Let the warmth and beauty of 2020 NCRA Business Summit venue inspire you

The NCRA 2020 Business Summit offers more than just networking and learning. Located on more than 400 acres along the banks of the Colorado River, the beautiful Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas, offers a variety of amenities and activities for attendees and their guests to enjoy during their stay.

Among the recreation amenities attendees can enjoy include: A full-service spa, salon, and fitness center, two tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, hiking, biking and jogging paths, horseback riding, a video arcade, a water park, a meet-and-greet with the facility’s mascots, and more. Plus, if attendees book at the special NCRA room rate before Jan. 8, the activity fee of $35 is waived. And don’t forget, register for the event by Nov. 30 and save an additional $100.

Besides the beauty of the Austin countryside and warm temperatures typical of Texas, attendees at the 2020 NCRA Business Summit can also expect to enjoy a schedule that offers informative, inspiring, and insightful sessions led by leaders in the business industry.

Ron Comers, a former FBI agent and currently an advisor on corporate security risks through Charted Risk, LLC., will present “Protecting Your Firm from Scams & Data Breaches,” and offer tips on how firms can keep their files and other information safe in today’s cyber-savvy world.

Comers earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of South Florida and a master’s degree in business continuity, security, and risk management from Boston University. Prior to working for the FBI, Comers was a police officer with the Stratford Police Department in Connecticut. He entered duty as a special agent of the FBI in 1995 and was assigned to the Boston, Mass., division, where he worked bank fraud and drug investigations and also served as a member of the division’s SWAT team.

Over the course of his career, Comers has served in a variety of divisions as an FBI agent, overseeing a number of stateside and international investigations.

In 2010, he served as an acting ALAT in Afghanistan in 2010 and as a member of the Major Crimes Task Force charged with developing the investigative capabilities of Afghan law enforcement. For his service, he received the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Furthering the Interests of U.S. National Security.

Other speakers include Cathy O’Neal, communications director for Levitt Pavilion Arlington, who will lead a session about successful social media strategies to help build business; a financial planning session led by Chris Moyseos, a financial planner who will discuss succession and financial planning; and NCRA Interim Executive Director Dave Wenhold, CPE, who will present the findings of NCRA’s 2020 Firm Owners Economic Outlook Survey.

Make plans to mosey on over to the 2020 NCRA Business Summit

The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas, is the setting for the 2020 NCRA Business Summit taking place Feb. 9-11. No matter what size firm you own, operate, or manage, this event is NCRA’s premier gathering for anyone looking to grow their business, expand their markets, and boost their overall success. Register by Nov. 30, 2019 to take advantage of discounted pricing.

“Intense, energizing, inspiring, educational, and fun, that’s what the 2020 NCRA Business Summit promises attendees no matter what size their firm is. Plan to expand your sphere of colleagues while networking in beautiful Austin, as well as hear from a variety of experts in the areas of successful customer base building, honing effective leadership skills, and more,” said NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI, a freelance court reporter and firm owner from Franklin, Tenn. “If building your business in 2020 and beyond is important to you, then attending the 2020 should be a priority.”

Karim R. Ellis, Keynote Speaker

In the lineup this year is keynote speaker Karim R. Ellis, founder of Empowered Education, a company devoted to developing both organizations and individuals. Ellis is a dynamic motivational speaker with 10 years of experience in the arena of speaking, training, and coaching, He takes great pride in cultivating leaders and champions, and his sole desire is to unlock an atmosphere of greatness in the lives of the people he connects with on a daily basis. Ellis will share with attendees his insights into successful leadership creation and development.

Also on the program is Chris Williams, co-founder of Wide Awake Business, established in 2004 to help companies grow. She is also the co-author, along with Martha Hanlon, also co-founder of Wide Awake Business, Customers Are the Answer to Everything, and most recently of Customertopia. Williams and Hanlon have been called one of the foremost authorities on in how to get and keep customers.

Chris Williams, Speaker

Williams will provide a two-part presentation, which will focus on how to create an easier, simpler, more profitable business. The sessions will cover how to:

  • Spend less time second-guessing yourself and seize the right opportunities
  • Ooze authority and confidence when you speak with prospects
  • Feel fulfilled because your “Big Why” engages more people
  • Enjoy your bank account statements
  • Lead more, build team, and personally do less of the “do”
  • Head out on your vacation without taking calls and putting out fires every day

The 2020 NCRA Business Summit program also offers a number of networking opportunities throughout the three-day event to provide attendees with the chance to expand their networks, engage with old friends, and build relationships with new ones. The event kicks off with a fun and exciting team-building activity followed by an opening reception and dinner.

Registration is now open and those who register by Nov. 30, 2019, can take advantage of discounted pricing:

  • Early Access Registration: Oct. 15 – Nov. 30, 2019
    Member: $975; Nonmember: $1,150; Additional Firm Employee: $850; Spouse/Guest: $200
  • Regular Registration: Dec. 1, 2019 – Jan. 31, 2020
    Member: $1,075; Nonmember: $1,250; Additional Firm Employee: $950; Spouse/Guest: $250
  • Last Minute Registration: Feb. 1 – 9, 2020
    Member: $1,125; Nonmember: $1,300; Additional Firm Employee: $1,000; Spouse/Guest: $300

A special hotel room rate for single/double occupancy for attendees is $209 per night plus tax ($237.73) and the resort fee is waived. Hurry, these special hotel rates end on Jan. 8, 2020. Deadline to register to attend is Jan. 31, 2020.

For more information and to register for the 2020 NCRA Business Summit, visit NCRA.org/BusinessSummit.

Retirement strategies: What I would tell my 20-year-old self

By Lesia Mervin

Sandy Bunch Vanderpol asked if I could provide any additional advice based on my years as an official. Here are a few additional thoughts on retirement savings specifically for officials.

Employee versus freelance

One word: benefits. As a court employee for more than 38 years, I have employee health insurance and retirement benefits available to me. This is one of the many reasons I have chosen the path of court employee over freelance self-employment.

Know your benefits

Understand how your retirement plan works.

When we’re employees, it is important that we understand what benefits are available. Understanding them is the first step to taking full advantage of the benefits.

I sought out professional financial counseling to develop strategies for a successful retirement. Federal and state government employees are covered by different retirement systems depending on when you were hired and where you work.

You may or may not have had Social Security taxes deducted from your paycheck. Whether Social Security benefits are going to be available to you in retirement is a very important point to know, so you can plan accordingly.

Calculation formula

Determine what formula your employer uses to calculate retirement benefits. Find out if the formula for calculation is years of service credit, age at retirement and final compensation, or some other formula. Calculate the estimated benefit at retirement so that you know what you need to do now to meet your retirement goals in the future. Once you know the formula, look at one of the retirement calculators on the Internet that you can input the information for an estimate of monthly retirement benefits you will receive. Some employers also may have access to an online calculator through their retirement plan companies.

Deferred compensation plan

To defer or not to defer? Deferred compensation plans let employees set aside part of their annual salary to be paid at some point in the future, presumably retirement, when your tax situation may be different than it is today. Money grows tax deferred until paid out to the employee. There are no required minimum distributions.

The maximum contribution for 2018 is $18,500. Employees age 50 or older may contribute up to an additional $6,000 for a total of $24,500. Because the purpose of deferred compensation plans is to save for retirement, early withdrawals are strongly discouraged. There is a 10 percent IRS penalty for withdrawals before the age of 59 ½.

My transcript income will not be included in my employee retirement benefits. Deferred compensation is a great way to supplement your retirement income to cover the loss of transcript income.

What I would tell my 20-year-old self:

  • Take advantage of deferred compensation on Day 1. At the young age of 30 — it seems like it was young now, but in the grand scheme of retirement savings, it was years too late — I began taking advantage of deferred compensation. I started out small. For every $100 taken out of my paycheck, it earned back approximately $60 due to the tax savings.
  • I did something right when I slowly began increasing it over the years in small increments; I hardly noticed the difference in my paycheck. Still, I sometimes imagine how much larger my account would now be if I had started on Day 1.

Fully fund HSA/FSA

If you have a flexible health plan through your employment, use it. Many courts offer a pre-tax Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA) plans to pay for copayments, deductibles, some prescription drugs, and some other health care costs.

If you have the option, I’d suggest taking advantage of this system. It reduces your taxes because, when you set aside money in an FSA or HSA, you don’t pay taxes on this money and you can use it to pay for some health needs. Additionally, contributing to an FSA or HSA frees up additional money that would have been paid to taxes that you could use to increase your funding for Deferred Compensation plans your employer may offer.

Purchasing additional years of service credit

Maximize years of service credit. The first three years of my court employment, I was employed as a per diem reporter. I did not have access to the retirement benefits offered to full-time employees. I was able to purchase those three years of service credit to increase my years of service for retirement calculations.

Seek professional advice to see if this is an option that is worth exploring. Deferred compensation funds may be allowed for purchase of service credit.


Lesia Mervin, FAPR, RMR, CRR, CRC, is an official reporter and freelance CART captioner based in Visalia, Calif. She can be reached at realtimecsr@comcast.net.

This article should not be relied on as financial advice specific to your situation. As always, NCRA encourages individuals to reach out to a trusted CPA or other financial advisor to review your personal situation.

NCRA gets you more than you think

NCRA offers members many different ways to invest in their futures, support the profession, and thrive in their careers. According to NCRA’s 2017 Member Needs Survey, members join NCRA for many reasons, including gaining access to national credentials, supporting the profession, and connecting with a national organization.

If you want to get the most out of your membership, consider how NCRA benefits you.

Respect from your clients, employers, and peers

Clients, employers, and peers know that people connected to a professional organization are more likely to know about and adhere to industry standards, ethical codes, and current policies — and NCRA members are the same in this regard. By being a part of the NCRA community of professionals, your clients, employers, and professional colleagues understand that you have made a commitment to your career and have a stake in maintaining the standards of the profession. Be proud of your commitment.

Showcase your NCRA membership with the NCRA member logo

Maximize your professional investment by marketing your achievements and membership. Did you know that NCRA offers a distinct NCRA member logo for use by NCRA members? You can include the NCRA member logo on your advertising, business, and other similar promotional materials as a way to denote your membership in the Association.

The NCRA member logo can only be used to designate individual membership, as only individuals can be members, and should not be used by companies or firms or in a way that implies a company is a member.

The NCRA member logo is not the same as the NCRA logo. If you are currently using the NCRA logo, please seek permission to use it, remove it from your materials, or consider whether the NCRA member logo would serve your purposes. More information about how members can use the NCRA member logo is part of NCRA’s Procedures & Policy Manual, which is available on NCRA.org. To access the most current version of the NCRA member logo, visit NCRA.org/Logos.

How to show off your NCRA credentials correctly

NCRA members who have earned an NCRA certification may use the certification or its abbreviation in their marketing materials as long as they maintain CEUs and pay annual dues. Be sure to enhance your marketing materials and website with your NCRA member and credential logos.

Discounts on office supplies, payroll services, movie tickets, and more

According to Chase Cost Management, workers in the legal professions spend an average of $1,000 per person per year on office supplies. That is a lot of folders, pens, and sticky notes. If those figures hold true for the professions of court reporting and captioning, NCRA members can easily recoup their annual NCRA membership dues just by taking advantage of the discounts available from Office Depot through the NCRA Saving Center.

NCRA Saving Center discounts at Office Depot provide members with savings up to 80 percent off office essentials. Some recent deals include expanding file folders that cost only 70 cents each. That’s a savings of $2.80 each. If you bought 100 file folders, you could recoup the cost of your NCRA membership in file-folder savings alone. Of course, other types of office supplies are available at discounted rates. To sign up for this benefit that is included in your NCRA membership, visit NCRA.savingcenter.net.

Other discounts available to NCRA members through the NCRA Saving Center include accounting and payroll services, access to a collection agency, credit card processing services, and discounts on entertainment deals, car rental fees, and access to telemedicine, health insurance, and prescription drugs.

Connected to colleagues

Through NCRA social media pages, through NCRA events, and through JCR stories about members across the country and around the world, you learn more about what is going on in the profession and how your colleagues take on problems. NCRA members take to NCRA’s official Facebook groups to pose questions and offer solutions on day-to-day challenges, offer support for bad days and congratulations for milestones, and share the latest news affecting the professions. NCRA events offer informative presentations and inspiring speakers to break you out of the everyday grind and help you take the next step for you. NCRA’s publications give you nuggets of wisdom from other professionals that can help you build your career.

On your way to certification

No matter how you learn, we’ve got you covered. NCRA, in conjunction with Realtime Coach, offers a series of both videos and articles on the ins and outs of online testing. These videos and articles aid in preparing candidates for successful online skills testing. Your NCRA certification identifies you as a person interested in self-improvement, a career-minded individual, and a member of the professional community.

Year-round education opportunities

NCRA offers several ways to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) that offer the information you can use in your career, whether you are an official, freelancer, business owner, captioner, or legal videographer. From the inclusive and collaborative NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference for independent contractors, small agency owners, and large firm executives to the annual NCRA Convention & Expo for everyone; and from live webinars to many series of e-seminars that you can access whenever and wherever you choose, NCRA’s extensive library has you covered.

Get the most from your membership

Your NCRA membership offers so much more than you might think — from member-exclusive discounts to networking opportunities to career-enhancing certifications. Is your membership up-to-date? Check your membership and profile information, including your email address, so you don’t miss announcements and news from NCRA. Visit NCRA.org to update your profile by April 15 and be listed in the printed 2018-2019 Sourcebook. Contact membership@ncra.org with questions.

Exiting from your court reporting firm

By Terry McGill

Exiting your business is a hot topic for many owners that seems fairly simple at first glance. You start your firm, let it grow for 25 or 35 years, and then sell it to someone while you quietly walk into the sunset with a pocket full of cash.

But the reality is more complicated. When you started your firm, it was unlikely you were thinking about what you needed to do to sell in the future. And you might have assumed that there would just be someone to buy your firm at your price when you were ready to sell. That’s not always the case.

Let’s run through some of the things that you, as a court reporting firm owner, can do to make the whole process smoother.

The first question that we may ask is: How soon are you planning to leave your business? If you want out today and you started thinking about an exit last week, this is a different scenario than if you have been planning and engineering your firm for exit years in advance. Most of the time, owners have not planned ahead for the best possible exit.

When an owner exits a business, there are many, many considerations to be taken into account.  Here are a few questions you should think about:

  • What is my firm actually worth to an outside entity?
  • How would a deal be structured if I were to sell?
  • Is the buying firm a cultural fit with my existing firm?
  • What will happen to my staff and reporters?
  • Will my clients be treated in the same way that I have treated them through the years?

You may have even more questions, but let’s start with these.

What is my firm actually worth to an outside entity?

Unfortunately, it might not be as much as you think. Most owners want to be compensated for the years spent building their firms. Instead, the market is concerned with evaluating a firm’s value, usually using something called the EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization). An interested buyer will probably offer a multiple of that number to come up with a value that he/she is comfortable with. Both parties should consider many factors when coming up with a deal.

How would a deal be structured if I were to sell?

The structure of one deal can be different from the next. There isn’t a standard deal structure. If you are offered $1,000,000 for your firm, that $1,000,000 can be paid out in many different ways over a period of time. It may be in an upfront payment, or a smaller portion may be given at the beginning with the remainder being paid out over a period of time (for example, three to five years) to the owner. There may also be certain levels of revenue and earnings that are a part of the deal that could affect an owner’s payout over time. The main point here is that deals are created differently and structured differently based on an acquiring firm’s goals and directives.

Is the buying firm a cultural fit with my existing firm?

This is a valid question and concern for any owner. It’s important that the firm being acquired and the firm acquiring it are a good cultural fit; that is, they should have similar values. It’s to the benefit of both firms to explore this issue thoroughly. A transition to new ownership should be as seamless as possible — to benefit the staff, reporters, and clients. Many deals have gone off the rail because there wasn’t a cultural fit and similar mindsets moving forward. This is one of the reasons due diligence on both sides is very important to the acquisition or merger being a success. The financial aspect is extremely important, but the cultures should mesh as well and not be overlooked.

What will happen to my staff and reporters?

Again, this is a valid concern for an owner. You have built your staff and reporters over many years, and they have become part of your family. Most firms are respectful of current staff and reporters and are not interested in anything that would be disruptive to any potential acquisition of your firm. Your staff and reporters have helped build the firm to the point where an outside entity would be interested in acquiring your firm. It would not be to the acquiring firm’s advantage to make wholesale changes to the very people who contributed to the success of the firm. Having said that, other factors could affect the acquisition downstream.

Will my clients be treated in the same way that I have treated them through the years?

The clients are always a concern on both sides of an acquisition. They are the lifeblood of the industry. That’s one of the main reasons that the cultural fit is so important to ensure clients remain. An acquiring firm is taking risks because there is no guarantee that clients will continue to be clients. As owners, all of you take the same risk with clients every day. The client who is with you today is not guaranteed to be your client next month. Everyone in the industry understands the value of protecting the client base. This is an additional reason that due diligence is so very important in any exit strategy. Many of the potential negative issues can be avoided at the beginning instead of putting out fires at the end.

What we have tried to illustrate is that there is not a “one size fits all” type of deal. There are many different factors in many different areas to consider before you exit. Educate yourself as much as possible to ensure you understand the process and the components of the process before you move too far down the exit pathway.

Many owners are not prepared for all of the ramifications and, therefore, not ready to exit. If you are thinking about an exit, make sure you go into any potential situation as an informed and educated owner with the right questions.

Terry McGill is a small business consultant and managing partner of Strategic Business Directs. He assists court reporting firm owners with operational, financial, organizational, growth, marketing, sales, and exiting issues. He can be reached at terry@strategicbusinessdirects.com or 614-284-0846.

Firm Owners Executive Conference registration closes Feb. 3

The last chance to register for the 2017 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference is Feb. 3. The conference promises attendees the perfect networking and getaway opportunity filled with educational sessions, social events, and outings sprinkled with fun and relaxation. The event is being held Feb. 12-14 in Tucson, Ariz., at the Lowes Ventana Canyon Resort.

Attendees can also make the most of the conference experience by downloading the NCRA event app for Apple and Android devices to put event planning, learning, and social networking at their fingertips for all NCRA events. The app allows users to receive up-to-the-minute event updates, customize their schedules, access session documents, view speaker and exhibitor profiles, connect with other attendees, and more.

  • Keynote speaker Susan Solovic will take center stage and share with attendees her insights and secrets to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Solovic is an Internet pioneer who cofounded and grew one of the first video-based Internet sites to a million-dollar-plus entity. She is also an award-winning serial entrepreneur and best-selling author. Her experience also includes being a former small business contributor for ABC News and hosting the syndicated radio program It’s Your Biz. She appears regularly as a small business expert on Fox Business, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal’s “Lunch Break,” MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and other stations across the country. She has also hosted her own PBS special called Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World. Solovic is also a featured blogger on numerous sites, including Constant Contact, Entrepreneur, AT&T Business Circle, FoxBusiness.com, MasterCard, Intuit, The Pulse of IT (HP), and Samsung. Learn more about Solovic’s presentation.
  • Laurie Forster, one of America’s leading wine experts and author of the award-winning book The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine,will host a special fun-filled networking sessionForster has been featured in dozens of publications and has appeared on Oz., Fox Business, ABC News, and other outlets. She also hosts her own show called The Sipping Point, where she explores recipes, wines, food, travel, and more. Attendees at this session will enjoy teaming up to identify wine selections and then battle to see who can really Name that Wine.
  • Mike Nelson, NCRA CEO and Executive Director, will present the findings from NCRA’s 2016 Firm Owners Economic Benchmarking Survey.
  • “Mobilizing Your Dreams: A 21st Century Strategic Plan,” an interactive session that The Varallo Group will present, is designed to teach attendees how to establish a long-term vision for their firm and more. The Varallo Group will also present “Journey to the Center of a Client Decision,” which explores the court reporter–hiring decision process.
  • Strategic Business Directs will lead attendees in two sessions: “Understanding and Using Financial Statements as a Management Tool” and “How to Compete.”
  • NCRA President Tiva Wood, RDR, CMRS; President-Elect Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC; and fellow firm owners will also lead teams on a poker-run nature-hike networking event.
  • Attendees will enjoy a special Valentine’s Day comedy night and closing reception.

Only attendees of the Firm Owners Executive Conference can take advantage of the special resort room rates, which have now been extended to Feb. 11. Multiple registration discounts are also available as long as they are accompanied by one full-priced registration. These discounts include all education sessions, networking events, and access to the exhibit area.

Make this event even better when you arrive early or extend your stay, and take advantage of special room rates that apply three days prior to and three days after the conference, negotiated for attendees by NCRA.

Attendees can also take advantage of an array of amenities, including waived resort fees on self and valet parking, fitness center access, yoga classes, and tennis court rentals. Other amenities include a free shuttle service to beautiful Sabino Canyon, discounts on golfing, spa facilities, and more.

In addition to networking opportunities, award-winning speakers and authors, cutting-edge educational content, and vendor speed dating, the schedule includes more free time in the afternoons for attendees to network with each other on their own.

For more information or to register for NCRA’s most elite event of the year, visit NCRA.org/FirmOwners.

Set your business up for success in 2017

As entrepreneurs close one year, many use the opportunity to set themselves up for success in the following year. One way to do this is to start looking at maximizing tax opportunities at the end of the year. Some of the top tax write-offs for self-employed people and business owners, according to TurboTax, are IRAs, home-office use, and educational expenses. Work-related memberships, such as to a state or national organization, are also common write-offs for many entrepreneurs.

“I get my court reporting machine serviced before the end of the year, and as a company, we pay our tax bill before the year turns, top off our office supplies, and reorder tchotchkes in our marketing closet,” says Debbie Dusseljee, RPR, CRC, reporter and owner of CompuScripts, located in Columbia, S.C.

Kathy A. Cortopassi, RMR, CRR, CRC, of Crown Point, Ind., had a long list for the end of the year, partly because she’s finding more reporting work even as she continues working as a CART captioner. Her list includes a new laser printer, a scanner, a new lightweight screen for CART, an LED display sign, and a few more iPads for realtime. She also mentioned that she bought a new machine at the NCRA Convention & Expo this past year, which will be part of her tax deductions. When asked why, she responded: “All the kids are gone, which means I don’t have those deductions anymore, so I have more room for deductions — er, toys!”

“I purchased a new scanner/photocopier/printer — it does everything but fly — and we will be purchasing a new telephone system by the end of the year,” says Jan Schmitt, RPR, of Schmitt Reporting & Video in Vancouver, Wash. “We also pay all bills and taxes and attempt to liquidate the checking account.”

“Our server is five years old so we are upgrading to the next level to handle our predicted growth pattern,” says Christine Phipps, RPR, a firm owner based in North Palm Beach, Fla., and an NCRA Director. “We also pay all outstanding invoices, in addition to rents due in January.”

Tax deductions don’t always come in the form of buying office supplies and equipment. For example, Robin Nodland, RDR, CRR, a principal in LNS Court Reporting based in Portland, Ore., says: “We give a sizeable donation to Oregon Lawyers against Hunger, which works in cooperation with the Oregon Food Bank. This is a wonderful way to recognize our clients, many of whom are on the board of this organization, and also make a donation to a worthy cause in our state. It’s a win-win.”

Schmitt mentioned that her company picks out a different charitable group each year. Michael Pace, CEO and president of Argen Blando Court Reporting & Video in Denver, Colo., mentioned that his company plans to give to both Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Clinic and Dolls for Daughters this year. Many charitable contributions can qualify as tax deductions against a business’s annual tax liability.

Pace suggested an article on charitable contributions from the Small Business Administration for those considering making donations.

Since each person’s personal and business situation is unique, it’s important to remember to assess the each individual’s personal situation.

“In all cases, seek the counsel of your tax advisor before making an important decision regarding taxes,” says NCRA CEO Mike Nelson, CAE. “If you do not have someone to provide guidance to you, consider consulting an Enrolled Agent. They are federally licensed tax experts who specialize in tax matters.”

Mark your calendars for NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference and Convention & Expo


Be sure to start making plans now to be a part of NCRA’s major 2017 events, the Firm Owners Executive Conference, Feb. 12-14, and the Convention & Expo, Aug. 10-13, each promising to offer attendees sessions on the latest trends in the profession laced with an array of exclusive networking opportunities.

NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference is being held at the beautiful Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Ariz., a top choice among Arizona luxury resorts nestled in the stunning Catalina Mountain range. Watch for information about registration and hotel rates coming later this month.

According to Cregg Seymour, owner of CRC Salomon, with headquarters in Baltimore, Md., and chair of NCRA’s Education Content Committee for the Firm Owners, there are four reasons to attend the Firm Owners Executive Conference.

Networking with other firm owners: Attending this event helps build, solidify, and strengthen relationships at the personal level and also allows for the sharing of ideas, marketing, trends, and best practices in the marketplace. According to Seymour, the people you meet and the experiences you share create a return on investment of time and money you spend attending the conference.

Educational opportunities: No matter how experienced a person is in their field, firm owners should seek to expose themselves to the educational opportunities that suggest new ways of conducting business, new technology, and ways to be more productive, says Seymour. It can also help breath life back into the critical aspects of business or reignite ideas that you may have recently put on hold or been too busy to think about.

New vendors: Exposure to new vendors in court reporting who have created innovative products and services that will help firm owners stay competitive in today’s fast-paced world. It’s important to invest the time and get to know the sponsors and vendors who understand the industry at the national and global level. If their solution works well for your business now or in the near future, they can be great allies.

Fun: The goal is to have fun! The conference allows one to get out of the office, learn something new, meet interesting people, and have fun while sharing experiences with other leaders in court reporting.  Reconnect with old friends and make new ones at the conference events and parties while also taking advantage of the resort, local restaurants, and outdoor activities.

NCRA’s 2017 Convention & Expo being held at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, in Las Vegas, Nev., will be site of the largest gathering of court reporters, captioners, legal videographers, and others in the legal services, with a program menu bursting with new and exciting session content and networking opportunities. Watch for more information about registration and hotel rates in upcoming issues of the JCR and the JCR Weekly.

The court reporter’s easy guide to LLCs, S-Corps and other taxing questions


By David Ward

For any court reporter, starting up a firm can end up being more than a full-time job.

In addition to actually recruiting clients and scheduling and handling what hopefully is a steady stream of depositions and transcripts, there’s also the daunting tasks of marketing your business, hiring staff if needed, lining up freelancers willing to step up and take overflow work in a pinch, and in general making sure the checks are coming in and expenses are getting paid.

It’s no wonder many end up putting off the big step of formally incorporating their business for as long as possible.

But any accountant or financial planner worth his or her salt will recommend that decision be made sooner rather than later — and how that’s done can have huge repercussions not only on the reporter’s tax bill, but also how well-positioned the firm in the future for a possible merger or sale in the future.

In general, the consensus seems to be that once a reporter begins generating more than part-time cash flow, they need to start thinking about incorporating — and that decision usually comes down to a choice between either an S-Corporation or an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).

Phil Liberatore, a certified public accountant based in La Mirada, Calif., who has worked with hundreds of court reporters during the past 30 years, said: “Generally I recommend the S-Corp because it’s a lot cleaner — and even if they have an LLC, I get them taxed as an S-Corp because it’s more favorable for tax purposes.” Liberatore says court reporters making less than $75,000 annually can probably still comfortably operate as an independent contractor and pay their taxes under Schedule C as a sole proprietorship.  “Definitely over $75,000 I would strongly encourage an S-Corp. The IRS is targeting Schedule C filers and the court reporters that are independent contractors are more exposed to an audit than a W-2 court reporter working for a county, state or federal government. That audit exposure is greatly reduced when you incorporate,” Liberatore said. Rhonda Jensen, RDR, CRR, CMRS, founder and president of Jensen Litigation Solutions in Chicago, Ill., said that’s the exactly the advice she got when she first started her business several decades ago. “I’m the sole owner, and right from the get go my accountant suggested I set up as an S-Corp,” she explained. “The benefit is that the company pays the owner’s FICA and Medicare tax and, as an LLC, you must pay Medicare tax on all of your profit.” Jensen’s firm now has 20 employees in addition to the independent contractors who work with her companies as well as others.  “We do a lot through the company,” she explained. “We have 401Ks; it’s a “Safe Harbo”, which is beneficial for the owner of the company. But we also do a 401K match for our employees, matching up to 4 percent of their contributions.”

Lori Luck, an accountant based in Portland (ore. Or Me.), has worked with a number of different small businesses, including court reporting firms, and said: “Most service businesses are pretty similar with respect to setting up a business; however, since it seems that court reporting or captioning may be less risky from a standpoint of malpractice, the legal liability issues may not be as high of a motivator for incorporating.”

Luck, who works at CLS Financial Advisors, adds that even freelance court reporters could benefit from incorporating, though she tends to recommend an LLC for those individuals.

“If they are working alone as an independent contractor, they get some liability protection as an LLC by asking their attorney to prepare this paperwork for them, but they still file a Schedule C on their own individual tax return to report their business income,” she says. “This is much more straightforward than an S Corporation.  Also, they can have their own retirement plan for only themselves and choose an IRA, SEP/IRA or 401k depending on how much they want to contribute.  This is very flexible if you don’t have any employees, and you would pay income taxes via quarterly estimated tax payments.”

Matthew Alley, who along with his wife, Tiffany, co-founded Atlanta-based Tiffany Alley Global Reporting and Video, has experience with both LLCs and S-Corps and suggests from his experience, most court reporting firms of any size will tend to do better as S-Corps.

“We were always structured as an S-Corp in order to enjoy the benefits of pass-through income,” explains Alley, who served as CFO of the firm before it was sold to Veritext in 2015. “We have several LLCs also, perhaps a dozen, in the real-estate markets, but I prefer the S-Corp for the type of high-cash-flow business that court-reporting firms represent.”

There are other factors that also need to be considered, Jensen says, adding her accountant pointed out that if there’s real estate involved, or if there’s foreign ownership, then an LLC is probably the best option.

Incorporating a small business, especially a court reporting firm, is generally done for tax and possible liability issues, but it can also with it other advantages, including the ability to better organize what can be a complex flow of receipts and payments.

Denise Phipps Hinxman, CRR, CRC, currently runs Reno, NV-based Captions Unlimited in Reno, Nev., and said: “I was advised over 20 years ago — way before I had a firm and was an independent freelancer — to set myself up as an S-Corporation.  I followed my accountant’s advice and have been very happy with my decision.”

Hinxman notes that prior to becoming an S-Corporation, she often struggled with paying quarterly IRS payments, adding, “I don’t know about other small businesses, but I have encouraged other top-wage earners to go the route of an S-Corporation and they have seen a difference on April 15 as well.”

Hinxman says incorporating a business should only be the beginning of a regular relationship between a firm owner and their accountant. “Many people aren’t aware of some of the laws that I’ve been able to take advantage of because I use a CPA who is a very knowledgeable tax accountant,” she explains. “I was able to pay my children a salary up to X amount of dollars per year for work they did for me in my firm.  Everyone should ask their accountant these questions because there are ways to pay your children through your company.”

Hinxman adds her accountant also alerted her to the tax advantages when she purchased a new SUV for business-related travel.

When it comes to state taxes, the laws can vary, making it important for firm owners with clients in multiple states to understand the tax implications and complexities of each place they work in, which once drives home the importance of finding the right accountant for your business.

But an accountant can only do so much, and Liberatore says the mistake he sees most from court reporters isn’t so much whether or not they’ve incorporated, but rather a lack of financial planning.

“A common mistake — among new court reporters especially — is they don’t set aside money for taxes,” he explains. “And once they get behind for one year, they’re playing catch-up. You don’t know how many court reporting clients we’ve had that have come in owing multiple years of taxes, and they end up on a merry-go-round they can’t get off.”

Liberatore notes one of the first court reporting clients he ever worked with who owed the IRS more than $50,000.  “She was convinced she was going to be working for the IRS for the rest of her life. She was doing her own taxes and I went back and amended three years of her tax returns and reduced her tax debt in half — and within five years she was getting refunds back. So it’s very important not just how you’re doing your tax planning and your tax preparation, but also to make sure you set aside money for taxes.”

Luck agrees, adding, “Many people are used to a W-2 where their taxes are withheld from their paychecks and they don’t have to think about it very much. Sometimes people may borrow money to help get up and running, and when they finally make enough money to pay some or all of the loan back, they don’t realize that just like the cash from the loan isn’t taxable income, repaying the loan is money that can’t be deducted from their taxable income. Consequently, it is confusing to many when they have to pay taxes when they might not have much cash.”

As daunting as all that can be, especially when they’re also focused on running their day-to-day business, firm owners and reporters do need to work regularly with their accountant and financial advisor to plan for their long-term future.

That could involve the eventual sale or merger of their business, but at the very least should include some pathway to a comfortable retirement.

Alley say he and his wife, Tiffany, began preparing their firm for sale six years before it actually occurred, adding that included not only making sure the books were in order and taxes up to date, but also that an experienced management team was in place to help the new owners.

Even if you plan on keeping your business for your entire career, Luck stresses that every small business owner needs a financial plan for the long term.

“Planning for a retirement plan of some sort, figuring out how much to save both for income tax savings provided by a retirement contribution and for the future before all the money is spent –and developing lifelong good saving habits — will greatly benefit a new business owner,” she said.

One way to do that is to meet with your accountant every autumn, well before the beginning of tax season, to work on year-end planning.

“Meet in October or November and predict how much money you will make before the end of the year,” Luck says. “Once you see that number, you can plan about how much income tax you might owe, and perhaps accelerate paying some expenses you would normally be paying in early January so you get an earlier tax deduction. You can also look at your retirement plan to figure out how much tax savings a retirement contribution would provide and evaluate the various income tax consequences of the contributions.”

David Ward is a journalist in Carrboro, N.C. Comments on this article can be sent tojcrfeedback@ncra.org.




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