8 Accounting Blogs and Online Resources for Free Small Business Advice
Being a business owner can feel like you need to be an expert on every aspect of your company—marketing, sales, accounting, logistics, social media, law, human resources. But there are plenty of free resources out there that you can turn to only when you need them—so you can spend more time on the business itself.
When it comes to accounting, there are eight reputable blogs and online sources you can seek out for advice, empathy and, in some cases, humor. Before taking any online advice as sacrosanct, check the date the article was written and verify any confusing or conflicting information with your accountant, said Helena Swyter, CPA, owner of SweeterCPA, LLC in Chicago.
Remember that rules have changed significantly with the passing of new tax laws in December 2017. “This year is a year of change as we implement those new laws,” Swyter said, “and it’s easy to get jumbled information.”
1. The IRS
Why not go straight to the source? The IRS Tax Tips and News Releases sections of the IRS website are hard to beat for their authority, said Swyter. She noted that the agency has worked hard recently to make its information succinct, understandable and actionable. “Plus, you know they will always be knowledgeable of current tax law,” she said.
The IRS Tax Tips, updated frequently, provides brief advice on issues such as what to do if you get a letter from the IRS and easy ways to pay your taxes. There’s a section on tax reform to keep people updated on changes stemming from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
The News Releases section collects the agency’s announcements — such as reminding people when quarterly estimated taxes are due or when certain late payments penalties are waived — in one place.
The writing may be dry, but it’s straightforward and helpful to small business owners who want answers without frills. Here’s the IRS on the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, which can benefit certain small businesses that health offer coverage to employees.
“The IRS notes that it recently issued guidance that provides relief for certain small employers wishing to claim the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit for 2017 and later years but who are unable to do so because of unavailability of coverage in the Small Business Health Options Marketplace. Notice 2018-27 gives guidance about calculating the credit under these circumstances.”
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2. AICPA Insights
This wide-ranging blog, from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, includes advocacy, specific advice for CPAs, and general advice for business owners and the public. Regular bloggers are CPAs or AICPA employees, while guest bloggers tend to be experienced CPAs. You can search by keyword or among categories that include accounting and financial reporting, tax and financial literacy. Subscribing to the blog sends it right to your email.
“It keeps me on top of the latest accounting changes by sending me weekly emails on new topics,” says Cortlon Cofield, a CPA and owner of financial planning practice Cofield Advisors in Chicago. “This allows me to live my daily life without having to continuously Google search for latest accounting changes.”
The site also includes a list of the AICPA’s most popular posts and links to other accounting blogs.
Here’s the AICPA contemplating how the recent tax laws treat the deductibility of business meals, a point of confusion even for tax pros.
“A sticking point for CPAs is that we don’t know if business meals with current or prospective clients are still 50% deductible under Sec. 274. It’s also unclear if a business meal that’s part of an entertainment activity is still deductible. For instance, if a CPA were to take a client to a meal and then to a ballgame — which is clearly entertainment — is the meal still 50% deductible? Our position is that if the cost of the meal is separated from the cost of the entertainment, it should remain 50% deductible.”
3. Bordeaux & Bordeaux Certified Public Accountants
This bright, readable blog from CPAs Donna and Chad Bordeaux offers actionable advice for small business owners. It has a heavy pop culture slant while still addressing topics such as the best retirement plan for a company that employs only family members and part-time or seasonal workers. The answer? The Single K, Solo K, or Single Owner-Employee 401k plan, according Bordeaux & Bordeaux.
It has also addressed new payment methods such as cryptocurrency and Apple Pay and even suggested language for how to break up with your current accountant. Varying lengths keep it interesting. You can filter blog posts by small business for the most pertinent results or search for specific words. Be aware that posts go back more than a decade, so regulations have changed since then.
Here’s Bordeaux & Bordeaux offering a look back at taxes during the Reagan years through a pop culture reference. The amusing post also offers a history lesson on the evolution of reporting dependents.
“Most ‘Stranger Things’ viewers love the show’s music and movie references. Naturally, it makes us nostalgic for 1980s taxes. (Have we told you we need to get out more often?) So, for all you Upside Down fans, let’s take a walk down memory lane and see what taxes looked like when it was morning in America: …You could report your dependent children on the honor system, without supplying Social Security numbers. This led to millions of people fraudulently claiming deductions for nonexistent children and even household pets. (Don’t just love them like family…deduct them like family!)”
4. Less Accounting
The service that offers “accounting software for business owners who dislike bookkeeping” understands business owners. Its blog of small business advice includes “4 places your restaurant may be losing money” and “The tax deductions every sole proprietor should know.”
The advice is specific: “You’d only need a full-time, in-house bookkeeper if your business has 30 or more employees or has a turnaround of over a million dollars every year,” and the posts don’t publish too quickly that readers can’t keep up. Posts are sorted by category so you can quickly find what you need.
For example. this blog tackled the reality of the connected world 24/7 and what that means for small business owners and their employees.
“Off-the-clock work is a problem that sneaks up on many employers. Why? Advances in technology have created a slippery new dynamic for employers and employers when it comes to the definition of ‘work.’ Is responding to a manager’s text message at home while watching TV considered work? According to the law, in most cases it is — and failing to compensate non-exempt employees for this time can result in a major lawsuit.”
5. Don’t Mess With Taxes
Written by Texas author and self-described tax geek Kay Bell, this popular blog focuses entirely on taxes. The posts are frequent, professionally written and usually topical. They lean more toward issues affecting individuals or pass-through businesses than corporations.
Recent posts include “What will the trade war with China cost you?” and “Soda taxes go flat in California, possibly Washington.” The site also features a countdown clock to the next tax deadline and a Weekly Tax Tip column.
In this post, Bell explains how to accurately deduct your cell phone usage if you make and receive calls largely for business.
“When you’re the boss of your own business, as long as the phone is used primarily for your work and you keep good track of your cell usage — which is pretty easy if your carrier, like mine, provides quite long and detailed call logs with its monthly bills — then you can deduct the business portion of your bill. Don’t freak. You don’t have to go through that bill fine print and recount it in total on your 1040. But you do need to look it at it, along with your own records, to determine just how much you use your phone for work versus how much you use it for personal reasons.”
This long-running blog, founded in 2005, is written by Florida-based CPA Nick J. Pennewell. The posts, sometimes quick hits and sometimes exhaustive reviews, provide updates on how new laws can affect businesses and individual taxpayers at tax time or answer questions about existing laws.
The business-like writing is aimed at those who aren’t looking for an entertaining read so much as thorough answers and deep context. Recent posts have dealt with the Supreme Court ruling on sales taxes for online companies, the R&D tax credit for businesses and the 2017 passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Here, Pennewell addresses the double-edged sword of being a C corporation under the new tax laws.
“One of the central tenets of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the reduction of the C corporation tax rate from 35 to 21%. This may lead some pass-through entities to wonder if they’d be better off as a C corp instead. While the corporate tax rate has been reduced to an attractive 21%, there still remains the concept of double taxation. When income is earned by the corporation, it’s first taxed at the business level. Then, when the corporation distributes its income to shareholders, the shareholder pays tax on the dividend.”
7. The QuickBooks blog
Frequently cited by other accounting blogs, this professional site has advice on using Quick Books (“Adjusting Your QuickBooks Account When a Customer Bounces a Check”) as well as more general business posts (“What Does the ‘Age of AI’ Really Mean for Small Businesses?”).
There are videos, infographics and reports, spread across six categories: news, thought leadership, what’s new in QuickBooks Online, innovation, accountant advice and customer profiles.
One blog post reveals how identity theft is not just a problem that individuals have to contend with, it’s also a danger facing small businesses.
“Fraudsters who obtain a business’ employer identification number (EIN) can create fictitious W-2s and use those to file fraudulent tax returns. With the EIN in hand and other publicly available information, such as the business address and names of officers, a fraudster can open a line of credit with a bank or retailer, or open a business credit card. Sadly, commercial credit cards don’t always have the same liability protections for businesses that individuals enjoy, leaving the owner on the hook for the whole amount. Business owners should get in the habit of checking the credit reports for their businesses annually. Under no circumstances should their EIN be visible on their website.”
8. GrowthForce blog
Business metrics are a main focus of this well-written blog by CPA Stephen King. King is CEO of GrowthForce, which offers bookkeeping, management accounting and controller services to small- and mid-sized businesses and nonprofits. Here you can learn about free cash flow, indirect cost allocation and contribution margin in terms that are easy to understand, even for non-accountants. But it’s not all accounting terms: The blog offers useful advice on operating efficiently, beating cyber threats and reducing the risk of fraud.
“There are three reasons why businesses fail. #1 Cash flow, #2 Cash flow, #3 Cash flow. … Your business may be growing and you may be making money, but as the business grows, so do expenses, and if you are short on cash, that is the first sign that your business cash flow may quickly spiral downward. Companies that are growing fast have cash flow problems more frequently, and with more severe potential consequences than slower growing companies. So good strategic decision-making becomes more critical as you grow.”
The bottom line
Getting all your advice from even the best online sources isn’t always the best option for you and your business. When in doubt, talk to a trusted advisor who has background on your personal and business finances.