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Lions Club inducts new members

BUS-Lions-Club

Wow, look at us grow! The Cedar Springs Lions added some new members recently. In the picture from left to right is: new members Sue Norton, Patricia Miszewski, Tammy Metzger, Brynadette Powell, Liz Becker, and President Jerry VanderWal. If you still don’t know who or what the Lions are come to a meeting, or check us out on Facebook! The Cedar Springs Lions meet the first and third Tuesday of the month, at 6:30 p.m., at the North Kent Senior Center (44 N Park St).

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Shared Advertising Helps You Gain Larger Audience Share

Even on a limited budget, every retail business must advertise to keep new customers coming in the door. Co-promotions and cooperative advertising are two approaches to maximizing the value of your advertising  dollars by sharing the costs. The supplier (typically a manufacturer  or distributor) benefits because its product gains greater exposure at the same time its sales are increasing.

Co-promotion  may be an option if you can split your ad costs with another local business serving your same target audience. Those costs could include sponsorships, ads, newsletters, fliers and bill stuffers. You may identify one or more vendors who are willing to share the cost of a trade show booth as well as the printed materials and staffing required for the booth.

With cooperative advertising (also known as co-op advertising), two or more parties are sharing certain ad costs. This arrangement may take the form of an incentive program, with manufacturers  contributing dollars to the ad campaigns of distributors or retailers to encourage the promotion of certain products.

Suppliers who participate in co-op advertising programs usually give the retailer credits for purchasing their products  or services. Those advertising credits can amount to 3 percent to 5 percent of the total purchase. The credits can be redeemed when the business owner buys advertising that the supplier approves. Often Yellow Pages advertising qualifies for co-op money.

The supplier sets the guidelines. Usually the ads eligible for co-op dollars feature the supplier’s brand exclusively. In addition the supplier may have to sign off on the ad and the chosen medium being used if not also the frequency. Sometimes suppliers have ad copy or scripts that must be used to qualify for a reimbursement. If not, the supplier probably will want to approve of the ad before it runs. Remember, however, that the ad should feature your business prominently in addition to playing up the product.

How do you get reimbursed for co-op advertising? There are two approaches. You may have to pay for the ad up front and then give the supplier a copy of the ad. For radio or TV ads, you’ll probably need to show the script and proof of the dates and times the ads were aired. Some suppliers, however, may issue credits that equate to their agreed-upon share of the advertising. Then the business owner can make future purchases  from the supplier at a discount.

The great thing about shared advertising is it enables a business owner to spend less on advertising and use those savings to grow the business in other ways.

If you would like to discuss advertising strategies, including cooperative advertising, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” Call1-616-771-0305 for the Grand Rapids SCORE chapter, or find a counselor  online at http://www.scoregr.org./

Get free and confidential counseling with SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call (616) 771-0305. Visit our website at www.scoregr.org or email us at score@grandrapids.org.

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Tip income: how it affects your taxes

Tax tip 2016-54

If you get income from tips, you should know some things about tips and taxes. Here are a few tips from the IRS to help you file and report your tip income correctly:

  • Show all tips on your return. You must report tip income. This includes the value of non-cash tips such as tickets, passes or other items.
  • All tips are taxable. You must pay tax on all tips you received during the year. This includes tips directly from customers and tips added to credit cards. This also includes your share of tips received from a tip-splitting agreement with other employees. 
  • Report tips to your employer. If you receive $20 or more in any one month, you must report your tips for that month to your employer by the 10th day of the next month. Only include cash and check and credit card tips you received. Your employer must withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on the reported tips. 
  • Keep a daily log of tips. Use Publication 1244, Employee’s Daily Record of Tips and Report to Employer, to record your tips. This will help you report the correct amount of tips on your tax return.

For more on this topic, see Publication 531, Reporting Tip Income. You can get it on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Must-know tips about the home office deduction

IRS Tax Tip 2016-53

If you use your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. If you qualify, you can claim the deduction whether you rent or own your home. You may use either the simplified method or the regular method to claim your deduction. Here are six tips that you should know about the home office deduction:

1. Regular and Exclusive Use. As a general rule, you must use a part of your home regularly and exclusively for business purposes. The part of your home used for business must also be:

  • Your principal place of business, or
  • A place where you meet clients or customers in the normal course of business, or
  • A separate structure not attached to your home. Examples could include a garage or a studio.

2. Simplified Option. If you use the simplified option, multiply the allowable square footage of your office by a rate of $5. The maximum footage allowed is 300 square feet. This option will save you time because it simplifies how you figure and claim the deduction. It will also make it easier for you to keep records. This option does not change the rules for claiming a home office deduction.

3. Regular Method. This method includes certain costs that you paid for your home. For example, if you rent your home, part of the rent you paid may qualify. If you own your home, part of the mortgage interest, taxes and utilities you paid may qualify. The amount you can deduct usually depends on the percentage of your home used for business.

4. Deduction Limit. If your gross income from the business use of your home is less than your expenses, the deduction for some expenses may be limited.

5. Self-Employed. If you are self-employed and choose the regular method, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure the amount you can deduct. You can claim your deduction using either method on Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business. See the Schedule C instructions for how to report your deduction.

6. Employees. You must meet additional rules to claim the deduction if you are an employee. For example, your business use must also be for the convenience of your employer. If you qualify, you claim the deduction on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

For more on this topic, see Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home. You can view, download and print IRS tax forms and publications on IRS.gov/forms anytime.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Need more time to file your taxes?

IRS Tax tip 2016-51

The April 18 tax deadline is coming up. If you need more time to file your taxes, you can get an automatic six-month extension from the IRS. Here are five things to know about filing an extension:

1. Use IRS Free File to file an extension. You can use IRS Free File to e-file your extension request for free. Free File is only available through IRS.gov. You must e-file the extension request by midnight April 18. If you do request an extension, come back to Free File to prepare and e-file your taxes for free. You can access the program at any time through Oct. 17.

2. Use Form 4868. You can also request an extension by filling out Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You must mail this form to the IRS by April 18. Form 4868 is available on IRS.gov/forms.

3. More time to file is not more time to pay. An extension to file will give you until Oct. 17 to file your taxes. It does not, however, give you more time to pay your taxes. Estimate and pay what you owe by April 18 to avoid a potential late filing penalty. You will be charged interest on any tax that you don’t pay on time. You may also owe a penalty if you pay your tax late. Interest is normally charged on any unpaid tax.

4. IRS Direct Pay. Pay your tax with IRS Direct Pay. Visit IRS.gov/directpay to use this free and secure way to pay from your checking or savings account. You also have other electronic payment options. The IRS will automatically process your extension – and you don’t have to file a separate request — when you pay electronically. You can pay online or by phone.

5. IRS helps if you can’t pay all you owe. If you can’t pay all the tax you owe, the IRS offers you payment options. In most cases, you can apply for an installment agreement with the Online Payment Agreement application on IRS.gov. You may also file Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request. If you can’t make payments because of financial hardship, the IRS will work with you.

You can use our Interactive Tax Assistant tool  to help you determine the due date of your federal tax return, or whether you are eligible to file for an extension.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Six facts you should know before deducting a charitable donation

IRS Tax tip 2016-47

If you gave money or goods to a charity in 2015, you may be able to claim a deduction on your federal tax return. Here are six important facts you should know about charitable donations.

1. Qualified Charities. You must donate to a qualified charity. Gifts to individuals, political organizations or candidates are not deductible. An exception to this rule is contributions under the Slain Officer Family Support Act of 2015. To check the status of a charity, use the IRS Select Check tool.

2. Itemize Deductions. To deduct your contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions. File Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, with your federal tax return.

3. Benefit in Return. If you get something in return for your donation, you may have to reduce your deduction. You can only deduct the amount of your gift that is more than the value of what you got in return. Examples of benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to an event or other goods and services.

4. Type of Donation. If you give property instead of cash, your deduction amount is normally limited to the item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price you would get if you sold the property on the open market. If you donate used clothing and household items, they generally must be in good condition, or better, to be deductible. Special rules apply to cars, boats and other types of property donations.

5. Form to File and Records to Keep. You must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, for all noncash gifts totaling more than $500 for the year. If you need to prepare a Form 8283, you can prepare and e-file your tax return for free using IRS Free File. The type of records you must keep depends on the amount and type of your donation. To learn more about what records to keep see Publication 526.

6. Donations of $250 or More. If you donated cash or goods of $250 or more, you must have a written statement from the charity. It must show the amount of the donation and a description of any property given. It must also say whether you received any goods or services in exchange for the gift.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Creating customer empathy

Companies with a feel for empathy can be better able to encourage customers.

Companies with a feel for empathy can be better able to encourage customers.

BUS-Create-empathy2by Diane Emo

(NAPS)—If you own, run or work for any of the approximately 23 million small- to mid-sized businesses in America, chances are, you want more sales. So, how do you make it happen? By showing customers you care. In this world of impersonal interactions and instant communication, there’s enormous value and differentiation in creating empathy for the customer’s situation.

Sales training often piles on facts, figures and details that can turn a salesperson’s brain into a mish-mash of disconnected information with no context. So, keep it simple. Train salespeople to be empathetic, consultative professionals by building on the things they already know. They know how they expect to be treated as customers—because we are all customers, right? They know how they feel when people treat them unfairly or push them into a decision. They know when someone is really listening to them, not pretending. So, start with a customer context as a way to build your story.

Here is a three-step path toward building customer empathy in your sales teams.

1. Listen for emotion to find customer pain points: An interesting thing happens when salespeople ask questions: customers talk. What’s going on here? How long has that been going on? What have you tried so far to fix it? Here’s the secret: listen for emotion in their words—disappointed, frustrated, angry, tried repeatedly, no response. Then, repeat the customer’s exact words to confirm their pain point. “It sounds like you’re pretty frustrated…” Pain points are the issues or problems that are significant enough for the customer to make a change—and buy from you instead.

2. Teach a simple consulting model for value-based conversations focused on the customer’s pain points. I write 3 columns on the whiteboard labeled “What I heard (pain point),” “What we will do (solution),” and “That will help you (value).” Then, I ask the rep to give me one of her customer’s pain points. For example, “What I heard is that the odor in your restroom continues to be a problem, even though you’ve asked your service to fix it. What we will do is use a disinfectant that kills the germs causing the odor. That will help you have a restroom that consistently smells good for your customers and employees.”

3. Feel, felt, found is still a good formula for moving people from objections to closed deals. When a customer states an objection, try this:

• Feel. Say something like, “I understand how you feel.” This lets customers know you heard them express their feelings, can relate, and understand why they feel the way they do. The customer feels validated instead of ignored.

• Felt. With a response such as, “Other people I’ve talked to have felt the same way,” you tell the customer the issue is not uncommon. He or she is not alone. It can be resolved. This also sets the rep up to position a way to positively address the issue and move on.

• Found. “They found the situation improved right away after making the decision to ____.” Convey the idea that people get positive results and improvement after choosing your product or service.

The last step is to ask for the deal! Help your reps find a simple closing statement that works for them. My favorite: “OK, let’s get the paperwork signed so we can get started right away.”

If your sales team keeps these tips in mind and your customers in their hearts, then you may find more sales on your books.

Diane Emo is Vice President of Marketing for Coverall North America, Inc.

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Ex-spouse Benefits, Taxes, and You

 

By: Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Mid-April features both Ex-Spouse Day and tax day. These two observances are extra important if you are an ex-spouse, because Social Security pays benefits to eligible former spouses. In addition, you may need to claim this income on your tax forms.

If you are age 62, unmarried, and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on his or her record. To be eligible, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. If you have since remarried, you can’t collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce, or death. Also, if you’re entitled to benefits on your own record, your benefit amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. In other words, we’ll pay the higher of the two benefits for which you’re eligible, but not both.

You can apply for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record even if he or she hasn’t retired, as long as you divorced at least two years before applying. The same rules apply for a deceased former spouse.

The amount of benefits you get has no effect on the benefits of your ex-spouse and his or her current spouse. Visit Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced at, www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/divspouse.htm to find all the eligibility requirements you must meet to apply as a divorced spouse. Our benefits planner gives you an idea of your monthly benefit amount. If your ex-spouse died after you divorced, you can still quality for widow’s benefits. You’ll find information about that in a note at the bottom of the website.

Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/divspouse.htm today to learn whether you’re eligible for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record. That could mean a considerable amount of monthly income. What you learn may bring a smile to your face … even on tax day!

Stephanie Holland is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 455 Bond St Benton Harbor MI 49022 or via email at stephanie.holland@ssa.gov

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SCORE: Your gateway to business success

By Ernie Birge, SCORE Counselor

 

SCORE is here to help entrepreneurs, and owners of small to medium-sized businesses be more successful. SCORE provides free business mentoring through more than 40 experienced individuals in our Grand Rapids Chapter. These volunteers offer more than 400 years of business management experience in many different areas.

If you have a vision of a new business you want to start, contact us and let us mentor you through the process of establishing a formal plan for your business.  We’ll show you how to plan your startup. We’ll help you analyze the competition you will face and learn how to show your potential customers why they should do business with you. Your SCORE mentor will help you determine the financial resources you will need to have available as you get ready to open your doors for business.

If you have an established business and you feel challenged in these challenging times, contact us and let one or more SCORE mentors review your business to help you shape a plan to grow your business. Your mentors will help you form a financial plan, look at your marketing activities, or simply listen to you and serve as a sounding board to give you a support system that helps you lead your business. SCORE advisors can assemble a mentoring team with experts from different specialty areas to help you get advice in areas such as finance, marketing, human resources and management.

You can meet with SCORE just once or on a long-term basis. If you have a simple business question or just want an explanation of how a cash flow statement works, SCORE can provide you with answers. However, you really get the best value from SCORE if you set up a series of confidential meetings to talk about a business problem or opportunity.

There are many factors that support your success in your business: a focused business plan, hard work, quality products and services—just to name a few.

Another contributing factor to small business success is good advice. I encourage every entrepreneur that I talk with to seek out advisors. Note that I say mentors, not necessarily a single mentor. Small business owners benefit from having access to numerous perspectives. The effective leader then takes these insights and distills the ideas and advice into what is right for his or her business.

Small businesses represent economic prosperity in America and here in Western Michigan. The success of small business is important to you as a business owner, to your employees and to this community.

Get free and confidential counseling with SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call (616) 771-0305. Visit our website at www.scoregr.org or email us at score@grandrapids.org.

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Claiming a tax deduction for medical and dental expenses

 

IRS Tax tip 2016-35

Your medical expenses may save you money at tax time, but a few key rules apply. Here are some tax tips to help you determine if you can deduct medical and dental expenses on your tax return:

Itemize. You can only claim your medical expenses that you paid for in 2015 if you itemize deductions on your federal tax return.

Income. Include all qualified medical costs that you paid for during the year, however, you only realize a tax benefit when your total amount is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Temporary Threshold for Age 65.  If you or your spouse is age 65 or older, then it’s 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. This exception applies through Dec. 31, 2016.

Qualifying Expenses.  You can include most medical and dental costs that you paid for yourself, your spouse and your dependents including:

*The costs of diagnosing, treating, easing or preventing disease.

*The costs you pay for prescription drugs and insulin.

*The costs you pay for insurance premiums for policies that cover medical care qualify.

*Some long-term care insurance costs.

Exceptions and special rules apply. Costs reimbursed by insurance or other sources normally do not qualify for a deduction. For more examples of costs you can and can’t deduct, see IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms anytime.

Travel Costs Count.  You may be able to deduct travel costs you pay for medical care. This includes costs such as public transportation, ambulance service, tolls and parking fees. If you use your car, you can deduct either the actual costs or the standard mileage rate for medical travel. The rate is 23 cents per mile for 2015.

No Double Benefit.  You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical expenses paid with funds from your Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Arrangements. Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free.

Use the Tool.  Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can deduct your medical expenses. It can answer many of your questions on a wide range of tax topics including the health care law.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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