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Updated: April 26, 2024

End-of-year accounting reminders for your small business clients

Published By:

Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA

Accountant advises a small business client in office

While the first quarter of the year is usually one of the busiest for accounting professionals, closing out the calendar year is no walk in the park, either. Finishing up extended tax returns, working on year-end planning, and hiring extra help for the coming busy season might be top-of-mind. While you’re taking care of things for your firm, it’s also a good idea to make sure your small business clients are getting ready for year-end before it sneaks up on them.

 

This kind of proactive advice isn’t just a nice thing to do — it’s what clients want and some even demand. According to a study by The Sleeter Group, nearly two-thirds of small businesses that changed their accounting firm in the past did so, at least partly, because their accountant didn’t provide proactive advice. Additionally, 76 percent of small businesses believe their accountant isn’t proactive enough in helping them. The takeaway is that your clients most likely think of you as a trusted advisor, and would be happy to hear from you, especially as the year winds down.

 

If you’re unsure where to start, here’s a list of seven end-of-year accounting reminders — and related tasks — that can help your small business clients start 2024 on the right foot.

Clients should take care of payroll entries by year end

Whether using payroll software or a ledger, your clients will want to be sure their books are accurate before closing them out for the year. For example, if they’re using payroll software to automatically file taxes, they’ll want to make sure that all contractor payments, W-2 earnings, and bonuses are completed prior to December 31, 2023, so that tax payments can be made on time. If adjustments or new entries are made after December 31, it could put them on the hook for penalties and interest from the IRS and the State.

Workers’ W-2 and 1099 information should be reviewed

The information that will appear on an employee’s year-end forms is dependent on the accuracy of your clients’ year-to-date payroll data, so it is critical to get it right. The Social Security Number Verification Service is a good resource for verifying employee IDs, and in most cases, a payroll provider will usually allow the account holder to run a report with all information that’s needed.

 

Typically, these reports are called something like an “Employee Summary” or “W-2 Preview”. It’s important that the businesses you work with take the time to review and update all information, including current mailing addresses and phone numbers for the employees and contractors they’ve paid during the year, even if they’ve left the company.

 

Make certain that clients submit bonus payroll entries on time

If a company you work with needs to submit bonus pay runs before the end of the year, they’ll want to allow enough time for them to process in 2023. That’s because, depending on the amount, bonus pay runs often require extra time due to IRS Next-Day Rules and pre-approved direct deposit limits.

Account for S-Corp shareholder benefits

For 2% (or more) shareholders of an “S” election corporation, certain fringe benefits like company-paid health insurance, HSA contributions, and personal use of a company car are taxable. For accurate tax reporting at the end of the year, these amounts are going to need to be included in the shareholders’ earned income on their W-2s.

Pay attention to fringe benefits

It’s a good idea to make sure clients are aware that services like personal use of company cars, gift cards, and gym memberships are taxable. They should make sure that any entries that document any fringe benefits received are made to an employee’s payroll history. There’s more information on taxable fringe benefits included in IRS Publication 15-B which can be useful this time of year.

 

Employer health care contributions need to be recorded

Have any of the businesses you’re working with paid all or a portion of employee health insurance premiums throughout the year? If so, that information is going to need to be reported on each employee’s W-2, along with any premiums that the employee has paid toward a company-provided plan.

 

This is an opportunity to remind your client to contact their health Insurance provider and request a document listing the total employee and employer contributions to healthcare for the current year. Even if the year is not over, your provider will have this information.

Organize year-end receipts

Many small business owners fail to keep receipts for all their expenses, assuming they can rely on bank and credit card statements if Uncle Sam ever comes knocking. Unfortunately, while bank and credit card statements are one way to document expenses, they might not be enough.

 

According to the IRS, supporting documents must include a description of the item purchased or service received to prove the amount was actually for a business expense. So, while a credit card statement might show that the business owner spent $400 at an office supply store — without a detailed receipt — auditors won’t be able to tell whether it’s office supplies for the business or a new laptop for their daughter who’s heading off to college.

 

As the end of the year draws near, it’s a good idea to remind clients that they should review all business expenses and make sure they’re being properly documented. Most modern accounting software makes saving digital copies of receipts easy. Clients can scan or snap a copy of the receipt with their phone, then attach it to the transaction. If that’s not an option, try encouraging customers to save digital copies of receipts in a designated folder on Google Drive — which they can sign up for at no cost — or another cloud-based document management system.

 

Record third party sick pay

Third party sick pay includes any insurance payments received by an employee through an insurance company and is considered earned income for the employee. The insurance company will provide a notice that details what should be added to the employee’s income. Clients will need to update this information no later than December 31st to ensure everything reflects accurately on the W-2s.

Pro tip

Make sure your clients are not relying on paper copies of receipts as their only backup. The ink on paper receipts tends to fade quickly — taking your client’s audit support with it.

Schedule a year-end inventory count

For small businesses with inventory, work with them to plan out a year-end inventory count. The goal is to identify exactly how much available stock they have on hand, accurately calculate their cost of goods sold, detect shrinkage, and forecast how much inventory they might need to purchase in the year ahead. Furthermore, a well-run audit can reduce the risk of employee theft and prevent unnecessary spending on new products and goods.

 

To avoid customer or vendor distractions, ideally, the inventory count should take place on a day when the business is closed to the general public. It’s a good idea to have them close out all shipping, receiving, and transactions before the count begins, and schedule two people or teams to perform separate counts to help ensure accuracy.

Prepare to file 1099s

For businesses that hire independent contractors, January is often a mad dash of figuring out who needs to get Form 1099-NEC and ensuring they have the correct Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN) and mailing address. However, a little bit of preparation can go a long way towards preventing it from becoming a stressful situation.

 

Encourage your clients to get a jump on this process as the year wraps up. It’ll help them avoid a last-minute scramble for any documents — and the data that needs to be listed on them — ahead of the January 31 deadline. Make sure they have a current Form W-9 on file for any independent contractor or vendor who has received (or will receive) at least $600 in rents, prizes and awards, attorney fees, or other payments.

 

And if they’re not already using payroll software that can handle 1099 filings for them, it might be time to consider switching to one that can.

 

Postmark year-end forms by January 31st, 2024

When clients are mailing W-2’s and 1099’s, they must be postmarked no later than 1/31/24. When employers provide copies to employees in-person, digitally, or by another method, the forms must be provided no later than 1/31/24.

Collect outstanding invoices

Another important task is to review the client’s accounts receivable aging report, paying special attention to clients with past-due and seriously delinquent invoices. Work with them on a plan to collect those payments before the end of the year, which will help them start the new year with a boost in cash flow.

 

And if you notice a large number of delinquent invoices, it might be time for your client to take a different approach to credit sales. It can be a good opportunity to schedule an in-person meeting to discuss their options, such as:

  • Requiring deposits from problem customers ahead of time
  • Automating payment reminders and sending them more frequently
  • Providing a small discount to customers who pay quickly (or on time)
  • Offering more convenient and/or additional payment options

Opportunity knocks

Only 61% of small businesses are completely satisfied with the range of services their accountant offers.

 

Source: OnPay 2019 small business report

Prevent state and federal updates from getting lost in the shuffle

There’s a number of annual state payroll-related and federal updates for 2024 that can have affect the businesses you work with. For example, the IRS raises 401(k) contribution limits, some states raise the minimum wage, and an increasing number of states require companies to offer their employees access to retirement savings plans. As changes are announced, you can reference this resource which OnPay uses to keep each organized.

 

Compliance posters are pretty much a must-have

For the companies you work with that have at least one employee, it’s required to post up-to-date state and federal employment law notices in full view, and in an area frequented by all employees. Reminding clients can go a long way because failure to display the correct state and federal employment law notices can result in penalties, fines and even potential lawsuits. With all the changes states have recently made, this is likely a reminder your clients will appreciate.

 

Catch up on bank and credit card reconciliations

Unfortunately, small business owners can be easy targets for fraudsters and scammers and their schemes. Bank and credit card reconciliations are an essential way to prevent and detect fraud and identify accounting and bank errors.

 

If your clients haven’t been reconciling statements monthly, set aside some time to help them get caught up before January 1. This might also be a good opportunity to talk to your clients about outsourcing some or all of their accounting services to you so they don’t fall behind next year.

 

Assess this year’s budget and finalize one for next year

Year end is also a good time to look at a business’s budget-to-actual results for the current year. Were any revenue or expense categories significantly higher or lower than expected? Clients can use this analysis to inform next year’s budget. For example, do they need to allocate more of the budget to certain areas and scale back on others?

 

Even if the business doesn’t stick to the budget entirely, this process is valuable as it helps set expectations and measure performance.

 

Less complex

“OnPay takes what’s usually the complicated — and complex ⁠— task of running payroll for clients and makes it a very simple and streamlined process. The features and functionality make it easy to do everything you need to do.”


— Chelsea B., OnPay Accounting Partner

Review and update the strategic plan

If you’ve been looking for a way to offer advisory services to your clients, strategic planning is a great place to start. Accountants are uniquely qualified to help clients with strategic planning because they usually have a deep understanding of the client’s business and a knack for numbers.

 

Schedule time with your clients to review their business and personal wealth-building goals for the current year and ask the following questions:

  • Did you achieve your goals? Why or why not?
  • Did you exceed your goals? If so, how?
  • What are your next steps? For example, if their profits were higher than anticipated, will they use them to expand or pay off debt?

 

Next, work on designing the company’s (and the business owner’s) strategic objectives for the year ahead. For each goal in the plan, identify:

  • How they’ll measure progress/success
  • The specific steps needed to achieve it
  • Who will be responsible for each task and the date they’ll have it done by?

 

Then, schedule quarterly meetings with your clients to check in on their progress and hold them accountable. Not only does it provide valuable facetime with your customer, it shows you have a stake — and interest — in the success of their business.

Time well spent

Adding these tasks to your and your clients’ year-end to-do list might seem like adding extra stress to an already busy time of year. But helping them get organized for tax season sets your clients up for success in the year ahead, which will make your job easier and cement your role as a trusted — and proactive — business advisor.

Talk to us and see how easy it is to offer payroll services your way.

Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA is a freelance writer with a background in accounting and income tax planning and preparation for small businesses and individuals. She enjoys helping people make sense of complicated accounting and income tax topics. She lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska. Visit her website at www.jberryjohnson.com.