LEWISTON, Idaho – London Gray, a student at Lewis-Clark State College’s Coeur d’Alene campus, recently placed second in the Local Services Track category at the Idaho Entrepreneurial Challenge for college students in the state.
Gray, who is majoring in business administration with managerial accounting emphasis, earned $500 to help her with her new start up business in Coeur d’Alene, Simple Tax Solutions. She also earned $1,000 by winning the entrepreneurial challenge at LC State last fall.
Because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the 6th annual state competition was held online rather than at Boise State University, which is the host for the event. More than 100 individuals and teams entered the competition and from there, judges cut the field to 23 to compete at the state finals, including Gray.
At the state competition, Gray gave a video PowerPoint presentation to the judges, who then were able to ask questions. Gray’s presentation was about Simple Tax Solutions, which opened in January. It is a full-service firm that offers bookkeeping, payroll, tax preparation and tax resolution. Gray’s goal is to help individuals achieve tax compliance in a simple, stress-free manner, and provide them with the tools they need for financial success.
Gray has a background in tax resolution and has been working full-time while taking a couple of classes each semester at LC State. She is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2021. Earning her degree will allow her to get her Certified Management Accounting license, which emphasizes financial planning, analysis, and control to help better manage an organization.
“Since my ultimate goal with Simple Tax Solutions is to teach small business owners how to successfully manage their business this license will add credibility and allow me to better advise my clients on how to successfully manage and utilize their financials,” Gray said. “Currently my experience is in advising clients how to understand and maintain their tax obligations. That will always be a crucial part of the business but eventually I would like to not only work with taxpayers who are in trouble with the IRS, but also help new business owners so they never find themselves in that situation to begin with.”
Gray said in her past work, she has run across people and businesses who haven’t been filing their returns or owe the IRS money. She helps them get current by filing any missing returns and catching up on estimated tax payments and adjusting their withholdings. She also helps them resolve past due balances through various programs offered by the IRS.
In her presentation at the competition, Gray said the issue is “small business owners are great at what they do but they don’t always know how to best use their financials to understand and successfully maintain their tax obligations.” She said liens and levies to pay the debt can put owners out of business.
Gray said there were 394 federal tax liens filed during 2017-19 in Kootenai County, which includes Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Rathdrum, and Hayden Lake, and that 89 percent were against small business owners and self-employed individuals. The amounts ranged between $10,000 and $3.5 million, with the average amount owed at $67,392.
She said working with such clients inspired her to start her own business.
“I had worked in the tax resolution industry for a little over three years, and I was beginning to feel worn out” she said. “I realized I was still really passionate about what I did but I didn’t always feel like I was truly helping clients. I felt like we were just putting a Band-Aid on a much deeper problem. For many people, especially self-employed individuals and small business owners tax problems start from a place of ignorance not negligence. These entrepreneurs are great at their core services but they have no idea how to manage the business side of their business. Before they know it, their tax problems have snowballed out of control and it feels like there is no way out. My goal is to not only to help these taxpayers get out from under the IRS but also to teach them how to understand their financials and the effect on their tax obligations. That extra step is crucial because it helps correct the underlying issue so these individuals don’t find themselves in trouble again a year or two down the line.”
Gray raised $10,000 to start her business. She said she plans to use the money she earned in the competition to launch a new marketing campaign.
The Idaho Entrepreneurial Challenge works with state higher educational institutions to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among college students. The goal is to help students access expert resources on campus, locally, and in the state to support taking their business ventures as far as they can go.