Business Consulting

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns have brought on a huge shift for people to work from home. Several business leaders have determined that having employees work from home is entirely possible and a great way to reduce overhead costs. Why would you force your employees to drive across town and sit in an office when they are just as productive (if not more) in their own homes? This trend has impacted our household. My husband’s automotive expenses are a fraction of what they were a year ago. On the other hand, our utilities, unlimited highest speed internet requirements, toilet paper and coffee costs have increased substantially. How does this trend impact your tax filing obligations?

Information for Employers:

If you have required your employees to work from home at least 50% of the time, they can claim some of their home office expenses on their personal tax returns. When you hand out your employees T4s, provide a completed T2200 Declaration of Conditions of Employment form. Indicate on the appropriate sections that the employee was required to work from home.

Based on the size of their home office, your employees will be able to claim a percentage of their expenses. This percentage is calculated by dividing the workspace area by the total finished area of the home. Expenses to track include: Utilities (heat, electrical, water), and maintenance (cleaning supplies, paint, plumbing, etc.) and rents. If your employee is paid commissions, they may also claim their insurance and property taxes. If home office specific expenses are incurred (fax line, increased internet capacities, office space only maintenance), the entire expense may be deductible. For example, if your household normally spent $50 per month on internet and now you spend $150 so that your ZOOM calls don’t freeze, one could argue that the $100 extra should be deductible. Similarly, if you revamped a spare room to create an office oasis (paint, shelves) you may (within reason) claim 100% of these costs.

Ensure that your employees are aware that employment expenses are often reviewed by Canada Revenue Agency. Encourage your team to keep their receipts/invoices/statements to be able to prove their claims.

Information for Business Owners:

Whether you are incorporated or a proprietor, you may also claim some home office expenses. The portion claimable is calculated in the same manner as for employees (office space divided by total finished area of your home). In calculating this percentage, it’s tempting to say that a significant portion of the home is used for business purposes. As a general rule, it’s best to keep the percentage around 10%. Any more than that and Canada Revenue Agency can argue that your home was a revenue generating property and you put your Principal Residence Exemption at risk… meaning tax implications on any gains when you sell your house. Also note that if you rent a secure commercial space, you likely cannot claim your office as well.

Keep track of your rents, heat, electricity, insurance, mortgage interest, property taxes, security monitoring fees, and maintenance costs. You can claim the calculated portion of those expenses. Consider office specific costs: the portion of internet required for the smooth running of your business, a fax line, office décor, desk, shelves, chair, chair mat, WIFI booster, etc. These office specific costs may be considered 100% for business purposes and expensed accordingly. Larger items such as furniture, computer, printers, and other office equipment would be expensed over a period of time via Capital Cost Allowance.

Ensure that your claims are reasonable and justifiable. Would it pass the sniff test for Canada Revenue Agency? Was it an expense incurred to earn business income? I think my favorite COVID-19 home office question so far has got to be: With the shortage of toilet paper, do you think I can justify expensing the entire cost of the bidet seat for my toilet? This client won tons of points for creativity and making me laugh out loud during a particularly stressful time in the accounting world. My advice: I would stick to the 10% household repairs and maintenance write off on this one.

If you have any specific questions or concerns about home office expenses for either your employees or yourself as a business owner, I’m always happy to chat. Send me a message at angela@rmllp.ca.

What constitutes a business expense?

I get this question ALL the time from my business clients.

As a general rule, expenses must be incurred with the purpose of earning business income. The expenses must be reasonable and justifiable. I’ve compiled a list of the more common expense questions with the answers to perhaps paint a clearer picture.

Are haircuts a business expense?

This is a solid NO.

Personal grooming costs are not deductible… even though you may have to look presentable and professional to meet with customers and clients. Let’s be honest, almost everyone who is working with the general public should be somewhat groomed. This is a human thing—not a business expense.

What about clothing?

Canada Revenue has a stance that unless the clothing is considered a uniform, it is not deductible. A loose definition of a uniform is something that a normal person would not wear to a mall. (I purposely did not mention Walmart here). This means that your business suits are not deductible. There are occasions where clothing may be permitted as an expense.

  1. Clothing that is specifically required safety gear is a reasonable and justifiable deduction.
  2. Clothing that contains your logo for advertising purposes would also be considered deductible.

Go ahead and order your next golf shirt, jacket or hoodie from a promotional supply store and be a walking billboard (I personally think this would be hilarious if you had a numbered company with no real logo).

Is a home office a business expense?

If you are working out of your home, yes, a portion of the expenses can be expensed. If you are paying rent at an official business location (or own the space), you likely cannot also deduct for your home office. If you are expensing a portion of your home for business purposes, do be careful not to be too aggressive with those claims.

I’d be hesitant to claim more than 10% of your homes’ costs (mortgage interest, property taxes, repairs and maintenance, utilities, insurance, security system, etc.).

If you’re claiming more, Canada Revenue Agency deny a portion of your principal residence exemption when you go and sell your home. In other words, if you claim 40% of your home expenses for your business, CRA would argue that 40% of your home was for not for personal use and therefore, you’d have to report 40% of any gains on sale as income on your taxes.

How are telephones a business expense?

If you still have a landline in your home, you cannot deduct this for business purposes… just the specific charges for any long-distance calls related to business. Your business cell phone can be deductible. Communicate with your cell phone provider that you have a business as certain carriers have special pricing for business owners.

What about conferences?

Here is a brilliant way to make your next trip to Vegas a business expense! Find a conference that is somewhat relevant to your business operations. You can deduct up to two conferences per year.

Paying your children or spouse a wage.

This one boils down to the expense has to be reasonable and justifiable.

  1. Can you pay your 3 year old $10,000 a year for sweeping out the garage?
    • No. This is not reasonable.
  2. Can you pay your husband $150,000 per year for sorting receipts?
    • Likely no—because you wouldn’t pay someone you weren’t related to that kind of amount.
  3. Can you pay your teen minimum wage for sweeping out your shop? Or pay your spouse fair market value for administrative work?
    • Yes. This would probably be considered reasonable.

Keep a detailed timesheet to document and justify the expense…just as you would to any other employee that wasn’t closely related to you or sharing your bed.

How do meals and entertainment factor into business expenses?

Yes, these are deductible expenses… but don’t go too crazy.

  • Go for lunch with that potential referral partner.
  • Buy a coffee for the potential new client.
  • Take the staff out to celebrate completing a major project.
  • Order dinner in house when key staff are staying late to get the job done.

Don’t try and expense every single meal you eat through your company. Similarly, your personal groceries are not deductible. Again, these expenses need to be reasonable and justifiable.

For example, an oilfield contractor would have a tough time justifying how Oilers season tickets were a legit expense to earn business income. On the other hand, if you typically dealt with many customers and relied on referrals, perhaps you could deduct some of those hockey tickets because you gave them to clients or associates as a thank you for referring new business. Documentation is key in this case. Who got the ticket and why?

Every business is unique. If you have specific questions of what types of expenses would be considered reasonable and justifiable for your operations, feel free to contact us.

Profit and Loss Statements Don’t Tell The Whole Story

Your profit and loss statement showing you positive numbers. Yet you are struggling to find the cash to pay your bills on time. Or perhaps your sales volume has increased but you have less cash than ever? Sound familiar? Cashflow (defined as the net amount of cash being transferred in and out of a business) can make or break a profitable business. Poor cash flow can cripple a businesses ability to increase sales volume or if prolonged, can result in bankruptcy.

How to Improve Cashflow

  1. Get Paid Faster. It doesn’t matter how high your revenues are if your customers don’t pay you. Check out the article for some tips on how to speed up the collection process.
  2. Structure loan repayment terms appropriately. Are you trying to aggressively pay off that equipment loan in only a year or two? Talk to your accountant and banker about appropriately structuring that debt over the useful life of the asset.
  3. Take advantage of free credit. Are you paying your bills as soon as they arrive in the mail? Try waiting until the date that the payment is due or negotiate longer payment terms.
  4. Monitor inventory. Keep inventory at a reasonable level for your business. Several months’ worth of product sitting in your warehouse isn’t going to help when your checks start bouncing.
  5. Monitor overhead costs. Every little bit helps. Take the time to carefully review your subscription costs, telephone bills, vendors. Are you paying for things that you no longer need? Are there opportunities to negotiate a better deal?

How NOT to improve Cashflow

  1. Postpone filing and paying your source deductions with Canada Revenue Agency. The penalties and interest are not deductible for tax purposes and can add up in a real hurry. Continual late payments can also get you flagged for a payroll audit.
  2. Postpone filing and paying your GST/HST. Similar to your payroll, Canada Revenue Agency gets pretty cranky when these payments are late. Not paying GST on time is a great way to get your bank accounts seized.

Cashflow Analysis

Have you ever analyzed your cash flow?

A full analysis can be an eye-opening experience to realize the health… or the limitations of your current business operations.

Can You Afford to Grow Your Business?
  • Does your business incur direct costs prior to receiving payment from customers?
  • When are you required to pay your vendors/employees?
  • Compare this timeline to when you typically receive payment from your customers. How long are you required to finance your sales?

This gap between paying for costs and receiving money from your customers is referred to as your working capital days. The greater your working capital days, the greater your requirement to finance when you increase your revenues.

Do you know how many working capital days you’re currently financing in a line of credit? How much financing is required to grow your sales volume by $100? A detailed professional analysis can provide insight.

Example:

Picture a trucking company in Alberta. The typical customer tends to pay within 65 days from the invoice date. The company must pay its employees at the end of the month. During busy times, management relies on subcontract drivers who also demand payment by month-end. The company must also pay for fuel, repairs and various other costs within a timely basis. On average, the company must pay its’ costs within 25 days.

Based on current operations, this company must finance the costs of their sales for a full 40 days before receiving payment. The company relies on lines of credit and reserve savings to finance these sales. When sales volume increases, a larger line of credit is required. Consider additional costs associated with grown (equipment, staffing, etc.) combined with a larger line of credit. At a certain sales level, if cash flow is not carefully monitored, the company may simply not be able to obtain enough financing to grow.

The Power of One

The power of one (as part of a professional cash flow analysis) can be a useful tool in truly realizing the impact of minor changes in your business operations.

What would your cash balance/income/value of the business be if you:

  • Collected your accounts receivables just one day sooner
  • Paid vendors just one day later
  • Increased your sales volume by 1%
  • Increased your prices by 1%
  • Decreased your cost of sales by 1%
  • Decreased the cost of your overhead by 1%

These tiny amounts can equate to significant differences in the health of an organization. Perhaps that line of credit could turn into a positive cash balance. Quite often, this illustration can aid in management decision making.

Sometimes that decision is: We can’t afford not to hire extra office staff to help us keep on top of invoicing and collections.

Call me to discuss how a professional cash flow analysis can benefit your company.