Income is the life source of your business. All your planning and strategies aren’t going to mean much unless you generate enough income to eventually make a profit. There are two types of income your business needs to track. Gross income is the money you receive from selling your products or services minus the costs of goods or services sold. Net income is your profit after you subtract all your expenses and losses.
As a small business owner, you need to know the most reliable ways to collect the income you owed, and how to properly report the income you receive.
- Extending credit: While it’s nice to extend credit to customers, it can also be a money-losing proposition. People who pay with cash or payment card (debit, credit or gift) are your best customers. The only risk they pose is counterfeited bills or cards, which is a pretty small risk. When you get into checks and merchant accounts, you have to be more careful.
- Credit cards: Many small businesses (55 percent in 2013) do not accept credit cards because of the steep fees and the possibility of disputes. If you sell online, you have no choice but to accept credit cards and pay the fees. Remember that if you don’t accept chip-embedded (EMV) credit cards, you are liable for the costs of fraud, a source of friction between merchants and card issuers.
- Merchant accounts are business-to-business (B2B) credit arrangements with clients and suppliers. A 2014 U.S. study of B2B invoices found that a troubling 42.5 percent were paid late and that 5.6 percent were still uncollected after 90 days, which is the usual definition of a default.
- Checks are not desirable, as too many things can go wrong. This is especially true if you have customers living abroad. It can take forever for a mailed check to reach you. Then there are the problems of stolen or overdrawn checks. Unless you have a long relationship with a customer, it’s best to avoid being paid by check.
- Direct deposits via automated clearing house, transfers and electronic transfers are quick and safe for domestic payments. International transfers take longer. The only problem is getting your client to agree to make direct deposits.
- Collections: If you are owed money, you can try to collect it yourself, hand debt collection off to an agency, or write-off the debt. In any event, late payments have a negative effect on your income.
Accounting for Income
Accounting is essential knowledge for your business. Keep your books up to date because delays can cause mistakes that might end up hurting your business and getting you audited by the IRS. You can hire a bookkeeper if you have enough activity to make it worthwhile. Many small businesses use software such as QuickBooks to perform bookkeeping. It’s up to you to evaluate the time you need to spend on using software versus paying a professional to do the work for you.
If you operate on a cash basis, you acknowledge income when it is collected. However, if you use accrual accounting, you report income when it is earned, which is usually before it is collected. Whether you use cash or accrual accounting, you need to keep accurate and timely records. This is especially important for figuring net income, which is the amount you are taxed on. To calculate net income, you must account for all expenses, costs and losses. If you miss some deductions, you’ll pay more tax than necessary.
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Small Business Finances 101: Understanding Income