Dollars & Sense
3 Tips to Make Bookkeeping Less Intimidating
A smart bookkeeping system will save you from heartache and hassle if you’re ever audited by the IRS. And it can help you maximize tax deductions, so you can keep more of the money you earn. But for many expedite owner-operators, staying on top of all your receipts can be an intimidating process, causing you to want to put things off, only to scramble at the last minute, stressing out as you hunt for everything you need to file taxes.
How can you push through that feeling of dread of managing receipts to set up a system that gets your year started off right? Here are three tips.
1. Consult with a tax professional.
Speak with a tax advisor who has experience working with expedite owner-operators for advice on how to set up your books, with proper expense and income categories, in a way that best fits your business. This upfront investment in an accountant’s time and advice will save you a lot of time and money down the road.
If you don’t already have someone in mind, here are a few trucking-focused full-service accounting and bookkeeping firms to consider:
2. Decide on a system that works for you.
Veteran expediter Linda Caffee uses a combination of Quicken and Excel spreadsheets for her and husband Bob’s bookkeeping. “With Quicken, I can set up our categories and subcategories really easy,” says Caffee. “Then I keep track of all of our receipts throughout the year and send [my printed reports and receipts] to our accountant at the end of the year to complete our tax returns.”
Tom Evans, an expedite owner-operator for about 15 years with his wife Tina, offers this advice: “Whatever accounting system you use, keep all financial documents for future reference or for tax purposes. As far as income and expense recordkeeping goes, good accounting software is a great thing to have. If you do this ‘old school,’ a good paper ledger or some sort of system that meets your own needs is a great way, as well. We use a spreadsheet system that we’ve modified over the years that works well for us.”
There are also accounting software systems that have been customized to the unique needs and circumstances of owner-operators, such as:
Some full-service accounting and bookkeeping firms offer a combination of online accounting software and offline tax advice and preparation. For example with ATBS, you would send your receipts to them -- via mail, email or uploaded picture from your smartphone. The company says it prepares a monthly profit and loss statement for its clients, along with quarterly tax estimates and annual tax returns. It also provides benchmark financial statistics, so you can see how your business is performing compared to the other owner operators.
The most important consideration, says Caffee, is to choose a system -- whether digital, paper, or a combination of both -- that you’re most comfortable with and follow it.
3. Keep records organized -- and safe.
You want to make sure you have all your financial documentation within easy reach to minimize any disruption in case you’re ever audited or need to prove a purchase for warranty purposes (such as with tires).
“If you’re ‘old school,’ a nice filing cabinet labeled properly will be a great help,” says Evans. “Another idea is to use expandable folders for keeping all yearly receipts and tax returns together for storage, which take up less space [than a full-size file cabinet].”
For very important documents, consider digital storage, Evans advises. “Remember that some receipts and other documents will fade over time. These need to be copied or scanned and stored where you can easily find and retrieve them.”
Says Evans: “No matter how you choose to do your bookkeeping, just make sure you do it -- and keep records of everything.”