Sunday, August 22, 2010

Don’t muck things up

John R. McCarthy —I’ll call him Johnny—retired from Rocketdyne, Inc. He’d worked as a scientist and engineer for 35 years writing technical and scientific proposals. Thereafter, he still worked, but was self-employed, utilizing his prior experience.

On various Schedules C, Johnny listed his “principal business or profession” as writing, investing, job shopping, art, engineering, science, consulting, teaching, photography, and research. (A bit unfocused, eh?) Johnny stuck some royalties, interest income, and lecture fees characterized as business income on the Schedule C pertaining to writing. Despite asserting that he used those resources to pay for writing expenses, such income didn’t derive from any writing he had done. Johnny should have reported these royalties and fees as “other income” and the interest income on the interest-income line on his tax return.

The court said that Johnny’s expenses which truly related to writing couldn’t offset such income which didn’t come from writing. Everything Johnny did made it look like he was confused and undecided. To use a cliché, Johnny was a jack of all trades and a master of none. The expenses he listed on various Schedules C related to his writing activity all right. Writing was the only activity he really engaged in with regularity. Concluding that he should have reported everything on a single Schedule C pertaining only to writing, I’ll bet you’re not surprised to hear that the court concluded that he lacked a profit motive. He hadn’t generated any writing revenue. While aspects of his activity were managed in a businesslike manner, Johnny couldn’t explain how he expected to recoup his substantial losses. A sound, focused business plan and accurate and complete financial and non-financial records could have helped—both in making his business profitable and in convincing the IRS he had a “profit motive.”

Don’t muck things up. Forget trying to disguise income from other sources as income for expression activities. That’d be crazy. Keep records—business and non-business—that present operations clearly, completely, and succinctly. Remember the bard’s advice: brevity is the soul of wit. Mind your debits and credits if you use them. If not, don’t scrimp on accuracy, meticulousness, and using the data germane to and used in conjunction with a vibrant, viable and compelling business plan. Make it crystal clear that you have a plan to succeed as a writer—that your goals show that you plan to be as successful as J. K. Rowling or Dave Barry. If you’re convincing enough, you’ll never have to worry about convincing the IRS that you’ll recoup your losses.

Non-financial records should include databases of contacts, customers, and consultants, along with their pertinent information. If you’re a writer, you should keep track of the hours of your writing, researching, and editing. You should have a database to show details about your submissions, including the title of the work, where you submitted it, the date, follow-ups, responses, sales, etc.
One further thing: keep your expression activity records separate from personal records and other business records. Have separate expression activity credit cards, debit cards, checking and savings accounts, and accounts at your favorite vendors. If you have more than a single proprietorship, don’t ever intermingle them. Doing so may subject you to ridicule.

No comments:

Post a Comment