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Keep accurate records to avoid tax stress

One thing many people give up when they become small business owners is the “luxury” of paying taxes only on April 15. Depending on your location and type of business, you may have to pay one or more commercial and revenue taxes several times a year. If you keep good records, you can eliminate the worry and complications of these filings. The key is to create a recordkeeping system that is consistent, organized and comprehensive.

Today, accounting software makes sense for even the smallest businesses to record and reconcile transactions. Whether you use a manual or computerized system, though, your goal is to be able to document your business activity for tax purposes as well as develop a picture of how your business is doing at any given time: what is owed to you and how much you owe.

All funds passing through the business should be documented in your checkbook and logged into the general ledger, which serves as the master record of your business’s financial transactions.

Even if you are a solo entrepreneur, you should maintain a dedicated bank account for all business transactions, keeping them separate from your personal or household expenses. This account is a master record of the financial history of your business. Deposit and enter all cash and check receipts into this business account and post all expenditures through it. This ensures that all incoming and outgoing funds associated with the business are properly documented. If you do not have a business name, open the bank account in your name as a business account.

A petty cash box can take care of advances for small day-to-day expenses such as parking or postage. However, you want to limit the number of employees who can disperse these funds and require signed receipts for any use of petty cash.

Make sure you maintain a calendar of all deadlines for filing returns and making payments on state, local and federal taxes. The IRS can provide additional pointers to help make your tax preparations less complicated. Forms, publications and other information are available at www.irs.gov.

If you would like to discuss business taxes and recordkeeping, contact SCORE Grand Rapids. SCORE counselors provide free, confidential counseling to help you develop, prepare and improve your business. For information on SCORE Grand Rapids, and the workshop schedule go to our web-site www.scoregr.org.

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

Posted in BusinessComments Off on Ask SCORE

Can they ask me that? 


Six improper and illegal interview questions and how to answer them 

Picture this: A great job interview is drawing to a close. Hoping to find out more about the candidate on a personal level, the interviewer asks, “So, are you married?” The candidate blurts out, “I’m so excited! My fiancé and I are getting married this June.” The employer starts to think, Okay…but what if she wants to start a family soon after? Maternity leave could mean that we’d have to hire a temp. It might be better to look at other candidates.

Is this scenario politically correct? No. In fact, it is illegal for employers to ask about a candidate’s family plans (marriage, engagement, and child planning), among a host of other issues. But according to Peter K. Studner, many interviewers and candidates don’t know that.

“Most interviewers haven’t had formal training on what questions border on improper or are illegal, and as a result, interviewees often volunteer wrong answers and too much information,” says Studner, author of Super Job Search IV: The Complete Manual for Job Seekers & Career Changers (Jamenair Ltd., 2015, ISBN: 978-0-938667-06-3, $26.95, www.SuperJobSearch.com). “That’s why it’s important for all job seekers to know which questions are illegal and how to politely deflect them without harming their candidacy.

“Oh, and if you’re curious, a good answer to ‘Are you married?’ would be, ‘I have a good social life and am focused 100 percent on moving my career forward,’” he adds.

In Super Job Search IV, Studner, whose outplacement firm has helped over 27,000 people receive offers, guides readers through the complicated process of conducting a targeted and ultimately successful job search campaign. Best of all, Super Job Search IV isn’t “just” a book—it’s a systematic approach to finding a job that includes online resources and an app.

Here, Studner shares six questions employers shouldn’t ask (but often do), along with possible replies:

How old are you? It’s illegal for employers to ask a candidate’s age unless they’re trying to determine whether or not a candidate is a minor. That said, your odds of hearing this question go up if you’re a more mature candidate.

“While an employer may not know your exact age, they’ll still be aware of the general ballpark—so refusing to state that you’re 57 might be of limited usefulness,” Studner comments. “In a situation like this, I recommend getting the interviewer to focus on your experience, not your age. A good response might be, ‘I’m in my 50s. Does age make a difference for this job?’ Then remind the interviewer that you bring 20 to 25 years’ experience to the table and describe several of your most applicable accomplishments.”

When did you graduate college or high school? This is a more sneaky way for employers to fish for your age—and it’s still illegal. Studner says your first tactic should be to sidestep the question: “I did not put that down on my résumé as I was told that it is not pertinent for any job application.” This response should do nicely to get you off the hook.

“If the interviewer presses for a reply, you might give him the date and then ask how that applies to your candidacy,” he advises. “And in the final analysis, would you really want to work for a company where the management discriminates against age? It might be better to move on.”

How’s your health? Employers have the right to determine if you are physically able to perform the functions of the job for which you’re applying. But beyond that, you are not obligated to—nor should you—reveal any health issues you may have. Rather than volunteer that you are a cancer survivor in your third year, for example, a better reply might be, “I had a physical after I left my last job and passed it with flying colors!” And if it is true, add, “…in my last year, I used only four days of sick leave.”

“People have a tendency to volunteer too much information about themselves,” Studner comments. “While you can be proud and certainly grateful that you’re a cancer survivor, it does not belong in your interview discussion. It’s really none of the employer’s business.”

What’s your religion? Do you observe any religious holidays? Any question that asks you to reveal your religion is illegal. If this topic comes up—and assuming that the person who is interviewing you will not be your boss—you might tell him or her politely that is an improper question. Know that this is a risky strategy, though. You may have won the conversation but lost the interview.

“Alternatively, you might simply say, ‘I prefer not to discuss my religion, but I can assure you that it will not interfere with my doing this job,’” Studner says. “You might also try to deliver the same message with some humor: ‘What religion do you have in mind? I would consider practicing it as I really would like to work here!’ There is no sense in getting upset when an interviewer does not pay attention to the rules. And humor can sometimes bring the conversation back within proper bounds.”

Do you have a criminal record? It’s legal for employers to ask if you’ve been convicted of a crime on job applications and in interviews. Many employers ask this as a matter of course and certainly will if a particular type of conviction might relate to the job’s duties. That said, employers can’t ask about your arrest record—but that doesn’t mean they can’t do independent research, either.

“I once had a candidate who had a DUI arrest,” Studner recounts. “She wasn’t obligated to disclose this, but in her state, certain websites could legally post her picture and arrest information. These websites essentially blackmailed individuals with a ‘fee’ to have their arrest posting either removed or placed at the end of the line. With the help of an attorney, it cost her a few thousand dollars to get her notices off the Internet.

“In a manner of speaking, this client was fortunate because she could afford to have the evidence removed, but not all candidates are in the same position,” he continues. “In these kinds of cases where a future employer might uncover prior arrests, it is important to discuss the incident up front and point out that it was a thing of the past, never to be repeated. The more serious the offense, the more convincing you have to be.”

Before you sat down, I noticed that you have a limp. How did that happen? This question represents any query about disability. Here’s what you need to know: An employer cannot legally ask about a person’s disability, but can indicate certain characteristics about a job that might require a more direct reply about the candidate’s abilities. For example, “This job requires lifting packages up to 30 pounds, or standing on your feet for six hours a day, or talking on the phone at least 80 percent of the time. Is this something you can do on a continuous basis?”

“Here you need to be frank,” Studner says. “If you have a disability, there are agencies nationally and locally that can help you find a company with jobs suitable for your limitations. However, if you have a disability that does not interfere with the job’s requirements, you are not obligated to disclose or discuss it.”

“While this is not an exhaustive list of every improper or illegal question, it should prepare you to reply to them and, when possible, sidestep innocent but damaging answers,” Studner concludes. “My advice to all candidates is to never lie in an interview, but also to never volunteer negative information.”

For more on answering tricky interview questions, consult Super Job Search IV.

Peter K. Studner is the author of Super Job Search IV. He is a master career counselor and former chief executive and board member of companies in the United States, France, and Great Britain. He has helped thousands of people with their career transitions and trains other career professionals to deliver this easy-to-follow program.

To learn more, please visit www.SuperJobSearch.com.

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Cedar Springs McDonald’s manager receives award


Left to right: Joe Kowal, McCopCo, director in Michigan; Brian Miller, manager at Cedar Springs McDonald’s; Joan Rachelson, McDonald’s QSC vice president; and Terry Alexander, director of field services for McDonald’s in Michigan.


Brian Miller, general manager at the McDonald’s restaurant at 4141 17 Mile Rd, in Cedar Springs, recently received a McDonald’s Outstanding Manager Award by McDonald’s Corp.

In order to earn the award, managers must meet certain criteria, including:

*Operations at an outstanding level of quality, service and cleanliness on an ongoing basis

*Exemplifies leadership in the implementation and execution of initiatives or procedures to improve McDonald’s

*Recognized as a leader in delivering operational excellence

*Consistently displays hospitality through their actions and attitudes and creates a hospitality environment with their crew and management team

*Positively supports their community by being involved in activities that build sales and good will.

Miller was one of 18 managers in Michigan to receive the award.

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Are You Ready for The Hack?  


April 21 in Grand Rapids

Are you ready for the hack? That’s the title of a presentation being given by Barb Heimstra, Information Security Director for Kent County, sponsored by the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium. Whether you’re just getting started, or have a repeatable process, this 30 minute presentation can help.  It includes the National Cyber Hygiene Campaign, which is designed to assist small to medium businesses with guidelines to improve your cyber profile.

Because of the importance of BBB Accredited Businesses protecting themselves and their customers from cyber-related compromises, we alert you to this free opportunity to gain some understanding. On April 21, Trivalent is hosting their Solutions Expo at the Prince Center at Calvin College. Thirty breakout sessions are available to you. However, you must register to attend.

For those of you who need to understand enough to manage those who really do the technical work of your business, there is an Executive Track with speakers on topics such as legal considerations for IT, the future of work, cloud compliance, an HR Executive from Twitter on “Making Twitter a Great Place to Work, Lessons for Other Organizations” and more.

If you would like to know more, you can visit the event page here:  http://www.trivalentgroup.com/solutions-expo/join-us/

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Coming and going


Workbox Staffing, a temporary employment agency, is now located in Cedar Springs at 4116 17 Mile Rd, next to Little Caesars. They are locally owned and have served the surrounding area since 1997. “Our move to the area (from Rockford) was to help provide better service to our northern Kent County area clients,” said Billi Thielke, sales representative for Workbox Staffing.

According to their website at workboxstaffing.com, they specialize in hiring for manufacturing, industrial work, warehouse operation, office support and more. They offer a variety of services including direct hire, temp to hire, short-term, long-term temporary and contract workers, payroll plans, drug and alcohol screenings, background checks, resume workshops, workplace skills proficiency tests and much more.

Give them a call today at 616-326-2550 or check them out online at www.workboxstaffing.com.

Family Farm and Home has renovated the old Family Fare Store at 4174 17 Mile Road in Cedar Springs, and is now open for business.

Posted in BusinessComments Off on Coming and going


SCORE: How to accelerate business growth

Essentially every business needs to grow to better serve markets and to provide opportunity for key staff. Also to replace customers who move on. That means businesses need a steady supply of new customers to prosper. How can business owners find those customers?

Extra thought on how to connect with prospects, and keep existing customers loyal, will pay dividends. Think about:

• Why is your product or service better than the competition? Do you provide more selection? Do you provide “end to end” solutions? Differentiated products and services increase loyalty—and opportunity for margins.

• Who is an ideal customer? Be as specific as possible. Age, gender, income level, work location, home location all can be relevant.

• How can you best to connect with your ideal prospect? Envision your ideal customer to identify how to connect. Prospects under 40 (or 50?) get most of their information from digital sources. Traditional mediums will have lower yield.

• What can you provide to get their attention and loyalty? Give prospects something. A coupon, a short message (like this column) establishes a connection and makes an “ask” more acceptable.

• Are all customers very happy with their experience? Take care of everyone experiencing your product or service. Your reputation is critical. Especially in today’s world, people believe friends and reviewers more than anything that you can say about yourself does.

Getting professional help will move you more quickly and effectively in creating the essential messages and in using communication channels. Not all of us are creative writers or graphic artists. Not all of us are experts in Internet based communication tools. However, professionally produced messages and delivery is easily noted.

In addition, consider a mentor from SCORE. Our local Grand Rapids chapter has about 40 experienced volunteer mentors – more than 1200 years of business leadership in a variety of industries. In addition, we work together on behalf of you and your company.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 389 SCORE chapters around the country assisting entrepreneurs. While counseling is always free of charge, local chapters also offer small business workshops and seminars for modest fees.

To learn more about SCORE and its counseling services, call 616.771.0305 or email your questions to score@grandrapids.org.

Posted in BusinessComments Off on Ask SCORE

Charity Ball raises record setting funds for hospitals


On Saturday, February 14, the Spectrum Health Foundation United & Kelsey Hospitals held its annual Charity Ball event at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Charity Ball 2015 hosted over 300 attendees, drawing guests from the Greenville area and surrounding communities. The event featured gourmet dining, big band entertainment and the presentation of the Fred & Lena Meijer Spirit of Caring Award.

Annually, Charity Ball plays a vital role in the hospital’s strategic plan for growth. Not only does it raise financial support for services and technology, it brings together members of the community around a common purpose—accessible and excellent health care that is close to home.

This year’s event set an all-time fundraising record. Charity Ball 2015 raised over $102,000 in net proceeds, representing a 5 percent increase over last year. Proceeds are designated for establishing a Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at United Hospital. An area of the hospital is currently under renovation for this program and is expected to open in summer 2015.

“The Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program will provide individualized, monitored exercise regimens, as well as education on managing heart and lung diseases. Thanks to the support of our communities, patients will have local access to a program that is often able to dramatically improve their quality of life,” said Brian Brasser, president, United and Kelsey Hospitals.

Spectrum Health Foundation United & Kelsey Hospitals would like to thank the supporters and volunteers of Charity Ball 2015. “Philanthropy is essential to this project and it is because of the support of many individuals and businesses that Charity Ball 2015 was a record-breaking success!” exclaims Shelly Westbrook, director, Spectrum Health Foundation United & Kelsey Hospitals. “Charitable donations make a vast difference in the lives of United and Kelsey Hospital patients and families and we thank you.”

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Company claims customers owe for magazines


But customers say they never agreed to purchase them

In the past two months the Better Business Bureau has received 13 complaints about sales and billing practices of American Readers Source (ARS), a magazine subscription sales organization that lists its address as a mail forwarding location in Grandville. BBB is attempting to determine the actual location of the business.

Typical complaints include demands from a collections company claiming consumer debts of $1,098 to ARS for magazines the consumers say they never agreed to. ARS claims to have recorded phone conversations verifying contracts. In some cases consumers point to deceptive practices to get billing and home address information, such as posing as an insurance company. In some cases ARS responds to complaints agreeing to consumer concerns and ending collection action. In others, ARS says they have pre-paid for the magazines to the publisher, and continue to demand the money through debt collectors.

Consumers respond by stating they did not order magazines in the first place.

BBB reminds you to be very careful with phone call solicitations of any type, no matter what they are offering. The Federal Trade Commission reports that debt collection and phone fraud are ranked at the top of the list of complaints by Michigan consumers.  Any information gathered by the caller might be used in a way you did not intend. Salespeople may offer benefits that are untrue or misleading. Always check out the company you are talking with before giving them any information or agreeing to do business with them. If you find yourself getting collection notices for services you did not agree to, contact the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission.

Be sure to always research any organization you are considering doing business with by visiting www.bbb.org/western-michigan.

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Taxes, ex-spouse benefits and you


By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

April 14 is both Ex-Spouse Day and the eve of tax day. These two observances are doubly important if you are an ex-spouse, because Social Security pays benefits to eligible former spouses, and 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 former spouse’s record even if he or she hasn’t retired, as long as you divorced at least two years before applying. You can also elect to receive only the divorced spouse benefits and delay benefits on your own record after your full retirement age, which may translate to a higher monthly amount for you. If, however, you decide to wait until full retirement age to apply as a divorced spouse, your benefit will be equal to half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount or disability benefit. 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’s 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.

Vonda VanTil is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov  

Posted in Tax TimeComments Off on Taxes, ex-spouse benefits and you

Avoid These Common Tax Mistakes


Nobody’s perfect. Mistakes happen. But if you make a mistake on your tax return, it will likely take the IRS longer to process it. That could delay your refund. The best way to avoid errors is to use IRS e-file. Paper filers are about 20 times more likely to make a mistake than e-filers. IRS e-file is the most accurate way to file your tax return.

Here are eight common tax-filing errors to avoid:

1. Wrong or missing Social Security numbers.  Be sure you enter all SSNs on your tax return exactly as they are on the Social Security cards.

2. Wrong names.  Be sure you spell the names of everyone on your tax return exactly as they are on their Social Security cards.

3. Filing status errors.  Some people use the wrong filing status, such as Head of Household instead of Single. The Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help you choose the right status. If you e-file, the tax software helps you choose.

4. Math mistakes.  Double-check your math. For example, be careful when you add or subtract or figure items on a form or worksheet. Tax preparation software does all the math for e-filers.

5. Errors in figuring credits or deductions.  Many filers make mistakes figuring their Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the standard deduction. If you’re not e-filing, follow the instructions carefully when figuring credits and deductions. For example, if you’re age 65 or older or blind, be sure you claim the correct, higher standard deduction.

6. Wrong bank account numbers.  You should choose to get your refund by direct deposit. Be sure to use the right routing and account numbers on your return. The fastest and safest way to get your tax refund is to combine e-file with direct deposit.

7. Forms not signed.  An unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check – it’s not valid. Both spouses must sign a joint return.

8. Electronic filing PIN errors.  When you e-file, you sign your return electronically with a Personal Identification Number. If you know last year’s e-file PIN, you can use that. If you don’t know it, enter the Adjusted Gross Income from the 2013 tax return that you originally filed with the IRS. Do not use the AGI amount from an amended return or a return that the IRS corrected.

If you found this Tax Tip helpful, please share it through your social media platforms. A great way to get tax information is to use IRS Social Media. You can also subscribe to IRS Tax Tips or any of our e-news subscriptions.

Posted in Tax TimeComments Off on Avoid These Common Tax Mistakes