Business Banking E-Newsletter - February 2014

Security Tip of the Month

When banking online, always verify your bank's insurance status by looking for the FDIC logo or the words "Member FDIC" or "FDIC Insured".


Why Your Business Should Consider Online B2B Payments

When was the last time you paid a personal bill online? It was probably more recently than you mailed a check. While paper checks may be dying for consumers, the majority of business owners are still using them to pay vendors and service providers.

"With the increased use of consumer online bill pay and online banking, more and more payments are going electronic, yet most business payments are made via paper check," said BC Krishna, CEO of online payment solution provider MineralTree. "A 2010 study by the Federal Reserve found that between 2000 and 2009, B2B remittance checks were up 53 percent from 3.9 billion to 6 billion."

So why aren't businesses following suit? “Checks are easy,” Krishna said. “The accounting systems most businesses use aren't tied into their banking system, so business owners find it easier to simply print out checks than re-enter payment information into their bank website.”

Bruno Perreault, Senior Vice President of Payments at billing service provider Billtrust, said the potential issues of online payments also deters some business owners. 

"There's a perceived concern about security of online payments," Perreault told Business News Daily. "[Business owners] haven't used them and don't know how, or they're not sure if their vendors accept electronic payments."

However, paper checks are ultimately less secure. “Forged signatures, hacked bank accounts, and changed amount and payee information are all common problems businesses can face with check payments,” Krishna said. When proper security measures such as two-step authentication and payment verification are taken, online payment solutions are more convenient, secure, and cost-effective than checks. Most electronic payment software also allows direct integration with banking and accounting systems to make keeping track of payments even easier.

So how can you start taking advantage of online B2B payments? Perreault suggested speaking with your vendors to see if they can bill you electronically to start the process. "Ask them what payment options they offer to customers," he said. "By and large, there's a way for them to accept payments electronically. When you do it once or twice, you're already set up to do it with one click in the future."

Krishna added, "Businesses don't need to be afraid of changing [their payment system]. Check fraud is increasing, and there are better solutions."

To learn more about Online Bill Pay for your business, visit


4 Big Tax Mistakes New Business Owners Make

When starting a new business, there are a lot of things for entrepreneurs to consider. From where to get the money to start it, how to keep cash flow running, what to sell, and how to market it, the tasks new business owners must take into account are numerous. Many entrepreneurs, however, are focused on so many different things that they overlook simple steps that can save them money when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam on April 15.

Jessie Seaman, a licensed tax professional with the Tax Defense Network, offers some advice regarding the biggest tax mistakes entrepreneurs make.

Employee Versus Subcontractor

When a business pays individuals for work done for the benefit of the business, they are either paid 1099 or W-2. Employers sometimes have a difficult time determining whether to categorize the worker as an independent contractor or as an employee that should be on payroll. If the IRS determines the worker is an employee rather than a contractor, costly penalties are assessed and a large tax bill will result, due to unpaid Social Security and Medicare.


Keeping business income and expenses in a separate account from personal income and expenses is the key. The business’ bank statements should be solely used for business expenses, and no personal charges or withdrawals should occur. If business and personal funds are commingled, the owner/shareholders/members could find themselves on the hook for business tax debts.


Paying employees can be complicated and takes a significant amount of time to do if you are not a professional in the field. Each employee must complete a W-4 for federal withholding, the employer must match the employee's Social Security/Medicare payments, and this money must be deposited weekly, monthly, or quarterly with the IRS. If the deposits are made one day late or are for an incorrect amount, hefty penalties are assessed.

Unemployment returns must be paid, and states and localities that have an income tax also require regular deposits and filings. W-2 and W-3 forms must be filed with the U.S. Social Security Administration annually as well.


Many business owners do annual accounting to prepare their tax return, but how does the business know how much money it is making throughout the year? A profit and loss statement should be updated every month so the business can easily see where money is coming in and where money is bleeding out.  In order to maximize profit, a business owner needs to have a clear idea of how the revenue is being spent, and what can be cut back.


Windows XP Discontinuation of Support Notice

Microsoft® has announced plans to discontinue support for Windows® XP by April 8, 2014, meaning they will no longer provide any technical assistance or security patches for Windows® XP. Running Windows® XP in your environment after their end of support date may expose your company to potential risks, such as security and compliance risks.

Unsupported and unpatched environments are vulnerable to security risks. This may result in an officially recognized control failure by an internal or external audit body, leading to suspension of certifications, and/or public notification of the organization’s inability to maintain its systems and customer information.

Many organizations have already migrated from XP. If you have not, now is the time to plan for and implement appropriate changes. Based on historical customer deployment data, the average enterprise deployment can take 18 to 32 months from business case through full deployment. To ensure you remain on supported versions of Windows®, you should begin your planning and application testing immediately to ensure you deploy before end of support. For additional information from Microsoft, please visit


2 Simple Ways to Get Real Feedback from Employees

No matter how big or small your company is, you need to know what's going on with your employees. After all, they reflect who you are and how you want your business to be perceived.

So, how do you find out how your employees feel about you, their peers, or the company in general? There are two really simple ways you should try: Exit and Stay Interviews. You've probably heard of them before, but putting them into practice--and doing them right--is easier said than done.

The Exit Interview

When someone leaves your company, hold a casual exit interview before they leave. This will allow you to gain insights into why they're leaving and what you could have done better to keep them. Sometimes it's a tough hear, but it only helps in the long run to assist in addressing issues in the future.

Tip: Exit interviews are the last impression an employee has of your company, so ensure it is professional, respectful, and leaves them feeling valued for the work they contributed. Give them a chance to communicate what they liked and what can be improved upon. You can learn a lot from this feedback.

The Stay Interview

A stay interview is essentially an exit interview that happens before an employee is out the door. A great way to perform a stay interview is a one-year check in. Sit down with your employees after a year of service and ask them questions about what they'd do to make the company better, how they like their work, and what their aspirations are. Afterwards, share the information with managers and key team members. Use this feedback to make positive changes on the inside, because everything you do inside affects the outside. When you make changes, employees know they've been heard and that's priceless.

Tip: Hold a touch base with employees at a regular set interval to get feedback. In the beginning, it might help to check in after their first month and then at the 90-day mark. This can help identify and address issues early on.


10 Tips for Organizing Your Small Business

An organized business is a productive business. You may not consider yourself blessed with natural organizational skills, but now is the perfect time to get your business and work space organized. Below are 10 tips to help you do that and get on track this year.

1. Purge Your Office

Even if you don’t mind a little mess and dust, too much clutter can add to daily stress and chaos. Clutter exists because we think that everything is important. Toss out whatever is outdated, no longer relevant, or a duplicate.

For example:

  • Recycle the broken electronics you may have stashed in a closet.
  • Delete all those old voice messages.
  • Donate anything you don’t need or use.
  • Keep the basics and anything you’ve used in the past year; all else can go.

When your workspace is clean and uncluttered, you’ll enjoy spending time at your desk and won’t waste time searching through junk or moving piles around.

2. Organize Your Paper Files

One study found that the average person wastes over 4 hours per week searching for papers. Go through your filing cabinets and shred anything that’s out of date or no longer relevant to your business. If you’re worried you might one day need four-year old notes from a client project, then scan the originals and throw out the paper files to make more room.

3. Ditch Paper Receipts

Considering the IRS accepts electronic copies of receipts, there’s really no reason for you to continue hanging on to all those tiny paper slips from restaurants, taxis, office supply stores, etc.

Find a receipt management scanner or app for your Smartphone (such as Neat Receipts) and make sure your solution lets you export data to whatever expense reporting/accounting app you use.

4. Use the Cloud for Storage and Sharing

If you haven’t done so already, start using cloud-based tools to share and save documents. For example, Google Drive lets you store up to 15GB for free, while giving clients or colleagues access to collaborate. Other tools include Dropbox and Box.

By housing files in the cloud, you can help clean up your personal storage, as well as save valuable time spent emailing documents back and forth when collaborating with others.

5. Tame Your Inbox

If your email inbox has become a catchall for every email you’ve received over the past years, it’s time to clean house. It is possible to manage your email inbox so you only see the messages you still need to deal with and everything else is neatly archived for safe keeping. Start with a clean slate by filing away everything you no longer need to respond to.

Next, tame the level of new emails you get each day by unsubscribing to newsletters or other subscriptions you no longer read. Create specific folders where non-essential emails go automatically, so they don’t interrupt your daily flow.

6. Get the Right Note-Taking Tool

One key to staying organized and effective as a small business owner is having the right solution for jotting down any tasks or inspirations when they strike. Whether you prefer to use pen and paper, voice recording on your Smartphone, or an app like Evernote, the most important thing is that the solution fits into your lifestyle so you’ll use it consistently.

7. Tidy Up Your Social Media Profiles

It’s not just your email inbox and desktop that fall prey to clutter. Your social media profiles can also become clogged and out of date. First, take stock of where your business has a social presence and drop any accounts that are no longer in use. There’s no point in having multiple Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Instagram profiles if you’re not actively posting and monitoring each account.

8. Meet with a Tax Advisor

Don’t wait until it’s time to file your returns to start thinking about taxes. Make an appointment with a CPA or tax advisor early in the year. If your business is still structured as a sole proprietor, now’s the time to think about protecting your personal assets and gaining other benefits through a formal business structure like an LLC or corporation.

9. Take Charge of Your Books

If you run a small business, you already have some kind of process in place for invoicing, processing payments, recording expenses, and tracking projects. But if you haven’t updated your process lately, chances are there’s an app out there to help make these administrative tasks easier and more efficient.

Take a look at your tablet/Smartphone app store for a new tool that could help you get organized and take charge of your books in the new year. FreshBooks, Mint, Kashoo, and InDinero are great options.

10. Tie Up Any Legal Loose Ends

This is a perfect opportunity to tie up any loose ends you’ve been putting off in prior years. For example, did you file a DBA (Doing Business As) for your business name? Did you get a Tax ID number? Are all your licenses and local permits in order? Did you make any changes to your corporation and LLC and still need to file an Articles of Amendment to record those changes with the state? Take care of these now, so you don’t have to continue to put it off.


LPL Article: Social Security Review and Education Day

Social Security is an important part of retirement planning. A little guidance today can help you maximize your retirement income tomorrow. As an experienced financial consultant, I can help you make the best decisions for your future.

Choosing when and how to begin Social Security will have a significant impact on the amount you’ll collect over a lifetime. The filing options are complex and can be confusing. Making an informed choice is the key to receiving your full benefits.

On Friday, February 14th, 2014, I’ll be available for one-on-one consultations at a free Social Security Review & Education Day at Coulee Bank. Stop in to the La Crosse branch at 1516 Losey Boulevard South. There’s no appointment necessary; just stop in any time between 9am and 4pm.

Learn when you’ll be eligible for Social Security, how much you’ll receive, and the potential impact of delaying your benefits. Discover which benefits you’re eligible for (including spousal and dependent benefits), whether you can collect Social Security while employed, and many other common questions regarding Social Security.  

Please feel free to bring your spouse or friend to the event, and enjoy complimentary coffee and cookies. I look forward to answering your questions and helping you maximize your Social Security benefits.

Can’t attend the event? Please call me at (608) 784-3904 to schedule an appointment. I’m always available to help you achieve your financial goals at the Coulee Investment Center inside Coulee Bank in La Crosse, WI.

Shari L Hopkins, CFP®
Financial Consultant
Coulee Investment Center
Located at Coulee Bank

P.S.  If possible, please bring your Social Security statement with you so we can address specific issues and questions regarding your benefits. 

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Insurance products offered through LPL Financial or its licensed affiliates. Coulee Bank and Coulee Investment Center are not registered broker/dealers and are not affiliated with LPL Financial.