourself as a speaker for different professional organizations. Look to see what's available in your area

Home Office Deductions

This is particular area is a definite sticky wicket and consulting your accountant is the way to go for sure. The IRS has some very stringent and precise rules on how you can deduct home office space in your house. For starters, make sure you use your "business area or office" for that purpose only. But bottom line is to go the pros on this issue; you'll be better off in the long run.

Travel Expenses Are Valid Biz Deductions

If you travel to events that pertain to business, keep all receipts (and a log) on your expenses since you can claim those as legitimate business expenses. Entrance fees, meals, lodging, mileage are all deductible. Keep a solid record on your mileage: dates, location traveled to, and purpose. Your accountant can tell you the current rate of cents per mile you can claim.

Protecting House and Home

In terms of keeping a business completely separate from the family, consult with your accountant and/or lawyer to see which business formation would be the best for your tastes. For instance, should you register as a corporation, LLC or sole proprietorship? A corporation or LLC creates a separate entity for your business and protects you from personal liability. If you work as a sole proprietor, however, your personal expenses are at risk if there were to be a loss, a lien or a judgment against your business. So you'll want to avoid that most likely.

Other Home Business Resources

You can obtain helpful tips and information from magazines, such asWorking Solo orWork At Home. You'll be surprised at how many businesses are actually home-based! You could also try Idea Cafe's Work At Home and Biz Books sections for more info on home-based businesses.

I hope all of this helps you! Welcome to the home-based workforce!

Best of Success!

Lillyvette Montalvo

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