Top Accounting Software for Small Businesses

Every business – large or small – needs to keep track of how money comes and goes.

There are numerous free and low-cost accounting software programs for small- or medium-sized enterprises and solopreneurs that simplify accounting tasks, generate reports and provide tools that help you use your financial data.

Intuit QuickBooks is a popular accounting, bookkeeping and payroll program designed for small businesses. QuickBooks is available in several editions. The Pro edition includes management tools such as a Vehicle Mileage Tracker and a Cash Flow Projector.

The free Simple Start version keeps data organized, tracks sales and expenses for up to 20 customers, creates invoices, pays bills and prints checks. Simple Start tracks tax-related income and expenses, and generates essential reports on sales, expenses, profits and losses. It comes with step-by-step tutorials and 30 days of free email support, and it interfaces easily with Excel. Your data transfers easily to other versions when you are ready to upgrade.

Simply Accounting by Sage offers First Step, Pro, Premium, Enterprise and Accountants editions. Professional versions can track customers and suppliers, manage inventory, prepare invoices and process payroll. The First Step version is designed for start-up, small and home-based businesses and can perform simple entry-level accounting tasks such as preparing invoices, paying bills, and tracking revenue and expenses. The Simply Accounting First Step free trial version is available to download and use for 60 days. Simply Accounting First Step Express is another downloadable version available free to Canadian users.

A key feature of Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting is its tight integration with MSOffice applications such as Excel, MSMoney and Outlook’s Business Contact Manager.

Office Accounting Professional has a slate of add-on features that can create purchase orders, track inventory, assess finance charges, support foreign currencies, do payroll and manage fixed assets.
The basic version called Office Accounting Express is free. It has the look and feel of familiar Microsoft Office products and can create quotes and invoices, write checks, track expenses and reconcile online bank accounts. A start-up wizard and step-by-step instructions get you up and running quickly. Office Accounting Express 2009 is designed for U.S.- and U.K.-based small businesses and does not support local requirements beyond these two countries. Both the free version and the Pro version offer bilingual English and Spanish interfaces.

NolaPro v4.0 is a free web-based business management and accounting suite. It includes all standard accounting modules as well as order entry, inventory tracking, payroll services, and plug-ins such as point-of-sale, a business-to-business web portal and an e-commerce shopping cart. It has a flexible interface with customizable options for colors, icon sets, and menu displays. NolaPro allows multiple sets of books and unlimited simultaneous users, and it has no data restrictions and no license expiration. It features a high level of security for regulating user permissions by module area.

Optional fee-based add-ons include training, live 24/7 support, technical consulting, financial auditing and on-demand hosting. NolaPro includes international features such as VAT support, a built-in language translator and currency symbol/decimal options.

Ways to Put a Value on Goodwill

When a company is acquired, the difference between the purchase price and its book value is considered goodwill. There are four recognized methods of accounting for goodwill.

Write-off – Goodwill can be written off immediately against retained earnings. Advocates of this method point out that goodwill is not measurable and has no definitive future value.

Capitalization – Proponents of this approach argue that goodwill is an important asset that belongs on the balance sheet. The main problem with capitalization of goodwill is determining the appropriate amount.

Non-amortization – Capitalization of goodwill without amortization produces the most advantageous financial reporting figures. The company records an asset instead of a decrease in retained earnings, and net income is not reduced thereafter.

Amortization – Amortization enables a company to write down the cost of intangible assets over a period of time following acquisition. If the life of the goodwill asset is indeterminate, it is amortized over a maximum of 40 years.

The Facts about Amortization and Depreciation

Amortization measures the consumption of the value of an intangible asset, such as a copyright, patent or trademark. In accounting parlance, amortization refers to the deduction of capital expenses over the life of an intangible asset.

Intangible assets are generally expensed according to their life expectancy, but nonphysical assets may have either an identifiable or indefinite useful life. Examples of intangible assets with identifiable useful lives include copyrights and patents, and these are amortized on a straight-line basis over their economic or legal life, whichever is shorter.

Intangible assets with indefinite useful lives are reassessed each year for impairment. If an impairment has occurred, then a loss must be recognized. An impairment loss is determined by subtracting the asset’s fair value from its book value. This impairment loss may be reversed only under certain circumstances.  Trademarks and goodwill are examples of intangible assets with indefinite useful lives.
Goodwill must be tested for impairment rather than amortized. If impaired, goodwill is reduced and a loss must be recognized on the income statement.

Depreciation is an expense allocated to a tangible asset’s cost over its useful life. Think of depreciation as the reduction of an asset’s value due to use, passage of time, wear and tear, technological obsolescence, depletion, inadequacy, rot, rust, decay or other similar factors.

Depreciation is the allocation of the historical cost of an asset over the time when the asset is employed to generate revenues. This process of cost allocation has little or no relevance to the market value or current selling price of the asset. It is simply a recognition that a portion of the asset’s cost was used up in the generation of revenues during a given time period.

When used for accounting purposes, amortization and depreciation are noncash expenses that do not affect a company’s cash flow.

Depreciation recognized for tax purposes will, however, affect the cash flow of the company, as tax depreciation will reduce taxable profits. There is generally no requirement that depreciation for tax and accounting purposes be treated the same way. Where depreciation is shown on accounting statements, the figure usually does not match the depreciation for tax purposes.

Straight-line depreciation spreads the cost of depreciation evenly over the life of an asset. On the other hand, there are various methods of accelerated depreciation that allow you to deduct more in the first years after purchase. Bonus depreciation is an additional amount of deductible depreciation that is always taken in the first year of an asset’s service. Bonus depreciation may be offered as an incentive or as a measure of relief for small and medium-sized businesses to buy additional equipment.

The depreciation method used for an asset is fixed when the asset is first placed into service. Whatever rules or tables are in effect for that year must be followed as long as you own the asset.

Since depreciation rules have changed many times over the years, you may have to use a number of different depreciation methods if you’ve owned business assets for a long time.

Why Smart Inventory Management Keeps the Cash Flowing

Good inventory management is a key aspect of managing cash flow. Too much inventory depletes your business’s resources, tying up cash in the form of goods, as well as insurance, storage and interest charges on those goods. On the other hand, too little inventory can result in lost sales, delays and customer aggravation – free gifts to your competitors.

Inventory management is a juggling act. While you need to keep an adequate quantity and variety of goods on hand to meet customer demand in a timely manner, you don’t want to invest too much in goods that don’t sell well or may become obsolete, spoiled or irrelevant.

Many businesses strive to operate on a just-in-time (JIT) basis, holding stock for a minimal amount of time before moving it, selling it or using it. The keys to effective JIT inventory management are to pinpoint the rate at which each item in your shop moves and to maintain optimum stock levels for each item. To optimize stock levels, consider:

•    Anticipated stock turns for each item
•    Availability of raw materials and components to manufacture or assemble goods
•    Time necessary for delivery by suppliers
•    Shelf life for each item

To reduce excess inventory, you may need to sell off outdated or slow-moving merchandise. Remember that stock sitting on your shelves for long periods of time ties up money that  is not working for you.