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10 Steps Toward Tax Success in 2021

Hand holding Tax Time written on a white paper note with a red pen and calendar
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As a dentist, your top priority is giving your patients healthy, beautiful smiles. But, as a small business owner, you have to think about getting finances, payroll and taxes right for your practice. You may just be working on your 2020 tax return, but it’s also the perfect time to get a jump on planning and preparing for 2021.

While most taxpayers don’t need to spend too much time worrying about the IRS, many dentists are both small business owners and high wage earners. This means you’re much more likely to hear from the Internal Revenue Service because of a problem with your tax return. And the IRS says that in 2019, they sent more than 1.8 million notices just for math errors on forms. 

These 10 simple steps can make tax time easier and can be started today to make next year’s filing a breeze:

1. Get organized — now

It’s much easier to sort through everything now than when 2021 is a distant memory. In fact, reviewing and organizing your records monthly helps spread the workload throughout the year instead of cramming it all into a year-end rush. Take time to go through any forms you’ve already filed (like Form 941) to check for accuracy. Make sure to confirm EIN numbers, social security numbers and anything else the IRS might use to identify you or your employees. And when you’re done, move all your forms, invoices and receipts into the same place — whether it’s online or a physical folder — so you’ll be ready for tax time. 

2. Find an accountant who understands taxes for your practices like yours

The tax codes change all the time, and it’s your accountant’s job to keep up with them. Some of those changes will impact you as a high wage earner, others as a small business owner, and some taxes will affect your practice. Ideally, your accountant should be knowledgeable about laws specific to dental practices and information on COVID-19 pandemic-related financial relief that may affect your taxes. Your accountant or tax professional should keep you informed if there are new or different deductions that might change the way you run your business. 

3. Talk to your tax accountant early and often

Carving out a few minutes in the first or second quarter of the year to make sure you’re making things easy for your accountant can help reduce the risk of a mistake come next April or being selected for an audit later. But we recommend talking more often than twice a year. In fact, we recommend chatting regularly — even monthly. You’ll have a better handle on your business and can plan for any tax law changes. Recording income and expenses in real-time allows you and your accountant to catch any mistakes early. And your accountant will know your business better and be more empowered to offer proactive, consultative advice: Small business owners who have a strong relationship with their accountant are 32% more likely to expect a significant increase in revenue over the next year.

4. Get help with payroll

Just as it’s crucial to bring in some expert help with taxes, you should consider getting some assistance with payroll. A payroll service provider will be able to calculate and remit those taxes accurately and on time, alleviating a headache for you. You may also want to check to see if any of your other service providers offer to help with tax issues. For example, our company, OnPay offers an error-free guarantee, which means we’ll help deal with IRS notices if there are problems with your payroll taxes.

5. Set up a 401(k)

When you offer a 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan, employer contributions and some administrative fees are tax deductible if they fit certain criteria. And qualified employers can get a $500 per year tax credit for the first three years of the plan. Plus, as an employee of your practice, you will be able to take advantage of tax-deferred savings with your company 401(k) as well. To make sure the plan seamlessly integrates with your current back-office systems and payroll deductions, contact your payroll services provider to see what retirement savings plans they offer. 

6. Document meals and travel expenses carefully

Travelling to a dental conference or to take a special CE class? The line between business and personal expenses can get a little blurry, but you should take care to make the distinction as sharp as possible. Not separating expenses once or twice might not be a big deal, but if you get into a habit of doing so, your business expenses may be reported inaccurately. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 not only eliminated many dentists’ ability to write off entertainment expenses, but also reduced the deduction for most business meals to 50%. Be prepared for the IRS to heavily scrutinize write-offs for these items related to your practice — if they haven’t already. 

7. Document charitable donations

Charitable donations are a wonderful way to help your community, and they can result in significant tax deductions. However, if your donations seem too big for your income bracket, the IRS is likely to want a closer look at your books. Make sure you maintain good records of your charitable donations, and if you’re going to claim non-cash deductions over $500, be sure to file a Form 8283. Also, be careful about whether you classify charitable donations as personal or business write-offs. There are a number of limitations and special requirements for different types of business entities. 

8. Pay vendors in December

If your business uses the cash method of accounting instead of the accrual method, this tip is for you. The cash method requires that you calculate your income and expenses based on when the cash goes in and out of your bank account. By paying bills in December, even if they are not due until January, you can decrease your taxable income in the current year, which in turn reduces your tax liability.

9. Buy now, save later

If you expect to make large purchases of equipment or other business items early in the new year, it might be a good idea to buy them a little ahead of schedule to take the deduction for your current tax year. Just remember that a deduction isn’t exactly an equal return for the money spent. Check with your tax adviser to be sure that spending now will reduce your overall tax burden, not just push it out until later.

10. Be prepared for W-2s and 1099s

All year long you’ll be withholding payroll taxes and sending them along to the IRS (and your state agency, if required). Next January, you’ll need to provide your employees with W-2s and contractors with 1099-NECs so they can complete their taxes. Don’t wait until the last minute when you’re finalizing an entire year’s worth of your business income and expenses. Set aside some time in January to get this done before crunch time. Or, if you partner with a payroll service provider, all of this can be taken care of for you. 

Taking a few proactive steps throughout the year to get your business’s tax prep in shape can make April one of your favorite times of the year. You’ll be free to do more of what you enjoy (and spend less time going back and forth with your accountant).

And if you are subject to an audit, know that you’re one of the 800,000 Americans each year in the same boat. Things will work out. Start by reviewing this guidance from the IRS to get a handle on common questions. Then consult with your accountant to get organized so you’ll be calm and collected.

If you’re eager to plan your tax year, we’ve got a printable 2021 Tax Deadlines for Dentists that will let you know all the important tax dates for the year. You can also subscribe to the IRS’s calendar to get reminders.

About the Author 

mark mckeeMr. McKee is president and chief operating officer for OnPay, a small business payroll, benefits and human resources company endorsed by ADA Member Advantage. His information is provided courtesy of OnPay. Learn more about how OnPay helps dentists at or call 877.328.6505.