sole trader

8 small business tips for conquering your tax return without tearing your hair out!

8 tips for conquering your tax return. Small business tips on Digibloom blog with guest post from Anita Brook at Reid & Co.

To kick off the new year (and self assessment deadline month.. eek!), I'm pleased to share wise words from financial expert Anita Brook in this guest post to inform and motivate small business owners. Anita is a Director of the leading small business accountancy firm Reid & Co based in Milton Keynes, working with individuals and businesses all over the UK.

Prior to this she ran her own small accounting firm, launched while caring for her young daughter Isabella. "As a result I know all too well the amount of stress that can be experienced with the self-assessment deadline imminent, trust me having a young child increased this tenfold!"

Self Assessment deadline tips for Small Businesses in the UK

Here are Anita's tips for Digibloom readers:

We all know that January is an incredibly stressful time for sole traders and small businesses, with the self-assessment deadline looming closer, and more important things to do than be online until the early hours completing your paperwork – so how can you make it as stress free as possible?

HMRC require self-assessments to be completed no later than midnight on the 31st January 2017. This is always an incredibly busy time for us as accountants and we understand how stressful it can be for small businesses.

Here are my top insights into how you can conquer your self-assessment this year, without losing any hair:

1. Register in advance

By the time you read this it’s already too late to complete the self-assessment on paper meaning you have no option but to do so online. You can’t actually submit your tax return online without being registered with HMRC first. If you haven’t already gone through this process, you need to do so ASAP!

It can take a few weeks for your activation PIN to arrive through the post, and HMRC won’t give you the information over the phone, which means that if you leave it too late to contact them, you probably won’t receive the information in time. As a result you’ll likely miss the deadline and automatically be fined £100.

2. Understand the financial year and deadlines

The last tax year started on 6 April 2015 and ended on 5 April 2016. The annual self-assessment means that any income earned during that period should be included in your end of year figures. If you sent out your invoice in the current tax year but didn’t get paid until after the deadline, you should still include it.

3. Find your UTR

You can’t submit your return without something called a UTR (Unique Taxpayer Reference), which is a 10-digit reference, found on any paperwork from HMRC. If you don’t know your UTR, you’ll have to contact HMRC’s Self-Assessment Helpline and ask them to post it to you.

4. Collate all your information

To file an accurate return, you need to have all the necessary information in front of you to enter either manually or online. This ‘generally’ speaking should include things such as:

  • If you are employed, receiving wages (this includes if you’re a director of your own limited company), your employer should have given you a form P60 showing your salary and tax for the year to 5th April 2015. You’ll need that form to include with your tax return and if your employer gave you a form P11D showing any expenses or benefits received.
     
  • If your bank pays interest, you will also need to how much interest you received in the tax year and any tax deductions. However, don’t include interest on any ISAs and personal allowances.
     
  • If you’re in business as a sole trader or partner, you’ll also need to know your business’s income and costs for the tax year. If you haven’t started sorting through the receipts for these costs you’ve collected, you must start doing this now.
     
  • If you’ve received dividends on shares you own, whether these are in your own company or another, you’ll also need to include this dividend income on your tax return and demonstrate where it came from.
     
  • Finally, if you earn more than £50,000, and you or your partner receives Child Benefit, then these payments also have to be shown on your tax return.
8 Tips for conquering your self assessment 2017

5. Follow the rules – to the letter

There are so many rules and regulations when it comes to HMRC and tax, it can be incredibly confusing. However, you must ensure you follow these to the letter, particularly when completing your tax return. One of the biggest errors I see is when people add up their income/ expenses.

Bear in mind, if you sent out your invoice in the current tax year but didn’t get paid until after the deadline, you still need to include it.

Another issue we see is ‘expenses’ that you can and can’t claim, especially when it comes to travel, accommodation, food & drink, entertaining, clothing and the business use of your home etc.

One thing you can do is check items such as this via the expenses list on HMRC’s website.

6. Check, check and check again

The form needs to be submitted (not just completed/ started) by midnight on the 31st January, so clicking ‘submit’ is as vitally as important as the information in it. You can complete the form online, via the HMRC website, or alternatively you can complete within specialist software, such as FreeAgent (for sole-traders) or open software, such as TaxCalc which aids the completion before taking you back to the HMRC website to file.

7. Pay on time

This may sound pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how much we see this happen. Don’t forget to actually pay your calculated tax return amount which also needs to be settled by the 31st January!

8. Bring in a professional

If you’re still unsure – hire an accountant. We are accustomed to reading what can be jargon to small businesses, because we deal with it every day. You may find in the end it’s also more cost productive because of the amount of time you spend trying to decipher all the information into the form!

At Reid & Co, we can support with all tax matters including self-assessments, so feel free to call our team today on 01908 233700 or visit our website http://www.reid-co.co.uk.

Connect with Anita via the following links:

Anita Brook on LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/anitabrook
Website: http://www.reid-co.co.uk

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HMRC have useful live webinars and videos to help you understand the self assessment process.

What do you struggle with most when it comes to filing your self assessment? Let us know in the comments!

10 Top Tips for Small Businesses to Stay Safe Online

10 top tips for staying safe online. Small business tips guest post by Broadband Genie

Guest post: Matt Powell, editor for the broadband comparison site Broadband Genie, offers ten top tips to help you improve online security and protect your business.

Whether you’re a sole trader or a larger organisation, having the fastest or cheapest broadband isn’t the only thing to worry about, it’s also vital to take steps to stay safe online. Virus or hacking attacks could result in real financial loss and exposing private information could have devastating consequences on your reputation. 

Top tips for keeping your business safe online: guest post by Broadband Genie

1. Secure your Wi-Fi network

If you have a Wi-Fi network, it should always be password protected. This will prevent others nearby from using your connection or accessing network shares. You may wish to change the password regularly, and you can also choose to hide the SSID (network name) to make it harder to find.

Also remember - when setting up a password make sure you use the ‘WPA’ standard and not the older and very insecure ‘WEP’.

2. Keep up to date with patches

All software and hardware should be kept bang up to date with patches to help protect against the latest threats and bugs. This is particularly important when it comes to operating system patches, web plugins such as Java and Flash and broadband router firmware.

Many applications and hardware devices will offer automatic updating, or at least notify you when a new version is available. If this is not an option, you will need to check manually on a regular basis.

3. Remotely control hardware

Misplacing a laptop, smartphone or tablet could expose confidential data or give someone access to your private files or services. To protect against this, use remote control and tracking software. As well as offering the possibility of retrieving lost devices, it will let you remotely wipe the storage to prevent data falling into the wrong hands.

This functionality is now built into both Apple iOS and Android. For desktop and laptop computers install Prey.

10 top tips for small businesses to stay safe online: guest post by Broadband Genie

4. Install anti-virus software

Anti-virus is absolutely essential to combat malware which may damage or steal data. This may not need to cost anything as there are free packages such as Microsoft Defender, Avirus and Avast! which are as good as premium options (though check the licensing terms as it may not permit commercial use without a fee).

5. Improve web browser security

Web browsers can be a major security risk as web sites and browser plugins are often used to spread viruses. Ensure your anti-virus software extends protection to the web browser, and also make use of ad and script blocking browser add-ons which provide additional safety. You may also wish to use web filtering software to prevent employees accessing sites that are both higher risk and unsuitable for work.

6. Buy a better router

An entry level SOHO (Small Office Home Office) router to replace the cheap ISP-issued hardware is a worthwhile (and relatively modest) investment for any business. A good quality router can offer a noticeable improvement in wired and wireless performance, provide greater security and have a much wider range of features and settings to allow you to get more from your network and broadband connection.

7. Back up essential data

Data you don’t have backed up is data you don’t want. When backing up follow the ‘3-2-1’ rule: have three copies of everything on two different storage mediums, with at least one kept in a different location.

10 top tips for small businesses to stay safe online

8. Use multi factor authentication

Wherever possible make use of multi-factor authentication. This works by requiring an additional security token, such as a text message or smart phone app, in addition to a password. It means that even if someone gets hold of a password, your essential files and services are safe unless they can also obtain your secondary security method. It is now offered as a standard feature on many services, including Google apps, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple accounts.

9. Keep logins safe with a password manager

Password management software stores logins in a securely encrypted software safe and automatically enters them into sites and applications when required. This means you don’t need to remember every password so they can each be complex and unique.

For employers the enterprise features offered by some password managers can also be valuable protection for vital services. You can grant access to logins without providing the actual details, and withdraw access when an employee leaves the company.

10. Encrypt files and devices

By encrypting devices or files you can stop unauthorised users from viewing important data. This could be a real lifesaver in the event a piece of hardware is lost or stolen or a hacker gains access to your systems.

Encryption is now widely available and very easy to use. It’s available as a built in feature on smartphones, tablets and computers and there are numerous free and paid software packages which make it effortless to secure individual files, folders or entire hard drives.

Check out the Broadband Genie blog for more super useful tips, advice, and competitions. Visit their website and follow their Twitter for news and updates too!