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April 15, 2011 / Frank J. Albi

Good Recordkeeping Takes the Pain Out of Tax Time

It’s that time of year again, when flowers begin to bloom and accountants work overtime to get tax returns finished before a looming deadline.

With April 18 just a few days away, you should have already filed your business taxes, and hopefully your personal returns as well. Still pulling your hair out, frantically searching for records and receipts? Here’s a little advice to make next spring a lot less painful for you:

Get and keep your records in order, and your future tax seasons will go much more smoothly. Not only will you have everything ready for a simpler filing process, you’ll likely save on tax expenditures, including fees, missed deductions and penalties.

Our friends at the IRS point out multiple tax benefits of good recordkeeping on their website. Those benefits include:

  • Monitoring the progress of your business
  • Preparing accurate financial statements, such as income (profit and loss) statements and balance sheets.
  • Identifying the source of your receipts
  • Keeping track of deductible expenses
  • And of course, preparing your tax return

If the IRS does want to examine any of your tax returns (also known as the dreaded tax audit), you may be asked to explain items you’ve reported.  It will certainly help matters for you if you have a complete set of records to show the auditors.

For personal taxes, I like the “four shoebox” method, which means keeping the past three years’ worth of records in three corresponding shoeboxes. The fourth shoebox should be empty, ready to house the current year’s records as you accumulate them. Once you file your return next year, you can dispose of the records in the oldest shoebox (because you can only be audited for the past three years’ worth of returns). Then the newly empty box serves as the new tax year’s record holder. Sounds low-tech and simple, but it works.

I know it isn’t always easy to get your ducks in a row when it comes to business records — during tax season, and all year long. Want to get some help achieving pain-free tax returns in 2012? Learn more about how you can save time with offsite document storage and imaging, as well control business records management costs.

February 2, 2011 / Frank J. Albi

Search and Destroy? Easier Said Than Done

If you’re a BIS customer, you’ll often hear me preach about “keeping only what you have to” when it comes to business records. That’s why I found this recent post from the Formtek Blog interesting.

The post’s title hits the nail on the head: Record Destruction is a Major Pain Point. Managing records is one thing, but identifying which ones need to be disposed of, and when, is quite another. Here are a couple of facts I learned from the Formtek post, gleaned from a Compliance, Governance and Oversight Council forum on retention and e-discovery:

  • 98 percent of forum attendees said that defensible disposal of records is their goal, yet 78 percent said that they are not able to properly dispose of their data.
  • 85 percent agreed that better processes and collaboration between IT, legal and records is the best way to fix the problem.

Are you with the majority here? After being in this business for three decades, I can say with some authority that deciding what to keep and throw away is not a new (or uncommon) problem for businesses. Every business should have a records disposal policy specifying which records should be kept and for how long. (Watch this video to get a better understanding of what to consider when maintaining official records.)

As regulations change and new legislation is passed, those records disposal policies need to be reviewed and updated. Take the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, for example. This relatively new federal statute will probably spend years in litigation until Supreme Court finally rules on what is considered the “right” length of time to maintain payroll records. Business owners should keep a lookout for this kind of legislation, and how it plays out, as they check in periodically on their records disposal.

December 23, 2010 / Frank J. Albi

Doing Business Up in the Clouds

Have you heard the term “cloud computing” or simply “the cloud” and wondered what the heck it’s referring to? I know a lot of business executives have probably come across this concept and scratched their heads, and maybe even worried about how this cloud could affect their companies.

Essentially, cloud computing means computer processing that’s done via Internet. Take Gmail, for example. Google provides you with free email service, using data centers located in different cities. If you have a Gmail account, you’re already in the cloud.

If you really want to get a good overview of cloud computing and what it means to you, read this recent Infoworld article. It outlines the various types of cloud computing, including software as a service (SaaS) such as Salesforce.com, web-based services like ADP payroll processing, and managed service providers (MSP). After running through the various cloud concepts, the author concludes:

Today … cloud computing might be more accurately described as “sky computing,” with many isolated clouds of services which IT customers must plug into individually.

So should you tether yourself to the “grounded” computing you’re used to, or float up into the cloud? Well, think of it this way: What if you had stubbornly clung to keeping all your business data on floppy disks, even as they shrank in size and eventually disappeared altogether? Or forced your employees to keep clacking away on typewriters when competitors moved to PCs?

Similarly, technology continues to evolve, and the practice of computing  in our own data centers will disappear. Business today–and increasingly, tomorrow–will be done in “the cloud.”

Worried about what happens to the data you store in these cloud-based systems and programs? Don’t be. The cloud is actually much safer than your own computer. Due to economy of scale, the cloud can provide higher levels of data security and backup than any individual user can by mirroring data on redundant computers in different locations.

The privacy of your data is another matter. My only advice is to read service providers’ privacy policies and decide if you trust them to comply with their own policies.

December 1, 2010 / Frank J. Albi

FYI: Ohio’s Rules for Employee Records

You know those black-and-white posters the state of Ohio issues each year, mandating employers to post them “in a conspicuous area”? Most people probably don’t even notice these bulletin board notices as they get their morning coffee or grab lunch out of the office refrigerator.

But there’s an important tidbit on the 2011 Minimum Wage poster, issued by the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Industrial Compliance & Labor. One small section on the poster details how you long you should maintain records on your employees, and in particular, what information needs to be kept.  Take a closer look:

PERMANENT RECORDS TO BE KEPT BY THE EMPLOYER
1. Each employer shall keep permanent records for at least three years, available for copying and inspection by the Director of the Ohio Department of Commerce, showing the following information concerning each employee:
A. Name
B. Address
C. Occupation
D. Rate of Pay
E. Amount paid each pay period
F. Hours worked each day and each work week

2. The records may be opened for inspection or copying at any reasonable time and no employer shall hinder or delay the Director of the Ohio Department of Commerce in the performance of these duties.

If you’re in charge of employee records for your Ohio business, you might want to double-check that you’re meeting these requirements (and if you have to choose between “permanent” and “at least three years,” I’d suggest going for permanent) –just in case the folks from the Department of Commerce come knocking.

November 16, 2010 / Frank J. Albi

Are You Thankful for Your Job?

In this economy of 10% or higher unemployment, I think most people with decent jobs would agree they are grateful to be employed and receiving a regular paycheck. With the Thanksgiving season coming up, I’d like to ask you to express your gratitude by helping others find work.

For more than a decade, I have served on the Board of Trustees for Cincinnati Works, a non-profit workforce development initiative dedicated to promoting self-sufficiency through employment. Since Dave and Liane Phillips founded the organization in 1997, Cincinnati Works has helped more than 3,000 people begin their journey to economic self-sufficiency. Each journey begins with one year working at one job, and helps participants support themselves and their families without additional assistance. This video shows what Cincinnati Works has done for just one of its many members:

This holiday season, I’m helping Cincinnati Works promote its mission to help all those who are willing and able to escape poverty. I hope you’ll join me in this effort. Simply donate what you can through this secure fundraising website. Give $25, $50, $100 or whatever amount your budget allows to say you’re thankful for your job this year — and want others to achieve that same sense of financial security.

Your contribution will help produce some amazing results. Check out some of Cincinnati Works’ impressive numbers:

  • 600+ employments annually, with 84% retention rate in the workplace (vs. 25% industry average)
  • Preferred source of entry-level workers for 55 core employers
  • Average wage $9/hour
  • Reduction in poverty-related problems including crime, incarceration, school dropout, etc.
  • Improved health and dental care access

Thank you for your support, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

October 27, 2010 / Frank J. Albi

Nothing Lasts Forever

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR’s Talk of the Nation about how CDs can deteriorate in just a few years — leaving the stored data on CDs vulnerable to disappearing. The featured guest was Sam Brylawski, editor of the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings at the University of California Santa Barbara, and coauthor of the study “The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age.” (If you want to read the entire study, you can download it here as a PDF.)

Many of us save files on CDs to keep them safe and store them for future use (or simply for posterity). Imagine how disappointed — or even downright devastated — you would be if you couldn’t retrieve those files because the CD oxidized, and you had no other copies in another format. Gone. Forever. It’s a scary thought!

I particularly liked one of the preservationist’s recommendations in the Talk of the Nation interview, the LOCKSS technique: Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. At BIS, we recommend 2+1 Backup: keeping two copies of an important file in one medium (paper, digital, or film—clay tables fell into disuse long ago, and as a practical matter, microforms and other film media also passé), plus a third copy in another medium. In most cases, paper serves as a backup for digital and vice versa.

Example: If you have two CD copies of irreplaceable digital data, you should have another copy printed out. And make sure all three copies are not kept in the same place. Store them in separate, protected locations, so if the worst happens, you can be reasonably sure at least one of the copies will survive.

Here’s another consideration for all that information you have stored on computers or discs. Remember when floppy discs were actually big and floppy? Anyone who wanted to retrieve data from those original floppies today would certainly be out of luck.

Eventually, all computer hardware and software become obsolete. That’s why you should regularly copy forward your important files — upgrade to the new version of the software that created it and store the updated file on your new hardware. Keep things current so you don’t lose key records as technology advances.

Your Turn: Have you ever discovered that you lost a record or file because of how it was saved? What happened, and what lesson(s) did you learn? I’d love to hear your stories.

(paper, digital, or film—clay tables fell into disuse long ago, and as a practical matter, microforms and other film media also passé),
September 30, 2010 / Frank J. Albi

Let’s Keep in Touch

Thumbs UpOne of the reasons my company, BIS, has succeeded over the last three decades is our strong relationships with customers. From our helpful, knowledgeable records center staff to our friendly drivers who pick up and deliver boxes, we all like to stay in touch with what customers want and need.

Once upon a time, we used old-fashioned notions like the telephone, mail and even in-person meetings to maintain those relationships. And guess what? We still do! But we also have grown and changed with the times — and offer more convenient ways to continue those conversations online. We hope you’ll check out what we have to offer and join the discussion.

Like BIS on Facebook: If you’re already on Facebook, we’d really like you to like us and maybe even post a hello on our wall. We’ll let you know when we have something new or fun to share.

Follow BIS on LinkedIn: By following our company, you’ll stay connected to our employees and see new jobs listed on this professional social networking site. If you’re a customer or contact, we’d also like to connect with you on LinkedIn individually.

Watch BIS videos on YouTube: We’ve made a few short videos to help educate customers on records control (with more to come!) — please watch the ones we’ve posted and share them with colleagues who might find them helpful.

Subscribe to Just for the Records, the BIS Blog: You can get the latest posts from this very blog via email (just click the email subscription button in the sidebar) or your favorite feed reader. We’ll keep you current on the records issues that could affect your business.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you, and here’s to a long, happy relationship!

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