Friday, December 26, 2008

818 Area Code Overlay with 747 Area Code Begins in 2009

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has forecasted that the 818 area code (San Fernando Valley, California) will run out of telephone numbers in the third quarter of 2009 and has therefore announced an overlay with new area code 747; that is, as is the case with the old 310 and new 424 area codes, both area codes will exist in a single geographic area, with most new telephone numbers assigned receiving the new 747 area code.

Because an 818 and a 747 telephone number may therefore be in the same house or office building, ten-digit dialing (dialing the area code plus the number) will become mandatory in the 818 area code, effective April 18, 2009. The advantage of an overlay rather than a split is that any person or business with an 818 number will be able to keep that number, and no decision has to be made as to what geographic are retains the 818 area code and what area must adapt the new area code. Public hearings showed the public favored the overlay solution.

Cities in area code 818 include Agoura, Agoura Hills, Arleta, Calabasas, Canoga Park, Chatsworth, Encino, Glendale, Granada Hills, Hidden Hills, La CaƱada Flintridge, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Reseda, San Fernando, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Sunland, Sun Valley, Sylmar, Tarzana, Toluca Lake, Topanga, Tujunga, Universal City, Valley Village, Van Nuys, West Hills, Westlake Village, Winnetka, Woodland Hills, and of course "Media Capital of the World" Burbank.

More information: CPUC 818 Area Code Change Information

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

California Scheming: What One-Party Rule Is Doing To Once-Golden State

California Scheming: What One-Party Rule Is Doing To Once-Golden State, Investor's Business Daily editorial, December 22, 2008:
.... As the financial crisis in California gets worse, it's pretty clear the real problem isn't the budget at all, but a political system that has resulted in a dysfunctional one-party state. ....

A reasonable response from a mature group of individuals might be to cut spending — especially since polls show that most Californians don't believe their taxes should be raised. Instead, they've chosen to thumb their noses at the people's will. It shows the danger of what is in effect California's one-party rule. .... Frustrated with their inability to raise taxes, Democrats got creative: They decided they could declare outright hikes in taxes to be "fee increases." This would let them pass a massive $9.3 billion in tax hikes without consulting Republicans in the legislature, in direct violation of state law. ....

California is already the most costly place in America to do business, according to the Milken Institute's business cost index. Its business costs in 2006 were 23% higher than the average for the rest of the states, and well above those of its neighboring states.

Worse, energy costs are already 35% higher than the national average. With California's costly new CO2 mandates about to kick in, the economy could well grind to a halt.

Such business mainstays as Intel, Exxel Outdoors, Toyota and Tesla have already left California. Intel is a particularly alarming example: The world leader in chip technology started in Silicon Valley but no longer makes anything in California.

Since 2001, according to the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, the state has lost 440,000 high-wage jobs. Today, the state's jobless rate of 8.4% is third-highest in the nation.

Even Hollywood feels the pinch. In 2003, 66% of Hollywood's feature films were made in-state; today, it's down to 31%. Increasingly, Hollywood is a state of mind — not a place to do business.

Things are so bad that, just last week, 25 business groups wrote an open letter to the state's legislature begging it to think about the role businesses play in the economy.

We wish them luck. Unfortunately, instead of aggressively addressing these competitiveness problems, California's Democrats think they can simply tax their way back to prosperity. They can't.

California's tax base is so narrow — 1% of the population pay 50% of income taxes — that you can't "tax the rich" and get more revenue, a long-held Democratic fantasy. California individuals today bear the sixth-highest tax burden in the nation. Raising taxes won't do anything but drive off productive workers and kill the economy.

It's already happening. Tired with having their voices ignored and faced with soaring taxes, high housing costs and state fiscal chaos, Californians are leaving in droves. They're voting with their feet.

Last year, 135,173 more people left California than moved in, the fourth straight year of net out-migration. As the Los Angeles Times accurately noted, "the trend remains significant because such declines usually occur when working Californians decide better opportunities lie elsewhere."

Members of California's one-party ruling class better start listening to their businesses and productive, overburdened taxpayers, or pretty soon they won't have an economy to fund their government. ....
See also:

Gas Buddy USA Temperature Map

California Legislature Plans To Increase Taxes Amid Recession

Study: Los Angeles, Santa Monica Among 10 Most Expensive Places to Do Business in United States

Monday, December 22, 2008

California Legislature Plans To Increase Taxes Amid Recession

State Democrats Plan To Increase Taxes, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2008:
Democratic legislative leaders are planning to use a series of complex legal maneuvers to raise Californians' gas, sales and income taxes over the objection of Republican lawmakers, who have been able to block such proposals in the past.

Under the Democrats' plan, sales taxes would increase by three-fourths of a cent. Gas taxes would go up by 13.5 cents per gallon. And a surcharge of 2.5% would be added to income taxes.
More coverage: California Democrats Devise Plan To Hike Taxes:
By structuring them as fees, they would skirt GOP opponents and raise $9.3 billion; A court fight looms
, Los Angeles Times, Decemeber 18, 2008.

See also:

Study: Los Angeles, Santa Monica Among 10 Most Expensive Places to Do Business in United States

2009 California Employer Payroll Tax Rates

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2009 California Employer Payroll Tax Rates

The base payroll tax rates for 2009 for California employers have been announced by the Employment Development Department (EDD), and are as follows:
Unemployment Insurance (UI): 3.4% of the first $7,000 of wages per employee, per year (however, an emergency surcharge is also in effect);

Employment Training Fund (ETT): 0.1% of the first $7,000 of wages per employee, per year;

State Disability Insurance (SDI): 1.1% of the first $90,669 of wages per employee, per year (up from $86,698, and up from 0.8% in 2008 and 0.6% in 2007)
Established employers may have a higher or lower UI rate, based on various factors. An emergency UI fund surcharge is in effect for the year.

If you are an employer or prospective employer unsure whether your current or prospective worker is properly classified as an employee or an independent contractor, you should hire an employment law attorney to advise you (I offer these services). Improper classification can lead to costly penalties and interest, as well as the assessment of back taxes.

Additionally, there are a host of legal hoops to jump through - which usually aren't, exposing employers to liability - when hiring a California employee (or an independent contractor). In either case, the relationship should generally be documented in a custom-drafted written employment or independent contractor agreement.

This article, written by a former director of EDD, is a few years old, but provides some general advice for employers on keeping their UI rates as low as possible.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Study: Los Angeles, Santa Monica Among 10 Most Expensive Places to Do Business in United States

And predicted to get worse. Westlake Village rated most business friendly in Los Angeles County. The Daily News reports:
The city of Los Angeles will finish 2008 in familiar company: Among the 10 most expensive places in the country to do business, according to a study released today.

Santa Monica is also on the list compiled by the 14th annual Kosmont-Rose Institute Cost of Doing Business Survey released by the Rose Institute of State & Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.

Los Angeles' placement on the list has remained steady, but at least it hasn't gotten any worse in the past year, according to Larry Kosmont, the survey's founder and president and chief executive officer of Kosmont Companies.

"Cities that charge the highest license fees such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati are often those that have a history of uneven relations with the business community," Kosmont said.

But Robert "Bud" Ovrom, Los Angeles' deputy mayor of economic development and housing, said the city is making progress.

For example, next year the city starts the final phase of a five-year plan to reduce the business tax by 15 percent. The final installment, a 3.9 percent reduction, kicks in Jan. 1.

"When I'm talking to companies I almost never hear about business taxes. I don't even hear much about workers' comp," Ovrom said.

"Everything I hear today is (about) the quality of the work force, schools, traffic and affordable housing." ....
On the contrary, the author's clients are more concerned with the high costs of state business taxes,* local business taxes, regulation, and workers' comp. Perhaps Ovrom's conversations are primarily with larger companies...? The article continues:
Los Angeles is challenging for businesses because of its fee and tax structure, it said. And while California cities are more competitive than in the past few years, costs for businesses remain high.

It also noted that Los Angeles County continues to be one of the nation's most expensive places for business and 10 of its cities are among the 50 most costly. The Bay Area is pricey, too.

The situation will worsen next year, Kosmont said, as voter-approved tax and fee increases kick in.

"What is happening in California is the cities are going to the ballot box and winning tax increases," Kosmont said. "Some of these cities were Los Angeles County cities. That makes a bad climate even worse."

Kosmont said that California and many of its cities have been expensive for a long time, but some have tried to compensate with aggressive economic development and redevelopment programs.

But now all are struggling with the state's budget deficit, which is the largest in its history.

The survey compares 402 cities nationwide based on the array of taxes and fees each imposes. They include sales, utility, income, property, and business taxes....

It noted that the highest-cost cities, such as Santa Monica and Oakland, cluster around the aging urban cores, while newer bedroom communities in the outer suburbs charge developers for their growth and pass on the savings to businesses to stimulate their economies.

For example, Kosmont said the least costly city in the county is Westlake Village.

"It has no business tax, no utility tax and very low property taxes.

So it is one of the bargains," Kosmont said.

That's by design, said City Manager Raymond B. Taylor.

"We have strived to be one of the most business-friendly cities in California since our inception in 1981," Taylor said.

About 8,800 people live in the city that abuts the Ventura County line. But there are 850 businesses in the village that generate 11,000 jobs.

"The city recognizes the value and the role that businesses play in terms of job development and the vibrancy of the community," Taylor said.
* A domestic corporation in Utah costs a minimum of $100 in annual franchise tax payable to the state for the privilege of doing business as a corporation in the state; in California, $800, among the highest cost in the nation.

See also:

California Legislature Plans To Increase Taxes

2009 California Employer Payroll Tax Rates

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Proper (Business Attorney Assisted) Set Up and Maintenance Crucial to Limited Liability Protection of Corporations and LLCs

Couldn't agree more with this excerpt from today's article by fellow Southern California WealthCounsel attorney Alexis Martin Neely:
You'll recall from last week, that I said the purpose of your business entity is to limit your liability as a business owner. This is to encourage business owners to take risks that they would not take if they had unlimited personal liability.

Here's the thing though, the shield is only intact if certain formalities are maintained, such as proper filings with the State, annual meetings of the shareholders (for corporations), and separation of all financial activities between you and the entity.

Far too often, I've come across business owners who used an incorporation service, a shoddy lawyer, or a CPA to incorporate their business and when I asked these business owners where their operating agreements, bylaws, annual meeting minutes and state filings were kept, they couldn't tell me.

Why is that? Because they didn't realize that merely filing articles of incorporation with the State does not provide liability protection.
Your corporate entity must be established correctly from the beginning with governing documents and then maintained on a yearly basis.

If you don't do that, you may come to find out too late that your business entity doesn't provide the protection you thought it did.

So, make sure that once you decide what kind of an entity to use, you set it up right and then maintain that entity.
While I'm open to a pleasant surprise one day, thusfar I have yet to review one corporation or limited liability company that was properly set up and maintained by a do-it-yourselfer (including those who used online incorporation services, paralegals, CPAs, non-business attorneys).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Parties: How Businesses Can Avoid Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Guest Post by Jessica Hawthorne

As holiday decorations start to go up around the office and everyone is full of seasonal cheer, many businesses may find that work parties, along with a more relaxed environment, can lead to sexual harassment claims.

Much too often – especially if the event is off-site and the alcohol flows freely – the office holiday party becomes a breeding ground for this sort of behavior. It seems that some employees can get the impression that professional behavior isn’t necessary at the festivities.

But that’s not the case. If it’s a work-sponsored event, workplace etiquette applies. And unfortunately for employers, liability can be the unexpected Christmas delivery if things aren’t handled properly.

Every year, claims and lawsuits over sexual harassment problems cost companies millions of dollars. In 2007, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received nearly 25,000 sex-discrimination complaints and fined businesses more than $135 million for violating these workplace protections, the highest level since 2002.

But businesses can protect employees against legal turmoil by taking simple steps to prevent harassment from occurring at the office holiday party – or anywhere else:
  • Advise employees of all relevant policies, such as harassment, dress code and appropriate workplace behavior.
  • Make sure all supervisors have received sexual harassment training.
  • Make sure everyone knows how to report unwanted or unwelcome behavior.
  • Remind all employees that the company's sexual harassment policies will be in full force and effect during the event.
Despite training and preparation, sexual harassment claims could arise, so employers should also be aware of how to mitigate the situation. It’s important to act swiftly if there are any complaints to determine what happened and how best to deal with the claim. That way, you will have done your harassment prevention due diligence if any legal situation arises later.

The best way to accomplish this – and follow California law – is to conduct proactive employee training and awareness against all forms of harassment.

All organizations, and that includes businesses, government agencies and non-profits, with 50 or more employees are required to train all supervisory personnel in sexual harassment prevention. Employers must prove that all of these employees take an interactive, two-hour harassment prevention course within six months of hire and every two years thereafter.

So keep in mind that while sexual harassment prevention is relevant all year round, now is a good time to give your office a refresher course. Your business should enjoy this festive time of year by keeping employees aware and preventing sexual harassment before it starts.

Jessica Hawthorne is an employment attorney the California Chamber of Commerce. More information on sexual harassment prevention training and many other workplace issues can be found at

Monday, September 22, 2008

Layoffs Can Lead to Unlawful Termination Claims

Down Economy: Layoffs Can Lead to Unlawful Termination Claims
What Businesses Need to Know to Protect Against These Lawsuits

By Jessica Hawthorne, Special to California Business Law Blog

By any measure, it’s a pretty rough economy out there and inevitably, there have been and will continue to be layoffs – a process that’s an emotional and complicated procedure, and no less so than during tough economic times.

So what do employers need to know to protect themselves from wrongful termination lawsuits before they are forced to lay off members of their workforce?

The truth is that no one procedure guarantees businesses freedom from exposure to wrongful discharge liability or, even in the absence of liability, prevention of the filing of a wrongful termination action by an employee. But there are a number of things that can be done to mitigate potential issues:

• Businesses should have all new employees sign agreements at the very beginning of employment that protects their status as an at-will employee.
• Standardize termination procedures in a way that maximizes company protection from wrongful termination suits, and ensures that the procedures are consistently applied.
• Train supervisors thoroughly in the area of protecting the at-will nature of employment and to follow all company policies especially related to terminations and layoffs.
• If your company is considering a layoff, be sure to establish objective, nondiscriminatory criteria for selecting the employees to layoff.
• If termination of an employee becomes necessary: do not make the employee's situation so miserable that he or she resigns just to get away.

If an employee feels singled out during a layoff or was unaware of performance issues before being terminated, they may also file a suit for wrongful discharge in violation of an express state or federal government public policy.

Further, be careful and consult with legal counsel before laying off employees with actual or perceived disabilities, those who have just returned from a protective leave of absence, and even those who have reported inappropriate activity such as harassment or safety violations. These employees may have or believe they have more rights than other employees. And angry employees or ones who feel wronged are more likely to sue.

In addition, the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and comparable state law require businesses to provide written notice to employees before laying off a significant portion of their workforce.

Unfortunately, there are literally layers of laws that deal with layoffs and terminations, which can make navigating this area of employment law a potential minefield. But if employers act in good faith, make their policies clear and offer ample notification of pending action, the likelihood of a wrongful termination lawsuit succeeding is minimal.

Jessica Hawthorne is an employment attorney the California Chamber of Commerce. More information on terminating employment and many other workplace issues can be found at

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No recession? Strong U.S. growth tops estimates

It is conventional wisdom today that all of the United States of America, including California, are in a recession. However, as is often the case, the conventional wisdom appears to be incorrect:

A recession is typically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, but the just-released second quarter 2008 U.S. economic growth rate numbers show a healthy growth rate of 3.3%, akin to the average rate of growth in the Reagan and Clinton administration "boom" years, and topping estimates of 1.9% (which accounted for the economic stimulus rebate checks). Q1 2008's growth rate was weak but positive, and Q4 2007 was recorded at negative 0.2% (-0.2%).

The U.S. Labor Department also reported a decrease in new unemployment claims numbers.

Arguably, one upshot of these figures is that those who believe now is not a good time to start or expand a business may not be correct.

See also UCLA forecast sees no California recession, San Francisco Chronicle, March 11, 2008:
[T]he UCLA Anderson Forecast predict that damage from the collapse of housing will be contained and that the state's feeble economy will avoid a headlong dive into negative territory.

Real estate weakness will remain a significant drag on the economy, leaving us treading water in 2008, but not slipping under the waves into recession," the report concludes.
December 2008 Update: An official U.S. recession was announced, with its effective start being named as December 2007.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Counterintuitive Ways to Save Money as Applied to Legal Services recently posted an article by Jeffrey Strain entitled 7 Counterintuitive Ways to Improve Finances, some of the advice in which applies, in the opinion of this blog's author, to something few people enjoy, but which can end up saving money in the long run; that is, spending money on legal fees:
Earnest attempts to save money here and there don't always add up to much. When traditional methods fail, it's time to consider a few counterintuitive options.

Spend Money

If you want to get the most for your money, you are going to have to spend. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are trying to get their finances in order is to stop spending money alogether.

Not all spending is the same. You should limit unnecessary purchases, but spending on essential upkeep, preventive measures and items that will save money in the long run is vital for getting and keeping your finances in order. Scrimp now on items and services that can help prevent larger expenses in the long run--such as routine car maintenance and energy-saving bulbs--and you could pay for it later. . . .
Think estate planning for disability and death, forming a corporation or limited liability company for your business. Having proper Web site terms of use, privacy policies, and vendor and employment contracts in place before you are sued.
Don't Buy What Is Cheapest

"Cheap" rarely means "the best value." To get the most out of your hard-earned money, you must think value rather than price. A car that is inexpensive, but costs a lot to drive and needs frequent repairs has less value than a car with a higher price tag but costs less to run and maintain.

This concept of buying value over price can be applied to anything and will mean that you rarely buy items which are the least expensive. . . .
Think online "incorporation services", paralegal and document preparation services, as well as high-volume or newly-admitted-to-the-bar "discount" lawyers versus established, experienced, and more costly attorneys provided personal service.

See also:

Online incorporation services review;

The Top Ten Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Classby Keith Cameron Smith (2007) (Millionaires think and plan long term; the middle class does not.); and

The Millionaire Next Doorby Thomas J. Stanley & William D. Danko (1998) (Millionaires think long term; willing to spend a lot on important, long terms, and preventative things and measures, but not much on the instant gratification of new cars, clothes, or jewelry.).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Federal Minimum Wage Increase

The federal minimum wage increases from $5.85 to $6.55 per hour, effective today, July 24, 2008. The minimum wage will increase to $7.25 next year.

Note that the California minimum wage applicable to California employers and employees is already higher than the current or future federal increases.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Employee versus Independent Contractor

California's Employment Development Department (EDD), in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is offering a seminar on employment status issues; that is, whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. The seminar is available live from time to time, but also online as a webinar or on CD, free. The seminar offers an overview of California law in this area, as well as debunking some common employer misconceptions.

CA EDD Payroll Tax Seminars

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

IRS Increases Standard Mileage Rate

The IRS has announced that, effective July 1, 2008, the standard mileage rate will increase from 50.5 cents per business mile to 58.5 per business mile. The change is in recognition of higher gasoline costs.

The medical and moving rate also increases, from 19 to 20c per mile, but the charitable purposes rate of 14c remains unchanged.

The 2009 mileage rate has yet to be determined and announced.

To those Californians that wonder, if - given the higher gas costs here - the rate varies state by state, the answer is no, although, for some taxpayers in certain instances, using actual automobile operating expenses rather than the standard mileage rate is an option that should be discussed with their accountant. Employers typically reimburse employees for business miles at the IRS standard rate.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage in California; Domestic Partnerships

As a result of the California Supreme Court's recent ruling that prohibiting gay marriage violates the California Constitution, many Golden State gay couples, who had previously registered at the state level as domestic partners, are wondering whether to dissolve their domestic partnership, before or following their gay marriage? This recent San Francisco Chronicle article sheds some light on the topic, and reports that state legislature attorneys advise that the domestic partnership need not be dissolved, prior to such any such marriage:
Same-sex couples who are registered as domestic partners do not have to dissolve that union before getting married, attorneys that advise the state Legislature said Thursday, just as county clerks and other local officials met to determine how they will enact last week's historic state Supreme Court ruling.
Given the possibility (perhaps even the likelihood, given the decisive ballot-box victory of the California Defense of Marriage Act in 2000) that California voters will turn out at polling places and amend the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage this November by passing Proposition 8, it is in fact probably advisable, though of course legally untested at this point, for gay couples to maintain domestic partner registration following and during their marriage, which would presumably remain in effect, following and despite any termination of their legal marriages due to a change in the law.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Self-Directed IRAs and Real Estate Investing

Self-directed IRAs, for real estate investing and for other purposes, are gaining in popularity. One company that offers self-directed IRA services, Pensco Trust, has put together a plain-English overview that is recommended background reading for anyone who is interested in learning more about self-directed retirement account investing options:

Pensco Trust Self-Directed IRA Top 50 FAQs [Link opens a PDF document.]

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Estate Planning: Charitable Giving as Part of Your Legacy

Financial education Web site today offers an overview of ten ways to give, to be implemented within an overall estate plan, some simple, some more complex to - in their words - "achieve both [your] financial and charitable goals. Whether you’re 20, 40, 60 or 80, the Minyan[] credo of earn, save, spend and give applies. I encourage you, no matter your age, to think about planning your legacy of goodwill and providing valuable lessons to your family through planned giving....
Here are ten options for deferred -- or planned -- gifts. It’s always best to select the option that matches your goals. Each of these options require a statement in your will (you have a will, don’t you?). Of course, all options should be explored with an estate planning attorney.

Type of gift: Bequest
Your goal: Defer a gift until after your lifetime.
How to make the gift: Name a charity in your will (designate a specific amount, percentage or share of the residue).
Benefits: Donation exempt from federal estate tax and control of your assets over your lifetime.

Type of gift: Living trust
Your goal: Make a revocable gift during your lifetime.
How to make the gift: Name a charity as the beneficiary of assets in a living trust.
Benefits: Control of the trust over your lifetime.

Type of gift: Gift of life insurance
Your goal: Make a large gift with little cost to yourself.
How to make the gift: Change ownership on a life insurance policy you no longer need.
Benefits: Current income tax deduction and possible future deductions through gifts to pay policy premium.

Type of gift: Outright gift of securities
Your goal: Avoid tax on capital gains.
How to make the gift: Contribute long-term appreciated stock or other securities.
Benefits: Immediate charitable deduction and avoidance of capital gains tax.

Type of gift: Gift of retirement assets
Your goal: Avoid the twofold taxation on IRAs or other employee benefit plans.
How to make the gift: Name a charity as the beneficiary of the remainder of the assets after your lifetime.
Benefits: Gift from the most highly taxed assets, leaving better assets for family.

Type of gift: Gift of real estate
Your goal: Make a gift of property no longer needed and generate an income tax deduction.
How to make the gift: Donate the property to a charity.
Benefits: Immediate income tax deduction and reduction or elimination of capital gains tax.

Type of gift: Retained life estate
Your goal: Give your personal residence or farm now, but continue to live there.
How to make the gift: Designate ownership of your home to a charity, but retain occupancy.
Benefits: Valuable charitable income tax deduction and lifetime use of residence.

Type of gift: Charitable remainder annuity trust
Your goal: Secure a fixed and often increased income.
How to make the gift: Create a charitable trust that pays you a set income annually.
Benefits: Immediate income tax deduction and fixed income for life, often at higher rate of return.

Type of gift: Charitable remainder unitrust trust
Your goal: Create a hedge against inflation over the long term.
How to make the gift: Create a trust that pays a fixed percentage of trust’s assets as revalued annually.
Benefits: Receive a variable income for life and an immediate income tax charitable deduction.

Type of gift: Charitable gift annuity
Your goal: Supplement income with steady payments that are partially tax-free.
How to make the gift: Establish a charitable gift annuity contract with a charity that pays a set amount for life.
Benefits: Current and future savings on income taxes and fixed payments for life for one or two individuals.

Type of gift: Charitable lead trust
Your goal: Reduce gift and estate taxes on assets you pass to heirs.
How to make the gift: Create a charitable trust that pays fixed or variable income for a specific term of years; principal is retained for heirs.
Benefits: Reduces your taxable estate and the property is kept by your family, often with reduced gift taxes."

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What to Know About Hiring New Employees… And What to Avoid

What to Know About Hiring New Employees…And What to Avoid

By Jessica Hawthorne, Guest Poster

Due to the complexities of California employment laws, when the time arises to hire a new employee it’s a good idea to eliminate the guesswork.

Many large companies with skilled human resource personnel typically understand where the pitfalls lie in the hiring process. Smaller business owners may also have a solid grasp of the necessary hiring techniques, but grey areas still remain for both.

The hiring process involves three key areas – recruiting, interviewing, hiring.

Recruiting: Creating a job description is sometimes an overlooked facet of the hiring process. It will not only help supervisors more readily define what they are seeking in a new employee, but can later be used to show that person their areas of responsibility.

A thorough description can also be the basis for creating a job advertisement for newspapers, industry publications, professional journals, and online sites such as Craigslist. Don’t overlook an internal job posting as well.

Be careful to avoid any inappropriate terms or discriminating language when posting a job advertisement. The rule is don’t include references to race, sex, religion, age, medical condition, marital status, sexual orientation, and disability or any other protected class.

Below is an example of an unsuitable ad.
Gal Friday Needed: Community newspaper is seeking a woman to answer phones, greet visitors to the office with a smile, and handle faxes and incoming mail. Must possesses lady-like appearance and speak clear English.
This ad is sexist and ethnocentric and should not be used.

Interviewing: It’s always a good practice to conduct a preliminary interview by phone, providing one gives the applicant some advance notice. The phone interview serves as a screening process and will narrow the field of applicants.

Creating a test for applicants is a suitable action that will help provide an accurate measuring stick for a person’s job skills and aptitude. Beware that a reasonable accommodation must be given to a disabled person when they take the same test.

Preparing a core set of questions that will be used for all applicants is another suggested step to follow. Ideally, many of the questions are derived from the job description. Be sure to ask questions that elicit lengthy responses.

Below is an example of an inappropriate question.
"I see your last name is Gonzalez. Does that mean you speak Spanish and are comfortable interacting with Hispanic people?"
The question is discriminatory because its function is to determine the applicant’s national origin and ancestry.

Hiring: On the first day of work, have the new employee review and fill out all the legally required and company-related forms. Be prepared to explain.

To get a new employee properly acclimated, an orientation program is recommended so the person understands the job responsibilities and any safety procedures that accompany the position. Introduce them to the company handbook and review all important policies.

Neglect during the new employee training can lead to various problems, like this one below.

Inadequate training: An employee for a road repair company shows up for his first day of work and is immediately assigned to a crew that morning. No safety instructions are provided and the worker spills hot tar on his uncovered forearm, causing a severe burn that requires medical care.

If an employee suffers an injury that could have been avoided through proper safety training, the company may be liable.

Jessica Hawthorne is an employment attorney with CalBizCentral, a division of the California Chamber of Commerce. This column was excerpted from a series of five booklets called "What Every Manager Needs to Know About", now available from

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dangers of Internet Legal Research: Misinformation Aplenty

A client recently was conducted some legal research on the Internet, and came across the following, which he then showed to me and asked me about:
Subject: Re: Closing down a california S-corp
Answered By: taxmama-ga on 31 Jan 2005 14:38 PST
Dear Yarbles,

The State of California would like you to believe that you must file each back year and pay the annual $800 fee AND all the penalties and interest related to that fee. They also will want all the fees and penalties for not keeping up with the annual report of officers taht the Secretary of State requires. (That's a $20 fee if you file it on time; $250 penalty if you don't.)

However, under the Ralite case, where the owner of the corporation was permitted to walk away from all these liabilities, by simply doing nothing. Do NOT file the closure paperwork with the State Franchise Tax Board or Secretary of State. Do nothing.

You can read the particulars here.

You may want to have your tax professional review the case and make sure that you qualify. In fact, they may be happy to see this for their files. It's a very valuable piece of information that most people don't seem to know.

Just be patient. The notices will stop. Someday.

Best wishes,

Your TaxMama-ga
Google Answers: Closing down a california S-corp

My response to the client, who had hoped this answer proved that dormant California corporations would be dissolved automatically and that the corporate veil could never be pierced to provide for personal liablity to the shareholders for California corporate tax obligations:
Dear [Client]:

1 – There is no indication that the answerer is an attorney or accountant. What are their qualifications to be giving legal or tax advice? There are reasons why attorneys and accountants have to meet certain educational, training, and licensing standards.

2 - The annual report fee referred to in the answer is actually $25, not $20.

3 – While not invalidating the law as precedent, it is worth nothing that the case refers to tax year 1980, and to a California code section that no longer even exists (R & T Code Section 25701(a)).

4 – The answerer does not claim the corp. will be dissolved automatically by the state, only that the back taxes won’t have to be paid.


5 - Contrary to what the answerer, who apparently did not read or understand the case, the shareholders of the corporation in the cited Ralite case were found personally liable and ordered to pay the franchise taxes. See paragraph 2 of page 29 of the case cited: “the shareholders are liable for Ralite’s [the corporation’s] tax.”

However, this result was because of fraudulent transfers by the shareholders; otherwise, the case does indeed provide that shareholders will not be personally liable for corporation franchise tax non-payment. But (A) without the assistance of an attorney and tax advisor, fraudulent transfers may inadverdently be made by shareholders closing down a corporate business and (B) it is possible California's legislature will change the law on this at some point. Until that time, it is true that many shareholders walk away from their corporations and allow them to become suspended and continue to accrue franchise taxes, penalties, and interest. This is not the proper or legal way to do things, however, and I believe the majority of business attorney or tax advisors would not routinely counsel a client to do this.

6 - Note that the person asking the question comments at the bottom of that they consulted their tax professional, and their tax advisor told them to pay the tax and dissolve the corporation properly.

7 - A tax clearance certificate is no longer required to dissolve a corporation, so there is little reason not to dissolve the corporation, to stop the tax clock from ticking, even if taxes are owed and cannot or will not be paid by the corporate shareholders.

This is a perfect example of the legal misinformation and half-truths that are all over the Internet and a good reason why you should take “advice” like this with a grain of salt and consider its (unknown) source, as well as the the fact that the law may have changed, or the one person's circumstances may not match yours....

Thursday, March 13, 2008

John McCain, Republican for President, on the Estate Tax

Although U.S. Senator (Republican - Arizona) John McCain's has been criticized by conservatives in his party for his inconsistent support of President Bush's tax cuts, his recent no-new-taxes pledge and his prior Senate votes on the estate tax seem to indicate that as president he would be likely to preserve the status quo on the estate tax: in 2007, McCain voted to increase the estate tax exemption to $5 million and to reduce the maximum estate tax rate to 35%; and in 2006, McCain voted to permanently repeal the death tax and to make the Bush estate (and income) tax cuts permanent.

Source: OnTheIssues.Org: John McCain on Tax Reform

The conservative Club for Growth, which favor repeal of the estate tax, rated McCain's voting record 76 out of 100 for 2006 for pro-growth economic policies.

See also:

Barack Obama, Democrat for President, on the Estate Tax
Hillary Clinton, Democrat for President, on the Estate Tax
John McCain Official Site: McCain Tax Cut Plan

October 2008 update: McCain has clarified that he supports raising the estate tax exemption amount to $10 million for a husband and wife and cutting the tax rate on larger estate to 15 percent. He also supports lowering the federal corpoarte tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.

Barack Obama, Democrat for President, on the Estate Tax

U.S. Senator (Democrat - Illinois) and presidential candidate Barack Obama's view on the estate tax:
We have to stop pretending that all cuts are equivalent or that all tax increases are the same. Ending corporate subsidies is one thing; reducing health-care benefits to poor children is something else. At a time when ordinary families are feeling hit from all sides, the impulse to keep their taxes as low as possible is honorable. What is less honorable is the willingness of the rich to ride this anti-tax sentiment for their own purposes.

Nowhere has this confusion been more evident than in the debate surrounding the proposed repeal of the estate tax. As currently structured, a husband and wife can pass on $4 million without paying any estate tax. In 2009, this figure goes up to $7 million. The tax thus affects only the wealthiest one-third of 1% in 2009. Repealing the estate tax would cost $1 trillion, and it would be hard to find a tax cut that was less responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans or the long-term interests of the country.
From Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, 2006, pp. 191-2.

In the Senate, Barack Obama has consistently voted against repealing or reducing most taxes, including the estate tax, and in favor of increasing most taxes, including the estate tax. Senator Obama, for example, voted no on increasing the estate tax exemption to $5 million and reducing the maximum estate tax rate to 35%, voted no on extending the sunset of the Bush estate tax and GST tax exemption increases (which lower the number of families affected by the estate tax), and voted no on permanently repealing what those who oppose it usually refer to as the death tax.

Source: OnTheIssues.Org: Barack Obama on Tax Reform

The conservative Club for Growth, which favors repeal of the estate tax, rated Obama's voting record 7 out of 100 for 2006 for pro-growth economic policies, and most liberal Senator overall for 2007 by the National Journal.

See also:

John McCain, Republican for President, on the Estate Tax
Hillary Clinton, Democrat for President, on the Estate Tax
Barack Obama Offical Site: Fiscal Issues

October 2008 update: Obama opposes repeal of the estate tax and supports repeal of, or allowing the expiration of in 2010, the Bush (estate and income) tax cuts. He supports one-time or short-term tax rebates for most individual taxpayers (and many filers who don't earn enough to pay federal income tax and pay only payroll taxes) and overall higher estate, payroll, income, and corporate taxes over the longer term.

In response to a question about raising taxes, Obama said that he intends to "spread the wealth around."

January 2009 post-election update: President-Elect Obama's Big Tax Plan by Bill Bischoff, SmartMoney's "Tax Guy":
$300 billion in tax cuts are probably on the way -- and soon.

Right after the election, I was virtually certain that upper-income individuals would face higher federal income tax bills as early as this year. And I didn’t see anything very good on the business tax horizon, either. But after two more months of horrifying economic data, it’s a whole new ball game.

Now, President-elect Obama is proposing a $775 billion economic stimulus package that does not appear to impose higher taxes on anybody or anything for 2009. Instead, it looks like we will immediately see some of the "middle-class tax cuts" Obama promised, plus some unanticipated business breaks too. All in all, these tax cuts could add up to $300 billion (or more) over the next two years....
February 2009 post-election update: Obama's Budget: Almost $1 Trillion in New Taxes Over Next 10 yrs, Starting 2011:
President Obama's budget proposes $989 billion in new taxes over the course of the next 10 years, starting fiscal year 2011, most of which are tax increases on individuals.
ABC News, February 26, 2009.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

Interview Questions Employers Shouldn't Ask Job Applicants

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- "Why aren't you married yet?" "Would you join a church to get a job?" Those are just two examples of questions job seekers said hiring managers asked them in a job interview, according to a new survey of more than 3,000 job seekers and 1,000 hiring managers worldwide by Development Dimensions International and Monster, the career-resource arm of Monster Worldwide.
Others included "Are you happy in your relationship?" "Who is your favorite Beatle?" and "What is your perception of the painting in our lobby?"

The survey findings are "a wake-up call for organizations that this is happening behind closed doors when the applicant is face to face with their potential boss," said Scott Erker, DDI's senior vice president of selection solutions. DDI is a human-resource consulting company in Pittsburgh.

Questions pertaining to family status or religion can easily venture into illegal territory under antidiscrimination laws. That means potentially exposing the company to litigation -- and hindering the firm's efforts to find talented workers....
Don't ask, don't tell: Questions employers shouldn't ask -- and job seekers should avoid answering, Andrea Coombes, CBS Marketwatch, January 28, 2008

Saturday, January 5, 2008

California Minimum Wage for 2008 Increases to $8.00 Per Hour

As mentioned here last year, California's minimum wage increased to $8.00 per hour, effective January 1st, 2008. The 2008 rate represents a 6.7% increase over the old (2007) minimum wage, which was $7.50 per hour.

Some employees are exempt from the minimum wage law.

Others are covered by a higher wage law: San Francisco increased its minimum wage to $9.36, also effective January 1, 2008.

The federal minimum wage for those employees not covered by state or local minimum wage laws, remains at $5.85, until July 24, 2008, at which time it will increase to $6.55, and then $7.24 a year later.

Updated California work place posters for employers can be found here:

City of Los Angeles Business License Tax Returns

City of Los Angeles Business License Tax Returns are due by the end of February of the year following the subject tax year. There are several exemptions, the most important of which being, that for businesses that register and file their tax returns on time, there is no tax. So it is extremely important to file, or have your accountant file, the return on time.

Online filing is available for renewals only on the City of Los Angeles Office of Finance web site:

Thursday, January 3, 2008

2008 Standard Mileage Rate

The IRS' standard mileage rate for calendar year 2008 business miles has been increased to 50.5 cents per mile driven, up from 48.5 cents per mile in 2007.

See below for more complete information:
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued the 2008 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2008, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (including vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

50.5 cents per mile for business miles driven;
19 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes; and
14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.
The new rate for business miles compares to a rate of 48.5 cents per mile for 2007. The new rate for medical and moving purposes compares to 20 cents in 2007. The rate for miles driven in service of charitable organizations has remained the same.

The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile; the standard rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. Runzheimer International, an independent contractor, conducted the study for the IRS.

The mileage rate for charitable miles is set by law.

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle, for any vehicle used for hire or for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.
IRS Announces 2007 Standard Mileage Rates,, posted November 27, 2007

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New 2008 California Notary Block

Effective today, January 1, 2008, all legal documents to be notarized in California must use the following notary block:

State of California
County of ___________

On ______________________ before me, (here insert name and title of the officer), personally appeared __________________ who proved to me on the basis of satisfactory evidence to be the person(s) whose name(s) is/are subscribed to the within instrument and acknowledged to me that he/she/they executed the same in his/her/their authorized capacity(ies), and that by his/her/their signature(s) on the instrument the person(s), or the entity upon behalf of which the person(s) acted, executed the instrument.

I certify under PENALTY OF PERJURY under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing paragraph is true and correct.

WITNESS my hand and official seal.

Signature ____________________________ (Seal)

Reference: California Civil Code Section 1189
California notary block PDF format; California Secretary of State

California power of attorneys also now require a thumb print upon execution.