QuickBooks Tip: Customizing QuickBooks’ Forms

The invoices and other forms you send to customers and vendors should reflect your company’s attention to detail, accuracy, and consistency.

Every opportunity you have to interact with your customers and vendors is critical. Whether it’s a phone call, an in-person connection, or an email, how you present yourself reveals a lot about you. Are you efficient? Friendly? Do you handle orders and problems and payment issues quickly and carefully?

Your accounting forms can also contribute to your image. They should always be:

  • Neat and attractive.
  • Easy to read, with the most important information displayed prominently.
  • Consistent with any graphics you use on other company materials.
  • Accurate, above all.

You might be able to use at least some of QuickBooks’ form templates as is, without any modifications. But couldn’t they be better? More visually appealing? Formatted to include only the fields that your business most often needs? QuickBooks contains the customization tools you need to make them so.

Improving What Exists

You can personalize your QuickBooks forms and make them consistent with any design themes your brand may use.

We’ll look at the modification options for an invoice, though, depending on what version of QuickBooks you’re using, you can also work with sales receipts, purchase orders, statements, estimates, sales orders, and credit memos. Start by opening the Lists menu and selecting Templates. Highlight Intuit Product Invoice in the list. Click the down arrow next to Templates in the lower left corner and choose Edit Template.

The above image displays part of the window that opens. Here, you can add a logo, change the color scheme, and change fonts for your company’s contact information and the labels that identify each field (like Bill To, Terms, and Quantity). The right pane of this window shows you what the form will look like as you make changes.

Nothing you’ve done so far will prevent you from using Intuit’s pre-printed forms. But when you click Additional Customization at the bottom of the screen, you’ll be warned that if you make modifications beyond this point, the forms may not print correctly. To be safe, click Make a Copy. You’ll be able to print this new version on plain paper.

Deeper Customization

The image below shows you part of the window that opens when you click on Additional Customization. The first two columns here are the most important; they let you specify the labeled fields that will appear on your invoices. When Header is the active column, you’ll be able to choose the content that will go at the top of your form, like Date, Invoice Number, and Terms.

Next to each default label, you’ll see boxes for Screen and Print. Click in these boxes to create or delete checkmarks; this will indicate whether each label will appear in the software itself and which will be printed for your customers to see. If you’d like to change the language QuickBooks uses to describe each, enter your preferred word or phrase in the Title column.

With the Header column highlighted, you can shape the appearance of the top section of your invoices.


Warning: As you’re checking and unchecking boxes, a dialog box may open telling you that your changes will cause some fields to overlap on your form. If you click the Default Layout button, QuickBooks will make automatic adjustments to fix this. Clicking Continue means you’ll have to use the software’s Layout Designer to make your own adjustments. This tool is not particularly intuitive, and it requires some design skills. If you must work with the Layout Designer, let us help.

When you click the Columns tab, you’ll see a list of the fields available for the main body of your invoices, like Description, Quantity, and Rate. This works similarly to how you just modified the Header, with one exception: You’ll be able to enter numbers in the Order column to specify the placement of each field. Here again, you’ll be able to watch a preview of your form change in the right pane.

If you want to start over, click the Default button to revert the form to its original state. When you’re done, click OK.

Neatness Counts

Whether you print and mail your forms or simply dispatch them electronically, we strongly encourage you to make them as professional and polished as you possibly can. Their appearance will enhance or detract from the image your customers and vendors have of your business. Let us know if we can help here. We’d be happy to help you learn about and implement the customization options that QuickBooks offers.

Minimizing Tax on Social Security Benefits

How much (if any) of your Social Security benefits are taxable depends on a number of issues. The following facts will help you understand the taxability of your Social Security benefits.

  • For this discussion, the term “Social Security benefits” refers to the gross amount of benefits you receive (i.e., the amount before any reductions due to payments withheld for Medicare premiums). For tax purposes, Social Security benefits are treated the same regardless of whether the benefits are paid due to disability, retirement, or reaching the eligibility age. Supplemental Security Income benefits are not included in these computations because they are not taxable under any circumstance.
  • The taxability of your Social Security benefits depends on your total income and marital status.
    o If Social Security is your only source of income, it is generally not taxable.
    o On the other hand, if you have other significant income, as much as 85% of your Social Security benefits can be taxable.
    o If you are married and filing separately, and if you lived with your spouse at any time during the year, 85% of your Social Security benefits are taxable—regardless of your income. This is to prevent married taxpayers who live together from filing separately to reduce the income on each return and thus reduce the amount of Social Security income that is subject to tax.
  • The following quick computation can be done to determine if some of your benefits are taxable:
    Step 1. First, add half of your total Social Security benefits to your total other income, including any tax-exempt interest and certain other exclusions* from income.
    Step 2. Then, compare this total to the base amount that is used for your filing status. If the total is more than the base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.
The base amounts are:
  • $32,000 for married couples filing jointly;
  • $25,000 for single persons, heads of household, qualifying widows/widowers with dependent children, and married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouses at any time during the year; and
  • $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year.
*These exclusions are as follows: the interest from qualified U.S. savings bonds (used for education expenses), employer-provided adoption benefits, foreign earned income or foreign housing income, and income earned by bona fide residents of American Samoa or Puerto Rico.

When taxpayers can defer their non-Social Security income from one year to another, such as by taking individual retirement account (IRA) distributions, they may be able to plan their income so as to eliminate or minimize the tax on their Social Security benefits in a given year. However, the required-minimum-distribution rules for IRAs and other retirement plans have to be taken into account.

Individuals who have substantial IRAs and who either aren’t required to make withdrawals or are making their post-age-70.5 required minimum distributions (but are not withdrawing enough to reach the Social Security tax threshold) may be missing an opportunity for tax-free withdrawals. Everyone’s circumstances are different, however, and what works for one person may not work for another.

If you have questions about how these issues affect your specific situation, or if you wish to do some tax planning, please give us a call.

Not-Being-Insured Penalty Eliminated

Note: This is one of a series of articles that explains how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family—both in 2018 and in future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, imposed a “share-responsibility payment” on taxpayers who did not sign up for minimum essential health coverage. This payment is essentially a penalty for not being insured.

The penalty was phased in during 2014 and 2015, and it became fully effective in 2016. The penalty also began to be inflation adjusted after 2017.

The penalty for 2018 is the greater of the sum of the family’s flat dollar amounts or 2.5% of the amount by which the household’s income exceeds the income-tax filing threshold.

For 2018, the flat dollar amounts are $700 per year ($58.33 per month) for each adult and $350 per year ($29.17 per month) for each child; the maximum family penalty using this method is $2,100 per year ($175 per month).

As an example, say that a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) has a household income that exceeds the income-tax filing threshold by $100,000. This family would have a maximum penalty equal to the greater of the flat dollar amount ($700 + $700 + $350 + $350 = $2100) or 2.5% of the income amount (2.5% × $100,000 = $2,500). Thus, the maximum penalty would be $2,500. However, the penalties are applied separately in each month, and they do not apply in a given month if certain exceptions are met.

Because of the Act, in 2019, the shared responsibility payment will no longer exist, thus allowing taxpayers the discretion of choosing to not have any coverage without the fear of being subject to a substantial penalty. However, the penalty still applies for 2018.

This does not impact the health care subsidy for low-income families, which is known as the premium tax credit and which is available for policies that are acquired through a government insurance marketplace. It also does not affect the penalties assessed on employers that do not offer affordable insurance to employees and that have 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact us.

I Didn’t File My Tax Return; Now What?

There are a lot of perfectly reasonable reasons for not having filed your income taxes. Many people who fail to file are new to the job market, and never having filed before may simply have been unaware of the requirement to do so. Some people know but are too overwhelmed with other life events, including illnesses, death, or job loss. Whatever your reason and whether you’ve only missed one year of filing or several, there comes a point when you either remember on your own or are prompted for a request for a copy. Now, what do you do? And how much trouble are you in?

Here’s the Good News
First of all, if you’re the one who realized that you haven’t filed rather than getting a notice from the IRS or your state tax authority, then you’re probably not in too much trouble. Even if you’ve gotten a notice, there’s a specific legal process that gets followed when a taxpayer hasn’t filed a return, and it is a perfectly reasonable procedure that can be addressed and managed. There is no reason to panic, as nobody is going to break down your door and haul you away. Filing taxes is a matter of paperwork and payment. If you haven’t been in compliance, you simply need to amend the situation and pay some penalties, and possibly some interest.

As A Matter of Fact …
You may not even have been required to file a return.

There are plenty of taxpayers whose circumstances are such that they aren’t required to file a tax return, and when that’s the case, the state frequently follows their lead (which is a good thing, as many times the penalties that a state charges for failure to file tax returns are higher than those imposed by the federal government.)

The best and easiest way to find out whether you are one of those who didn’t need to file is to visit the IRS website, where there is a handy tool called “DO I NEED TO FILE A TAX RETURN?” Plug in your relevant information about the tax year in question, your income, household composition and filing status for a quick answer. You may be in for a pleasant surprise unless you fall into one (or more) of the following categories:

  • You earned at least $400 in profit from being self-employed. This can include any job for which you received a 1099, and anything from doing freelance work as a writer to providing landscaping services for your neighbors. Driving for Lyft or Uber counts too.
  • You sold your house, even if it was a break even or loss and you had no income that year
  • You received unemployment benefits
  • You are a worker who earns tips and they weren’t reported to your employer. Even if you reported them you may have to file a tax return if they didn’t submit payroll taxes for them.

In each of these situations, you are required to file a tax return, regardless of how much or how little you earned and whether you paid taxes on those earnings or not.

Fortunately, filing a tax return is always possible, though you may have to pay a penalty.  On the flip side, you may actually have a refund coming which obviously will benefit you to file.

Did the Government Do It For You?
Though the IRS doesn’t always catch every time that a taxpayer fails to file a tax return, when they do they will send out a notice. And if your Social Security Number was linked to any type of document or paperwork that they received, whether that’s a W-2, a 1099 or any other type of form, they also probably filed a substitute tax return to make up for your oversight. These substitute returns represent a bare minimum of information. They don’t enter any of the information that you might have provided in order to minimize your tax liability – they use the standard deduction and personal exemption, then record the income information that they have. It’s also what they’ll use to figure out your penalties, interest, and fines owed.

There are a lot of reasons why you should take action to get a real tax return in for yourself instead of the substitute return that the government provided, but one of the best reasons is that when you’re asked for a previous year’s tax return so you can take out a loan, the substitute won’t satisfy the lender’s requirements.

Better Late Than Never, But It Has to be Right
When you’re filing a past-due tax return, you want to make sure that every “t” is crossed and every “I” is dotted. This is no time for making mistakes or leaving out important information. Even if your returns are generally simple, you’d be wise to work with an experienced tax professional in getting your papers turned in to the federal and state authorities. They will look out for your best interest, helping you to avoid any potential pitfalls and acting on your behalf to address complex questions and offering authoritative explanations of your inaction if necessary.  In some circumstances a tax professional can even get your penalties abated or minimized.

Why It Might be Time for Your Small Business to Migrate to Cloud Accounting

Cloud accounting is a big idea that brings with it a lot of lofty implications, but if you had to distill all of that down to its bare essentials it would probably look at lot like this:

Right now, if you want to manage the financial side of your small business, you probably have to be in your office to do so. You have to be sitting in front of a very specific computer, because that’s where you installed your accounting solution in the first place. If you’re at home and you need to send an invoice or if you’re out in the field and just collected a payment, you have to wait until you get back to the office to actually reconcile that information.

With cloud accounting, however, the hardware no longer matters because your accounting software was never installed on it in the first place. It exists on a centralized server that is always connected to the Internet. Because of that, you can access that information from any device with a web connection – be it your laptop while you’re in an airport lounge or your mobile phone while you’re in a client’s office or your tablet that you keep by your bedside at night or, yes, the computer in your office. The choice is yours.

But in the end, it’s exactly that – a choice, and one that should not be made lightly. If you really want to know why you should migrate to cloud accounting, or even if you should do so at all, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Accounting

Once you’ve learned as much as you can about what cloud accounting can actually do, it’s time to move into the realm of figuring out exactly what it can do for you. The question of whether or not this is the right move for you to take is ultimately one that you and you alone can make. By examining the subject from the perspective of both positives and negatives, you’ll be in a better position to make the right decision for your own goals at exactly the right time.

For starters, the good. The cloud is often a major advantage to businesses that are just starting out in particular, as it often provides them the flexibility they need to manage accounts from anywhere, any time, in any way. All you need is a mobile device, an Internet connection, and the right piece of accounting software and you can manage the entire financial side of your business just as effectively while you’re stuck in traffic as you can behind your desk in your office.

Cloud accounting is also great for collaboration, which is particularly helpful if you don’t have one single person who has been tasked with managing business accounts. Not only can multiple users have access as needed from any location, but they can also communicate and work together so that everyone can stay on the same page in terms of financial activity. The same is true if you’re working with a dedicated accountant, as the cloud can essentially give them real-time visibility into a business for a level of insight they just wouldn’t have through other means.

Another one of the major benefits of cloud accounting is that the types of software you’ll be using can typically be easily integrated with other aspects of your infrastructure that have already made the jump. In the past, you were likely dealing with silos that hampered productivity and made routine administrative tasks take longer than they really should have. Invoicing payments, general accounting, payroll and even HR were all probably totally separate elements. Now, with everything in the cloud, data can be shared freely and information is available in an instant – perfect for breaking down those silos once and for all.

Now, none of this is to say that the cloud has NO disadvantages – far from it. To begin with, the actual process of moving from your existing system and into the cloud will hardly be as simple as flipping a light switch. If you’re staying with software from the same company, that’s one thing. If you’re not, you’ll need to prepare your data so that it can be seamlessly integrated into the new system. A new piece of software may require different naming conventions or different arrangements of columns and rows, for example. This won’t necessarily be the most challenging task you’ll ever face as an entrepreneur, but it certainly won’t happen overnight either.

You also have to think about whether or not you’re comfortable with the fact that you’re giving up a certain level of control over your data to a third party. All of your financial information will no longer be stored on a hard drive in your office – it will be on a server that could be halfway around the country (or the world). If your provider gets hacked, you get hacked. If your provider is disconnected, you’re disconnected. If your third-party vendor isn’t in compliance with any industry-specific regulations that you have to adhere to, guess what – neither are you.

All of these are challenges that can certainly be addressed, but they also represent a fairly significant change from the way you’re probably used to doing things. Again, this is not a decision that anyone else but you can make. Most small business owners in particular will absolutely benefit from the advantages that cloud accounting brings with it… but some won’t.

Don’t look at cloud computing as a solution in search of a problem. You’ll know when it’s time to make the jump by recognizing a number of real problems that you’re facing that cloud accounting represents the perfect solution to.

Migration Best Practices

Once you have decided that the time is right to make the jump into the world of cloud accounting, there are a few key steps that you can start taking today to help make the process go as smoothly as possible.

First, shop around. Not all cloud accounting software is created equally. Make a list of all the things that you can’t do today that you want to be able to do in the cloud, or all of the things that you CAN do today but that will hopefully be BETTER in the cloud, and keep that list handy while you search for a new solution. Once you’ve picked the right option, spend some time getting used to it before implementation. Watch online videos, consult with an accounting pro, ask questions, etc. Only once you’re certain that you know how to use your new cloud software properly should you proceed.

Next, you’ll want to prepare your existing data – the process of which will vary based on the aforementioned factors. If you do happen to be transitioning over to a brand new piece of software, make a list of all the data that must make the transition so that you can keep things as organized and as focused as possible.

Note that when it comes to entering data into your new system, you may be able to automate some, or even all, of the process depending on the solutions you’re dealing with. This can definitely help speed the process along as much as possible. But a word to the wise – always be sure to back up all of your existing data in a secure, recoverable way BEFORE the process starts. If something goes wrong, if you make a mistake, or if a catastrophe happens, you want to be able to rest easy knowing that nothing has been lost.

At that point, all you have to do is continue to look for opportunities for improvement on an ongoing basis. Once you’ve put a little distance between yourself and your implementation process, ask yourself questions like:

  • What went well? What didn’t go so well? Why did these things happen?
  • Which features am I actually using versus the ones that I thought I was going to use but didn’t? Why?
  • Where am I struggling?
  • In what ways did I make real, tangible gains in terms of efficiency? How do I push these even farther?
  • What do I like and dislike overall?

The fact of the matter is that cloud computing certainly isn’t going away anytime soon—in fact, Forbes estimates that between 60 and 70% of all software, services and technology will be primarily cloud-based by as soon as 2020. There will definitely come a day in the not-too-distant future where you’re going to have to make the jump into cloud computing whether you’re ready to do so or not. It is in your own best interest to begin that process as soon as you’re comfortable, so at the very least you can do so on your own terms.

You May Not Get a Tax Refund Next Year

With all of the tax reform changes and the corresponding reductions in most taxpayers’ income tax withholding, there are serious concerns that the reduction in withholding, although providing more take-home pay now, could end up resulting in unexpected taxes due at tax time next year. For that reason, taxpayers should be overly cautious about their payroll withholding for 2018. One need only look at the W-4 instructions to realize that an individual without any substantial tax training can quickly become lost when filling out the worksheets. It is not business as usual.

What adds to the problem is that many taxpayers count on a refund to pay property taxes, insurance, and other large expenses. The W-4 worksheets are designed to withhold the correct amount of tax with no substantial refund, and many tax practitioners are reporting that clients’ withholdings for 2018 have been reduced to seriously low amounts.

In other years, most taxpayers can look at the tax from their prior year’s return and compare it to their projected payroll withholding to see if their current withholding amount is appropriate. But that’s not the case for 2018, since the tax computation has been substantially altered. Taxpayers with multiple jobs, a working spouse, or complicated returns will find it difficult to adjust their withholding to achieve the desired results.

The same problem exists for retirees with pension income, the difference being that they use a W-4P instead of a W-4.

If you would like us to project your 2018 taxes and suggest how to adjust your payroll withholding so you might achieve the outcome you want, please give us a call.

Big Changes Ahead For How Alimony is Treated for Tax Purposes

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and in future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

Alimony is the term used for payments to a separated spouse or ex-spouse as part of a divorce or separation agreement. Since 1985, to be alimony for tax purposes, the payments:

  • Must be in cash, paid to the spouse, ex-spouse, or a third party on behalf of a spouse or ex-spouse;
  • Must be required by a decree or instrument incident to a divorce, a written separation agreement, or a support decree;
  • Cannot be designated as child support;
  • Will be valid alimony only if the taxpayers live apart after the decree is issued or the agreement is signed. Spouses who share the same household don’t qualify for alimony deductions. This is true even if the spouses live separately within the dwelling unit.
  • Must end on the death of the payee; and
  • Cannot be contingent on the status of a child (that is, any amount that is discontinued when a child reaches 18, moves away, etc., is not alimony).

The payments need not be for support of the ex-spouse or based on the marital relationship. They can even be payments for property rights, as long as they meet the above requirements. Payments need not be periodic, but there are dollar limits and “recapture” provisions if there is excess front-loading of payments. Even if the payments meet all of the alimony requirements, the couple may designate in their agreement or decree that the payments are not alimony, and that designation will be valid for tax purposes.

Divorce Agreements Completed before the End of 2018 – For divorce agreements finalized before the end of 2018, the recipient (payee) of alimony must include it in his or her income for tax purposes. The payer is allowed to deduct the payments above the line (without itemizing deductions), technically referred to as an adjustment to gross income. The spouse receiving the alimony can treat it as earned income for purposes of qualifying to make an IRA contribution, thus allowing the recipient spouse to contribute to an IRA even if he or she has no other income from working.

Because the spouses making the payments will sometimes claim more alimony than they actually paid and some recipient spouses will sometimes report less alimony income than they received, the IRS requires the paying spouse to include on his or her tax return the recipient spouse’s Social Security number so the IRS can match by computer the amount received to the amount paid.

Divorce Agreements Completed after 2018 – Under the Act, for divorce agreements entered into after 2018, the alimony is not deductible by the payer and is not taxable income for the recipient. Since the recipient isn’t reporting alimony income, it cannot be treated as earned income for purposes of the recipient making an IRA contribution.

This revised treatment of alimony also applies to any divorce or separation instrument executed before January 1, 2019, that is modified after 2018, if the modification expressly provides that the change made by the Act is to apply.

If you have questions about the treatment of alimony or other tax matters related to divorce, please give us a call.