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Q. My father and I operate a driving school. We currently have four certified instructors to teach behind-the-wheel driver education. We provide training to both teens and adults. We are constantly looking for ways to do things more efficiently. In recent years, we lost money due to the economy and other expenses such as a rental office location. After losing money, we have found success working at home. We'd love to hear any advice on expanding the business. And, one of our biggest issues is that I want to take over ownership of the business so my father can retire, but the business debt is in his name. How would you suggest is the best way to allocate personal debt versus business debt? And what about succession arrangements?
A. Daryl, my first suggestion to you in expanding the business is to use all of the free resources available to you. First, the Small Business Administration is a great source of information. They don't have an office in Harrisburg – the closest is Philadelphia – but they offer free online training and counseling on their website. The second resource I'd tap into is SCORE, which is a network of over 12,000 volunteer counselors, all either working or retired business owners. On their site, you can do a search for a counselor who has expertise closest to what you need and then send your questions via email. They answer within 48 hours. They also have local offices, including one right in Harrisburg and all services are completely free.
Now for your question about taking over the business. Shifting ownership in a company has a lot of business and tax ramifications, says Barbara Weltman, a business expert and author of the Small Business Survival Book. "How you structure the transfer matters to both parties. Will your father give you his interest or sell it to you? How is the business set up – is it incorporated or is it a partnership? Will your father continue to work for the business, as an employee or as a consultant?" All of these questions are things you should consider, because they're going to make a difference in how you structure this change of hands. My suggestion is to contact a tax advisor who can work with you to determine the best way to handle the deal, both for you and your father. If you already have an accountant or advisor for the business, he or she should be able to help, or you can find a good advisor through the National Association of Enrolled Agents – their search tool will allow you to search by profession, so you can select one who is well versed in dealing with small businesses.
Consumer Ally problem solver Jean Chatzky is the "Today Show" financial adviser, a longtime financial journalist and best-selling author.
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