Surviving tax season 

Get your documents ready for tax season to save time and stress. 

Introduction

Welcome to the new year! It is a time for new beginnings and for your business to plan and execute on goals for the future. It is also the time to deal with your tax obligations, so that you can quickly refocus your attention on higher priority goals.

In general, companies that were open at any point during the previous calendar year probably have tax filing obligations for that year. Stripe Atlas has built tools to help founders navigate these obligations. We know that taxes are stressful and something which most entrepreneurs do not consider themselves experts on, so to save entrepreneurs anxiety (and eliminate a major reason why people don’t go into business in the first place), we have set out to make the process better. We wrote a guide to U.S. business taxes. Companies which incorporated with us can use Atlas tools to help collect data about their business, connect to an accountant for advice about their corporate income tax, and pay their Delaware franchise tax.

Your tax season is likely to include the following steps, in order:

  1. Gather data about your business
  2. Consult with your accountant, on the basis of the data
  3. Review the return(s) prepared by your accountant
  4. Submit the return(s) and pay any required tax

Tax filings you need to make

Delaware corporations generally need to file returns for:

  • U.S. federal income tax
  • the Delaware state franchise tax

Depending on circumstances, some companies may have state income tax filing obligations. Founders of U.S. companies may personally have federal and/or state income tax obligations, or tax obligations outside the U.S., especially if they lived or worked outside of the U.S.

If you incorporated your company using Stripe Atlas, you can pay your Delaware state franchise tax from your Stripe dashboard, and you can also use Stripe Atlas to get introduced to experienced startup accountants to help advise with regards to your U.S. federal income tax return and other U.S. tax obligations. If you lived or worked outside the U.S., you should also engage a local accountant regarding the tax issues in your other jurisdiction(s).

Before you speak to an accountant

Accountants are, effectively, the engineers of money. Just like engineers don’t spend most of their time typing in data, accountants generally do not personally do the underlying recordkeeping and math which supports tax returns. This is generally done by bookkeepers or by entrepreneurs using bookkeeping software. (More on the difference between these two functions.) Your accountants will generally not be able to start working on filing your taxes until your books are prepared and your financial statements are finalized.

Your accountants will want your financial statements, specifically:

  • general ledger: a list of all transactions for the corporation
  • balance sheet: a summary of what the company owns and owes
  • income statement: a calculation of profit (or loss)

Your general ledger (sometimes described colloquially, with supporting documentations, as your “books”) is a list of transactions your business has made. Your ledger will be prepared by your bookkeeper on the basis of primary evidence such as receipts, invoices, credit card statements, and the like. Each transaction will generally be associated with a day, an amount, the two accounts involved in the transaction, a category, and a brief description of what the transaction was. Businesses may have only a few dozen ledger entries per month or millions, depending on the level of activity in the business and choices they make regarding recordkeeping granularity.

The balance sheet and income statement are summary documents prepared, generally by software, on the basis of your ledger.

A balance sheet lists your assets and liabilities at the start and end of the tax year. It will look something like this:

AssetAt start of yearAt end of year
Cash$500$500
Checking account$18,000$37,000
.........
Total Assets$27,000$45,000


LiabilityAt start of yearAt end of year
Accounts payable$3,600$2,300
Unearned income$12,000$24,000
.........
Total Liabilities$20,000$35,000
Shareholder equity$7,000$10,000


You will get your balance sheet from the bookkeeping software you (or your bookkeeper) uses. Your accountant will use it extensively in preparing your corporate income tax return(s) and, additionally, your total assets will be used to calculate your Delaware franchise taxes.

A fun fact about balance sheets: a company’s shareholder equity will always be the difference between its total assets and its total liabilities. (This is interesting as an accounting matter, but in startups, the value of a company on its balance sheet generally bears no relationship to how it is valued by investors.)

Your income statement (also known as the profit and loss statement or P&L) simply sums your revenue, expenses, and income (revenue minus expenses) for the year, broken down into coarse categories. It will look something like this:

Revenue typeAmount
SaaS subscriptions$75,000
Total Revenue$75,000


Expense typeAmount
Software$5,000
Hosting$10,000
.....
Total Expenses$40,000


Net Income$35,000

You will also get your company’s income statement from your bookkeeping software.

Federal corporate income tax

The first step in working with your accountants to prepare your federal corporate income tax return will be providing them with data, including your financial statements. This will help them drill into ambiguities or places where they need additional information, advise you on the correct tax positions to take, and ultimately prepare your return correctly.

Stripe Atlas can recommend an accounting firm appropriate for your business from among our hand-picked providers. We have a tool in your Stripe Atlas dashboard which will walk you through a brief questionnaire to simplify data collection. If you work with other accountants, they will advise you what information they need and what format they expect to get it in.

You should expect to be asked about:

  • who owns the company and in what percentages
  • where does the company have physical operations
  • what are the main lines of business the company operates
  • does the corporation have depreciating assets

We have attempted to streamline this process as much as possible if you use the Stripe Atlas tax tool to be introduced to one of our tax partners.

The cost of preparing your taxes will depend on a variety of factors, including whether your financial statements are complete, whether your records are well-organized, what level of complexity your business is exposed to, and the degree to which special circumstances expose you to additional reporting requirements.

Stripe Atlas has negotiated a range of packages appropriate to your business’ circumstances; just use our tool to get an estimate. We can get a better price for better services because we can negotiate volume pricing with our partners, use technology to streamline data collection and reduce human effort required, and allow our partners to specialize in only the parts of tax compliance which are relevant to most internet companies.

Your corporate taxes filing and payment are due on April 17th this year.

Delaware franchise tax and annual report filing

Stripe Atlas can assist you in filing and paying your franchise tax and annual report filing fee, directly from your Stripe Atlas dashboard.

You will need four pieces of information:

  • number of authorized shares
  • number of shares issued
  • par value of shares
  • gross assets of the company

The gross assets that Delaware requires you use for this calculation are listed on Schedule L of your form 1120, and they’re sourced off of your company’s balance sheet.

Your initial number of authorized shares and par value of shares was set at incorporation; if you haven’t done anything to change these, Stripe Atlas can remind you of what they were.

You need to check your records or speak with your professional advisors to see how many shares have been issued. If you used Stripe Atlas’ tool to issue your founder stock, we will remind you of how many shares you signed documents to issue to the founders using our tool. (As a reminder, founders must purchase their shares to finalize the issuance.)

Companies incorporated using Stripe Atlas will generally owe the minimum tax which is presently $400 ($350 for franchise taxes using the Assumed Par Value method and $50 for the annual report filing fee) per year. You can file your Delaware Franchise Tax and Annual Report directly from your Stripe Atlas Dashboard.

Stripe does not charge you any additional fee for the use of this tool.

Your franchise tax filing and annual report, and the payment for them, is due by March 1st each year.

Need help?

We are not accountants and we can’t give tax advice, but we’re happy to help Stripe Atlas companies with an introduction to qualified accountants. Drop us a line at atlas@stripe.com or ask your question on our forums.

We have also written extensively about business taxes for Internet companies.

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