If you are like most investors, then you probably dread the thought of doing bookkeeping. After all, who likes to go over bank statements and receipts every month? I am a CPA myself, and even I dread the thought of that mundane task.
I recently met with a client, Jan, to go over her proactive tax planning. The planning meeting was scheduled so that we could look for ways to help her minimize her taxes for 2014. Jan had flipped a few properties, and she was afraid that she would be losing a large chunk of that to Uncle Sam come next April.
To prepare in advance for her tax planning meeting, we requested a copy of Jan’s financial statements. Reviewing financial statements is an important part of her tax planning because the financials reveal how her investments are doing financially. However, like a lot of other investors that we work with, Jan showed up to her meeting empty handed. Without her financials, we ended up using the meeting to speak mostly in “what if” scenarios:
- If your net profit was $40k, then these are the steps we would recommend.
- If your net profit was under $20k, then those are the steps we would recommend.
- If you had no net profit, then here are some alternative things to think about.
It was clear in Jan’s mind how much she bought each property for and how much she sold each property for. Those were not the issues. The issues that Jan faced were that she was not certain how much she incurred in rehab costs for each property, what her holding costs were, or how much interest she had paid her private lenders for each property.
Since Jan did not have a firm grasp on how her real estate was doing financially, the meeting was not as impactful as it could have been because we were not working with very accurate numbers.
If you have ever felt overwhelmed with the mounting pile of receipts and contracts for all of your investment properties, you are not alone. Here are some simple methods that work for keeping your records straight.
Choosing a Method
There are many different types of software available for real estate investors, from QuickBooks to Zero to Quicken, just to name a few. However, the reality is that software is not for everyone. Some clients can pick up software functions fairly quickly, while others do much better with the old paper or Excel system.
Oftentimes it pays to have professionals to help you set up, streamline, and even maintain your books. Before you start entering your financial data, first take a step back to determine which method of bookkeeping best suits your style and your budget.
For those of you with multiple properties or multiple entities, sometimes it can be helpful to create a separate receipt envelope for each. If you use this system, be sure to keep an envelope in your car as well as in your home or office, so that you are never left without a proper place to store your receipts.
Keep a receipt book with you in the car and at the office as well. You may find yourself paying cash for services or writing a check off the back of the tailgate more often than not in this industry. It is important to have a record of the expense, however small, because they help you know your bottom line. Of course, tracked expenses means tax savings as well! If you have multiple properties, make sure that you always write the property address on the memo line of your checks.
For the truly organized and well funded investors, the use of separate accounts and bank cards helps to keep things organized. Simply assign a card to a particular property and split your purchases into groups, paying with the appropriate card for each property. Use a Sharpie to write the property address or nickname on the face of the card so you aren’t relying on memory, and you can give the card to staff members without fear of them getting mixed up.
In this case, it is smart to have a primary account for the business that holds the bulk of your capital and transfer that capital as needed to the various accounts. Alternatively, if you received capital that is specific to one or a group of properties, this method can help to you easily keep those funds separate.
Know Your Expenses
There are two different kinds of expenditures related to your business: those related to seeking out and vetting opportunities and those related to actual property investments. It is important to keep them separate since they may be accounted for in entirely different ways when you do your bookkeeping.
Also, be sure to have a primary account out of which you pay for travel, memberships and dues, and the initial cost related to performing your due diligence on an opportunity. Track all these expenses to ensure that you keep your money out of the greedy hands of the IRS.
What method of bookkeeping do you find works best to stay organized?
Be sure to leave a comment below!