Nicholas Hammernik is the Vice President at Hammernik & Associates. He is an Enrolled Agent, which is the highest designation assigned to tax professionals by the IRS. Nick uses his background in coaching and marketing to educate his clients on their tax situation with straightforward advice in a language that is easy for them to understand. Nick’s main goal is to make sure small business owners are paying the least amount of tax legally possible to keep more of their hard-earned money.
What is the difference between an accountant and a tax planner?
I think on one of your prior podcasts you had talked with someone who described how accountants prepare financial statements and everything, but it really doesn’t get into the full picture of the bottom line and saving a business owner money. At the end of the day, the greatest thing that a business owner is looking for, and I think everyone in life is looking for is how you can pay the least amount of money to the government and how you can make the most money, and that’s through tax planning. We try to utilize our knowledge of tax laws to devise tax plans for business owners which means that we’re instituting tax laws to reduce their tax bill. A normal accountant is preparing tax returns, making sure everything’s filed on time, keeping you compliant and that’s all very important, but at the end of the day, when we’re filing your tax return in April, it’s too late to save money in tax. There are a couple of small things that can be done, but if a taxpayer comes in and they realize they’re owing a lot more in tax than they thought they should, or used to in the past, that becomes a problem. Then it’s about focussing on what we can do next year to make sure that doesn’t happen. So being proactive throughout the year by implementing tax strategies, reduces that tax liability and we kind of write the story of what that tax turns going to look like at the end of the year, instead of the story already being written when we file tax returns.
How has COVID-19 affected the tax industry?
It’s been one of the craziest years ever for people and I definitely impacted not only the tax industry but small business owners in general. A lot of small business owners were forced to either shut their doors or change the way that they operate. There were things that became available as far as loans, credits, all these things to help keep cash flow in those small businesses. So it presented us with a lot more opportunities to advise small business owners as far as here’s what’s available that you may have already known about, but here are some more in-depth tax things that might be available that are going to save you some money right now and help you through these times. A lot of clients that we work with were actually able to thrive through the pandemic because it forced them to do things differently than they’re used to, which opened up new opportunities for them. But it did help that these credits and loans were available to them even though the new tax laws with the stimulus payments created a crazy environment that changed the way that we had to report things on tax returns and presented opportunities for additional tax filing. At the end of the day, tax laws are always changing. This just happened to be a thing that came out of the dark, where tax laws were popping up every single day where we didn’t know what the final tax law was gonna be with unemployment. So we had to play a lot of things by ear and spent a lot of time studying what was going on, but it did present opportunities for small business owners to take advantage of certain things that became available through tax laws because of COVID.
How will the impending tax laws from the Biden administration affect taxpayers and small business owners?
Anytime that there is a change in Washington, as far as the presidency goes, they’re going to want to put their new tax plan in place. Part of their pitch when they’re they’re running for president is what they will do from a tax perspective which makes it one of the main talking points during the election. You can’t take what their proposal is as what it’s actually going to be, but project based on the main points what it will look like. We don’t know when it’s gonna be changed. It could be as soon as 2022, it could be 2023, but for the most part, is probably going to be coming. The main things that are in there if we’re going to project it out are that the tax brackets are going to go up, which means that everyone’s going to be paying a little bit more in tax. That was going to be a given no matter what happened as far as the next tax law changes when the current tax brackets that we have right now are the lowest they’ve been in decades and it was only a matter of time before they went back down. So we do encourage people to try to take advantage of those tax brackets, especially if they’re in a lower tax bracket. We advise people that are in retirement mode, that are allowed to take money out of their IRAs, to start taking that money out and paying tax on it now because that money’s got to be taxed at some point. Once you reach a certain age, the age now is 72, they force you to take out a certain amount from that account every single year, and pay tax on it. So who knows what that tax rate is going to look like at that time, or if you’re passing that money down to a beneficiary when you pass away, they’re going to pay tax on it. What tax rate are they going to be paying at? So it is important to look at to see if there are already opportunities for you to take advantage of potentially by paying tax at money now, with the current tax rates rather than waiting when you’re going to eventually have to pay tax on it otherwise. From a small business perspective, they are proposing some changes in there that would reduce some of the tax credits that are available to small businesses right now. A lot of that stuff is up in the air, but that’s when we go in and do tax planning. Anytime that changes are made, it presents opportunities to change the way that a business is structured or the way that they’re operating. Just because they might be structured one way right now, and it’s the most advantageous with the current tax laws doesn’t mean that when things change, it makes sense to stay that way. It’s important to be as proactive as possible when analyzing everything in your business such as your sales, your budgets, making sure you’re hitting your goals. But also, how much tax are you paying? Is the way that you’re structured the right way to pay the least amount legally possible to the government right now? If those tax laws change, that might change your situation as well and it might be time to reevaluate the way that you’re operating.
Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you’ve had?
I’ve been in the industry for almost 10 years now and throughout time, I’ve done a lot of different things. So Chamber of Commerce meetings, BNI, going to financial advisors where they put on presentations, and at the end of the day, it’s about finding people that you’re comfortable with because it allows you to open up which creates that connection where they’re going to trust you with referring people that trust them to trust you. My BNI group has been great. It’s over in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and it’s a very tight-knit group. A lot of the people in there have been there for a while and going to the meetings is not a drag, it’s not something you dread going into it, because it’s easy conversation. Sometimes the conversation isn’t even about business anymore. You know, it’s about a TV show, or it’s about the packers, or it’s checking in to see how your family is doing. Creating connections that are personal and friendly first takes you to the level where someone’s going to trust you with people that trust them to make sure that you’re doing a job with work for them. So that would be the best experience that I’ve had so far.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture the relationships you’ve created?
One of the main things that I like to do is if someone reaches out to me, I make sure that I’m responding to them within 24 hours no matter how big or large the question is I am at least addressing it. I also like to make sure that we’re keeping in touch. We like to utilize email platforms to send out newsletters or things that are happening, especially in our industry to make sure that people are thinking about us all year. Oftentimes, people only think about people in our industry for those dreaded couple months out of the year. So we like to keep in touch throughout the year so that they’re thinking about us in case there’s anything else that might come up for them throughout the year. So just making sure that we have consistent touchpoints with people to make sure that they’re not forgetting about us.
What advice would you offer to those business professionals really looking to grow their network?
I think it all depends on what type of industry you’re in as far as where you should look to grow your network. If you’re looking to scale something where you need high volume, I think it definitely makes sense to work something out online where you’re able to reach a broader audience, if that’s through advertisements, or if that’s through LinkedIn, Facebook, things like that. If you’re looking for those few big fish where you don’t need a ton of clients, or you don’t need to sell a ton of products, I think it definitely makes sense to reach out to local groups. It could be a dedicated networking group, or joining a group that is made up specifically of individuals that are in your target market. I think it depends on what your ideal client looks like, as far as how you should approach it. Either way, I think a combination of both online and in-person is always a good idea. But if you need to reach a higher number of people in order to hit your sales or revenue goals, I think that online is really going to help you with that. So if that’s just doing advertisements, doing webinars, creating groups where people can talk about things, that would be where I would steer someone for that. But if you’re looking for a specific individual that fits a certain profile, it makes sense to get your feet on the ground in your area so that you can really connect with people to gain their trust and then see how you can find those targets that you’re looking for.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
This is a great question because this is something that I’ve been thinking about for probably five or six years, as far as the stuff that I learned in high school or college, I barely use any of it right now. I wish that they focus more on some real-life skills as far as tax, investing, retirement, insurance, all these things that when you get thrown into the real world you’ve got to start learning about. I recently spoke at my former high school and they have something called employability where it starts teaching them how to make themselves employable. I was glad to see that, but if I were to go back to my 20-year-old self, I would definitely do more internships. I actually went to school for marketing. When I got out of school it was 2008 when the job market was terrible. I ended up taking a couple of cold-calling sales jobs and absolutely hated it. I did one internship, but it was my senior year of college and everyone was looking for experience and I had just graduated college and didn’t have experience yet. So even when you’re 16 or 17 if you know what you want to do, or even if you don’t, start doing internships, even if they’re unpaid. Getting your foot in the door and getting that real-world experience is going to provide you better things to put on your resume, better experience than that 4.0 you got in college. When I am interviewing people, I ask about real-world experiences, I ask about wins that they’ve had in their personal and professional life. So just getting experience in different areas that might help you out in the future is what I wish I did more. What I would encourage younger people to do now because, unfortunately, college has kind of become a commodity. A general business degree at this point really isn’t doing much for you, to be honest, it’s that experience. Internships, internships, internships is what I would preach to my 20-year-old self.
I understand you have an offering for our listeners?
In our lobby, we have some books that have been written by our president Dale Hammernik and we have copies available. You can come by and pick them up, or you can shoot me an email and I’ll mail them out to you. The first book is called Straight Talk About Small Business Success In Wisconsin and it provides a roadmap from start to finish if you’re just starting out a business. We do have limited copies of that book and it would be great for someone that is an entrepreneur that’s thinking about starting up a small business or even an established business owner. It’s a very easy read and it’s sectioned out so if there’s only a specific section you want to read about, it’s easy to do that. The second book is called The Great Tax Escape and it gives an update on the most recent tax law changes. It walks through the most important tax law changes and how to understand those in easy-to-understand language, and how to possibly make those tax laws work for you.
Connect with Nick
Email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by their office at 10777 W Beloit Rd, Greenfield, WI if you’re interested in picking up a copy of one of their books!