Need cash in a hurry? Here’s how business owners can look to their financial statements to improve cash flow.
Many businesses turn first to their receivables when trying to drum up extra cash. For example, you could take a carrot-and-stick approach to your accounts receivable — offering early bird discounts to new or trustworthy customers while tightening credit policies or employing in-house collections staff to “talk money in the door.” But be careful: Using too much stick could result in a loss of customers, which would obviously do more harm than good. So don’t rely on amped up collections alone for help. Also consider refining your collection process through measures such as electronic invoicing, requesting upfront payments from customers with questionable credit and using a bank lockbox to speed up cash deposits.
The next place to find extra cash is inventory. Keep this account to a minimum to reduce storage, pilferage and security costs. This also helps you keep a closer, more analytical eye on what’s in stock. Have you upgraded your inventory tracking and ordering systems recently? Newer ones can enable you to forecast demand and keep overstocking to a minimum. In appropriate cases, you can even share data with customers and suppliers to make supply and demand estimates more accurate.
With payables, the approach is generally the opposite of how to get cash from receivables. That is, you want to delay the payment process to keep yourself in the best possible cash position. But there’s a possible downside to this strategy: Establishing a reputation as a slow payer can lead to unfavorable payment terms and a compromised credit standing. If this sounds familiar, see whether you need to rebuild your vendors’ trust. The goal is to, indeed, take advantage of deferred payments as a form of interest-free financing while still making those payments within an acceptable period. Is your balance sheet lean? Smooth day-to-day operations require a steady influx of cash. By cutting the “fat” from your working capital accounts, you can generate and deploy liquid cash to maintain your company’s competitive edge and keep it in good standing with stakeholders. For more ideas on how to manage balance sheet items more efficiently, contact us. © 2018
With bonus depreciation, a business can recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law in December, enhances bonus depreciation. Typically, taking this break is beneficial. But in certain situations, your business might save more tax long-term by skipping it. That said, claiming bonus depreciation on your 2017 tax return may be particularly beneficial. Pre- and post-TCJA Before TCJA, bonus depreciation was 50% and qualified property included new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment), off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified improvement property. The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation: For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property. But be aware that, under the TCJA, beginning in 2018 certain types of businesses may no longer be eligible for bonus depreciation. Examples include real estate businesses and auto dealerships, depending on the specific circumstances.
A Good Tax Strategy? Or Not?
Generally, if you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation is likely a good tax strategy (though you should also factor in available Section 179 expensing). It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial. On the other hand, if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax this year, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re paying a higher tax rate.
What To Do On Your 2017 Return
The greater tax-saving power of deductions when rates are higher is why 2017 may be a particularly good year to take bonus depreciation. As you’re probably aware, the TCJA permanently replaces the graduated corporate tax rates of 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21% beginning with the 2018 tax year. It also reduces most individual rates, which benefits owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and, typically, limited liability companies, for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025. If your rate will be lower in 2018, there’s a greater likelihood that taking bonus depreciation for 2017 would save you more tax than taking all of your deduction under normal depreciation schedules over a period of years, especially if the asset meets the deadlines for 100% bonus depreciation. If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2017 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us. © 2018
Business owners often complain that they’re required to provide too many disclosures under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). But comprehensive financial statement footnotes contain a wealth of valuable information. Here are some examples of hidden risk factors that may be discovered by reading footnote disclosures. This information is good to know when evaluating your company’s performance, as well as when evaluating the performance of publicly traded competitors or potential M&A targets.
Unreported or Contingent Liabilities
A company’s balance sheet might not reflect all future obligations. Detailed footnotes may reveal, for example, a potentially damaging lawsuit, an IRS inquiry or an environmental claim. Footnotes also spell out the details of loan terms, warranties, contingent liabilities and leases.
Companies may give preferential treatment to, or receive it from, related parties. Footnotes are supposed to disclose related parties with whom the company conducts business. For example, say a retailer rents retail space from its owner’s parents at below-market rents, saving roughly $200,000 each year. Because the retailer doesn’t disclose that this favorable related-party deal exists, the business appears more profitable on the face of its income statement than it really is. When the owner’s parents unexpectedly die — and the owner’s sister, who inherits the real estate, raises the rent — the retailer could fall on hard times and the stakeholders could be blindsided by the undisclosed related-party risk.
Footnotes disclose the nature and justification for a change in accounting principle, as well as that change’s effect on the financial statements. Valid reasons exist to change an accounting method, such as a regulatory mandate. But dishonest managers can use accounting changes in, say, depreciation or inventory reporting methods to manipulate financial results.
Outside stakeholders appreciate a forewarning of impending problems, such as the recent loss of a major customer or stricter regulations in effect for the coming year. Footnotes disclose significant events that could materially impact future earnings or impair business value.
In recent years, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has been trying to revamp its rules to minimize so-called “disclosure overload,” without compromising financial reporting transparency. Examples of disclosure-related projects currently on the FASB’s radar include fair value measurements, government assistance, inventory and income taxes. We can help you understand the latest developments in footnote disclosures and discuss any concerns you may have when reviewing the fine print in your company’s footnotes — or in the disclosures made by other companies. © 2018
Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, potentially making them more valuable than deductions, which reduce only the amount of income subject to tax. Maximizing available credits is especially important now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has reduced or eliminated some tax breaks for businesses. Two still-available tax credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits. 1. Credit for paying health care coverage premiums
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. Despite various congressional attempts to repeal the ACA in 2017, nearly all of its provisions remain intact, including this potentially valuable tax credit. The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, if it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2017, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $26,200 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,400. The credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.) If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2017 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away in the future if lawmakers in Washington continue to try to repeal or replace the ACA. At this point, most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2017, you may also be able to claim it on your 2018 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.
2. Credit for starting a retirement plan
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs. Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving. If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2017, you might still have time to do so. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions. If you’d like to set up a different type of plan, consider doing so for 2018 so you can potentially take advantage of the retirement plan credit (and other tax benefits) when you file your 2018 return next year.
Determining Eligibility Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these tax credits. We’d be happy to help you determine whether you’re eligible for these or other credits on your 2017 return and also plan for credits you might be able to claim on your 2018 return if you take appropriate actions this year. © 2018
Owners of private businesses often wonder: How much is my business interest worth? Financial statements are a logical starting point for answering this question. Here’s an overview of how financial statements can serve as the basis for value under the cost, income and market approaches.
Because the balance sheet identifies a company’s assets and liabilities, it can be a good place to start the valuation process, especially for companies that rely heavily on tangible assets (such as manufacturers and real estate holding companies). Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), assets are recorded at the lower of cost or market value. So, adjustments may be needed to align an item’s book value with its fair market value. For example, receivables may need to be adjusted for bad debts. Inventory may include obsolete or unsalable items. And contingent liabilities — such as pending lawsuits, environmental obligations and warranties — also must be accounted for. Some items may be specifically excluded from a GAAP balance sheet, such as internally developed patents, brands and goodwill. Value derived under the cost approach generally omits intangible value, so this estimate can serve as a useful “floor” for a company’s value. Appraisers typically use another technique to arrive at an appraisal that’s inclusive of these intangibles.
The income statement and statement of cash flows can provide additional insight into a company’s value (including its intangibles). Under the income approach, expected future cash flows are converted to present value to determine how much investors will pay for a business interest. Reported earnings may need to be adjusted for a variety of items. Examples of items that may require adjustments include depreciation rates, market-rate rents and discretionary spending, such as below-market owners’ compensation or nonessential travel expenses. A key ingredient under the income approach is the discount rate used to convert future cash flows to their net present value. Discount rates vary depending on an investment’s perceived risk in the marketplace. Financial statement footnotes can help evaluate a company’s risks.
The market approach derives value primarily from information taken from a company’s income statement and statement of cash flow. Here, pricing multiples (such as price to operating cash flow or price to net income) are calculated based on sales of comparable public stocks or private companies. When looking for comparables, it’s essential to filter deals using relevant criteria, such as industrial classification codes, size and location. Adjustments may be required to account for differences in financial performance and to arrive at a cash-equivalent value, if comparable transactions include noncash terms and future payouts, such as earnouts or installment payments.
Independence and Experience Count
Business value is a critical metric, whether it’s used for financial reporting, M&A, tax planning or litigation purposes. But never base a major decision on a do-it-yourself appraisal. Contact us for help calculating an estimate of value that you can count on. © 2018
Along with tax rate reductions and a new deduction for pass-through qualified business income, the new tax law brings the reduction or elimination of tax deductions for certain business expenses. Two expense areas where the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes the rules — and not to businesses’ benefit — are meals/entertainment and transportation. In effect, the reduced tax benefits will mean these expenses are more costly to a business’s bottom line.
Meals and Entertainment
Prior to the TCJA, taxpayers generally could deduct 50% of expenses for business-related meals and entertainment. Meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer on the employer’s business premises were 100% deductible by the employer and tax-free to the recipient employee. Under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017, deductions for business-related entertainment expenses are disallowed. Meal expenses incurred while traveling on business are still 50% deductible, but the 50% limit now also applies to meals provided via an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises for the convenience of the employer. After 2025, the cost of meals provided through an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises will no longer be deductible.
The TCJA disallows employer deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee (such as hiring a car service), unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety. The new law also eliminates employer deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits. Examples include parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling. These benefits are, however, still tax-free to recipient employees. Transportation expenses for employee work-related travel away from home are still deductible (and tax-free to the employee), as long as they otherwise qualify for such tax treatment. (Note that, for 2018 through 2025, employees can’t deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as travel expenses, as a miscellaneous itemized deduction.)
Assessing the Impact
The TCJA’s changes to deductions for meals, entertainment and transportation expenses may affect your business’s budget. Depending on how much you typically spend on such expenses, you may want to consider changing some of your policies and/or benefits offerings in these areas. We’d be pleased to help you assess the impact on your business. © 2018
Today’s auditors spend significant time determining whether amounts claimed on the income statement capture the company’s financial performance during the reporting period. Here are some income statement categories that auditors focus on.
Revenue recognition can be complex. Under current accounting rules, companies follow a patchwork of industry-specific guidance. So, companies in different industries may record revenue for similar transactions differently. However, more than 180 industry-specific revenue recognition rules will soon be replaced by Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. The new standard goes into effect in 2018 for public companies and 2019 for private companies and not-for-profit entities. It calls for a single principles-based approach for recognizing revenues from long-term contracts. As you implement the updated guidance, expect your auditor to give more attention to how you report revenue than in previous years. For example, your auditor might analyze revenue-related balance sheet accounts (such as accounts receivable) to uncover over- or understatement of revenue. Your auditor might also conduct tests to verify the legitimacy of accounts receivable balances recognized as revenue during the reporting period. In the case of complex contract sales, testing includes reading the contract and verifying that the company earned the right to recognize revenue. For simpler transactions, a review of relevant documents such as invoices, bills of lading and payment information may suffice.
Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)
There are three components of COGS: raw materials, labor and overhead costs. COGS is a major line item for many companies, so auditors spend significant time verifying these costs. They may review purchase orders, shipping documents and employee time records to verify specific amounts claimed for labor and materials. In addition, these costs tend to change in tandem with revenue. So, if labor as a percentage of revenue changes over time, it’s likely to raise a red flag during your audit. Calculating and allocating overhead costs calls for a high degree of subjectivity. Auditors often turn to analytical procedures to test COGS. For example, they may use the inventory balance to help confirm the amount and cost of inventory consumed during the reporting period.
Companies incur various expenses — such as sales commissions, office supplies, rent and utilities — to support their general business operations. Auditors typically review vendor acceptance and payment approval processes to determine whether the amounts reported appear reasonable and timely. To uncover anomalies, auditors also analyze operating expenses over time and against other line items. Operating expenses for services, such as advertising and professional fees, can be an easy place for dishonest employees to hide fraud. So, auditors tend to scrutinize these accounts. For example, they’re likely to review invoices and inquire about prepaid retainers. Auditors also send letters to their clients’ attorneys to assess the risk of pending litigation that may need to be reported as a liability on the balance sheet.
A Balanced Approach
During an audit, income statement items warrant close attention due to their complexity, possible effects on balance sheet items and the potential for manipulation. Contact us for more information about what to expect as auditors review your revenues and expenses this audit season. © 2018
Do you remember the high-profile fraud that happened at drugstore chain Phar-Mor in the 1990s? Executives manipulated the company’s financial statements to hide approximately $500 million in losses. A key ploy that perpetrators used in the Phar-Mor case was to overstate inventory balances at individual stores. Management became adept at hiding the scam from their financial statement auditors by shifting inventory from location to location and overstating unit prices. Dishonest managers also stocked the shelves at locations they knew their auditors would visit, leaving shelves barren at unaudited locations. CPAs have learned a lot about fraud since the 1990s, and they’ve beefed up their inventory auditing procedures to prevent similar shenanigans. Here are some of the techniques that auditors use today to evaluate inventory as part of a multi-location audit.
1. Reviewing the inventory manual
Before venturing into the field to view inventory in person, your auditors will request a copy of the company’s inventory manual. This helps them understand the policies and procedures you use to manage inventory. Throughout the audit, auditors will compare the company’s inventory records against the manual for discrepancies and exceptions.
2. Conducting in-depth analytical procedures at each location In order to safeguard against bloated inventory balances, your auditors will review the company’s accounting records. This helps them understand the process to allocate and assign inventory units and costs to individual locations. It includes verifying that the balances and associated value conform to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
3. Counting inventory
Depending on the size of your company’s inventory, the auditor may conduct independent inventory counts or observe physical inventory counts that are conducted in-house or by third parties. As part of the inventory observation process, your auditor team may randomly select a sample of items and verify that those items are included in the inventory count. Alternatively, the auditor may select an item that appears in the inventory count and then attempt to locate that item in the company’s stores. At the conclusion of the physical count, the auditor may also perform statistical sampling to test the accuracy of the physical inventory count.
4. Analyzing general ledger entries
The perpetrators of the Phar-Mor fraud periodically made fictitious journal entries to the general ledger to allocate losses to the individual stores. So, auditors have learned to pay close attention to large or suspicious journal entries that reallocate losses or manipulate inventory balances. If anomalies are detected in general ledger transactions, your auditor will ask for documentation and detailed explanations from management regarding the purpose of the entry.
A Custom Approach
Inventory manipulations have played a key role in countless frauds. So, auditors have learned to pay close attention to the inventory account. The scope and depth of inventory auditing procedures depend on a number of factors, including the number of locations you operate. Contact us for more information about what to expect as auditors review your inventory balances in the coming audit season. © 2018
Although the drop of the corporate tax rate from a top rate of 35% to a flat rate of 21% may be one of the most talked about provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), C corporations aren’t the only type of entity significantly benefiting from the new law. Owners of non-corporate “pass-through” entities may see some major — albeit temporary — relief in the form of a new deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI).
A 20% Deduction
For tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the new deduction is available to individuals, estates and trusts that own interests in pass-through business entities. Such entities include sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The deduction generally equals 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that can apply if taxable income exceeds the applicable threshold — $157,500 or, if married filing jointly, $315,000. QBI is generally defined as the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss from any qualified business of the noncorporate owner. For this purpose, qualified items are income, gain, deduction and loss that are effectively connected with the conduct of a U.S. business. QBI doesn’t include certain investment items, reasonable compensation paid to an owner for services rendered to the business or any guaranteed payments to a partner or LLC member treated as a partner for services rendered to the partnership or LLC. The QBI deduction isn’t allowed in calculating the owner’s adjusted gross income (AGI), but it reduces taxable income. In effect, it’s treated the same as an allowable itemized deduction.
For pass-through entities other than sole proprietorships, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of: 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees by the qualified business during the tax year, or the sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified property. Qualified property is the depreciable tangible property (including real estate) owned by a qualified business as of year-end and used by the business at any point during the tax year for the production of qualified business income. Another restriction is that the QBI deduction generally isn’t available for income from specified service businesses. Examples include businesses that involve investment-type services and most professional practices (other than engineering and architecture). The W-2 wage limitation and the service business limitation don’t apply as long as your taxable income is under the applicable threshold. In that case, you should qualify for the full 20% QBI deduction.
Careful Planning Required
Additional rules and limits apply to the QBI deduction, and careful planning will be necessary to gain maximum benefit. Please contact us for more details. © 2018
Do you understand how auditors verify account balances and transactions? This knowledge can minimize disruptions when the audit team visits your facilities and maximize the effectiveness of your audit. Here’s a list of five common sources of “substantive evidence” that auditors gather to help them form an opinion regarding your financial statements.
1. Confirmation letters. Auditors send letters to third parties, such as customers or vendors, asking them to verify amounts recorded in the company’s books. There are two types of confirmations: A positive confirmation requests that the recipient complete a form confirming account balances (for example, how much a customer owes the company). A negative confirmation requests that the recipient respond only if the balance is inaccurate.
2. Original source documents. Auditors can verify an account balance or record by vouching (or comparing) it to third-party documentation. For example, an auditor might verify the existence of a vehicle on your fixed asset list by reviewing the invoice from the seller. Vouching enables an auditor to evaluate the accuracy of the amount claimed by the company and whether the company recorded the transaction correctly in its accounting system.
3. Physical observations. Seeing is believing. So, auditors sometimes verify the existence of assets through physical observations and inspections. For example, inventory audit procedures typically include observing or conducting a physical inventory count, inspecting the process to record incoming and outgoing inventory, and analyzing the inventory obsolescence process.
4. Comparisons to external market data. For assets actively traded on the open market, auditors may confirm the amounts claimed on the company’s financial statements by researching pricing data. For example, if the company invests in marketable securities that it plans to sell within one year, an auditor could analyze the prevailing market price to confirm their book value. Likewise, a random sample of parts inventory could be compared to online pricing sheets to confirm that items are reported at the lower of cost or market value.
5. Recalculations. Auditors may verify in-house schedules and records by re-creating them. If the auditor’s work matches the client’s work, it confirms that the underlying accounts appear reasonable. Auditors often rely on this procedure for such items as bank reconciliations and schedules of payroll-related expenses (for example, overtime, benefits and tax payments).
Let’s Work Together
An effective audit requires coordination between auditors and their clients. Before audit season starts, let’s discuss the types of substantive evidence we expect to gather for each major financial statement category. We can help you anticipate document requests and inquiries, thereby facilitating audit fieldwork. © 2018
Over time, many business owners develop a sixth sense: They learn how to “read” a financial statement by computing financial ratios and comparing them to the company’s results over time and against those of competitors. Here are some key performance indicators (KPIs) that can help you benchmark your company’s performance in three critical areas.
“Liquid” companies have sufficient current assets to meet their current obligations. Cash is obviously the most liquid asset, followed by marketable securities, receivables and inventory. Working capital — the difference between current assets and current liabilities — is one way to measure liquidity. Other KPIs that assess liquidity include working capital as a percentage of total assets and the current ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities). A more rigorous benchmark is the acid (or quick) test, which excludes inventory and prepaid assets from the equation.
When it comes to measuring profitability, public companies tend to focus on earnings per share. But private firms typically look at profit margin (net income divided by revenue) and gross margin (gross profits divided by revenue). For meaningful comparisons, you’ll need to adjust for nonrecurring items, discretionary spending and related-party transactions. When comparing your business to other companies with different tax strategies, capital structures or depreciation methods, it may be useful to compare earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).
3. Asset Management
Turnover ratios show how efficiently companies manage their assets. Total asset turnover (sales divided by total assets) estimates how many dollars in revenue a company generates for every dollar invested in assets. In general, the more dollars earned, the more efficiently assets are used. Turnover ratios also can be measured for each specific category of assets. For example, you can calculate receivables turnover ratios in terms of days. The collection period equals average receivables divided by annual sales multiplied by 365 days. A collection period of 45 days indicates that the company takes an average of one and one-half months to collect invoices.
It’s all Relative
The amounts reported on a company’s financial statements are meaningless without a relevant basis of comparison. Contact us for help identifying KPIs and benchmarking your company’s performance over time or against competitors in your industry. © 2018
It’s common for businesses to make thank-you gifts to customers, clients, employees and other business entities and associates. Unfortunately, the tax rules limit the deduction for business gifts to $25 per person per year, a limitation that has remained the same since it was added into law back in 1962. Fifty-five years later, the $25 limit is unrealistically small in many business gift-giving situations. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions.
Here’s a quick rundown of the major exceptions to the $25 limit:
Gifts to a business entity. The $25 limit applies only to gifts directly or indirectly given to an individual. Gifts given to a company for use in the business aren’t subject to the limit. For example, a gift of a $200 reference manual to a company for its employees to use while doing their jobs would be fully deductible because it’s used in the company’s business.
Gifts to a married couple - If you have a business connection with both spouses and the gift is for both of them, the $25 limit doubles to $50.
Incidental costs of making a gift - Such costs aren’t subject to the limit. For example, the costs of custom engraving on jewelry or of packing, insuring and mailing a gift are deductible over and above the $25 limit for the gift itself.
Gifts to employees - Although employee gifts have their own limitations and may be treated as taxable compensation, an employer is generally allowed to deduct the full cost of gifts made to employees.
Gifts vs. entertainment expenses - In some situations related to gifts of tickets to sporting or other events, a taxpayer may choose whether to claim the deduction as a gift or as entertainment. Under current law, entertainment expenses are normally 50% deductible, so the gift deduction is a better deal for lower-priced tickets. But once the combined price of the gifted tickets exceeds $50, claiming them as an entertainment expense is more beneficial. Be aware, however, that the elimination of the entertainment expense deduction has been included in proposed tax reform legislation. If legislation with such a provision is signed into law, it likely won’t go into effect until 2018.
Track and Document
To the extent your business qualifies for any of these exceptions, be sure to track the qualifying expenses separately (typically by charging them to a separate account in your accounting records) so that a full deduction can be claimed. In addition, you must retain documentation of the following: A description of the gift, the gift’s cost, the date the gift was made, the business purpose of the gift, and the business relationship to the taxpayer of the person receiving the gift.
If you have any questions regarding the types of gifts or gift-giving situations that may qualify for a full deduction or how to properly isolate and account for them in your records, please contact us. © 2018
While many provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will save businesses tax, the new law also reduces or eliminates some tax breaks for businesses. One break it eliminates is the Section 199 deduction, commonly referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction.” When it’s available, this potentially valuable tax break can be claimed by many types of businesses beyond just manufacturing companies. Under the TCJA, 2017 is the last tax year non-corporate taxpayers can take the deduction (2018 for C corporation taxpayers).
The Sec. 199 deduction, also called the “domestic production activities deduction,” is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts (DPGR). Yes, the deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible. The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax.
To determine a company’s Sec. 199 deduction, its qualified production activities income must be calculated. This is the amount of DPGR exceeding the cost of goods sold and other expenses allocable to that DPGR. Most companies will need to allocate receipts between those that qualify as DPGR and those that don’t, unless less than 5% of receipts aren’t attributable to DPGR. DPGR can come from a number of activities, including the construction of real property in the United States, as well as engineering or architectural services performed stateside to construct real property. It also can result from the lease, rental, licensing or sale of qualifying production property, such as tangible personal property (for example, machinery and office equipment), computer software, and master copies of sound recordings. The property must have been manufactured, produced, grown or extracted in whole or “significantly” within the United States. While each situation is assessed on its merits, the IRS has said that, if the labor and overhead incurred in the United States accounted for at least 20% of the total cost of goods sold, the activity typically qualifies.
Contact us to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2017 return. We can also help address any questions you may have about other business tax breaks that have been reduced or eliminated by the TCJA. © 2018
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
File 2017 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees. Provide copies of 2017 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required. File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS. File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2017. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return. File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2017. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”) File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2017 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.
File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 2.)
If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2017 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans. © 2018
It’s important to resist the temptation to rely on gut instinct or take shortcuts when budgeting for 2018. Creating a solid budget that’s based on the three components of your company’s financial statements will help you manage profits, cash flow and debt.
Start the budgeting process with your income statement: Analyze revenues, margins, operating expenses, and profits or losses. If times have been tough, you may not even want to know how little income you’re pulling in, but it’s important to be aware of the specifics. From an overall budgetary standpoint, gross profit margin is a critical metric. If your margin is declining, you may need to pivot quickly to increase your revenues or lower your costs. For example, you might plan to hire a new sales person, launch a new marketing campaign, discontinue an unprofitable segment or negotiate lower prices with a supplier. It’s easy to get hung up on analyzing your income statement — particularly if your company is profitable. Yet bear in mind that this part of your budget doesn’t reflect cash-related activities such as buying new equipment or borrowing money from the bank. Today’s profitability may diminish in the face of tomorrow’s risks and threats. And the money you’ve earned may be dangerously tied up in working capital and other financial assets or obligations.
Though gross margin is important, the center point of an effective budget is the statement of cash flow. It begins where the income statement leaves off — with your net income. From there, the statement is typically divided into three subsections: 1. Operating cash flow (activities associated with running the business), 2. Investing cash flow (activities associated with growing the business), and 3. Financing cash flow (activities associated with obtaining money). For many companies, cash ebbs and flows throughout the year. And, if you have large contracts or experience seasonal fluctuations, it can be hard to stay fiscally responsible when cash balances are high. Predicting exactly when cash will come in (or dry up) is tricky — but we can help you make reasonable assumptions based on your historical payment data.
Think of your balance sheet as a snapshot of your company’s financial condition on a given date. The balance sheet lists assets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity. Elements such as these can help you realistically shape your budget going forward. For instance, budgeted balances for certain working capital accounts (such as accounts receivable, inventory and accounts payable) are typically driven by revenue and cost of sales. Loans will be repaid in accordance with their amortization schedules. So, the “plug” figure in a budgeted balance sheet is often a line of credit or shareholder loan. That is, if cash goes below a certain threshold, you’re likely to take on debt to make up for the shortfall.
Companies that operate without a budget can quickly become cash poor and debt heavy. We can help review your financial statements and establish a feasible budget that puts you on the road to success in 2018 and beyond. © 2018
Independent auditors provide many benefits to business owners and management: They can help uncover errors in your financials, identify material weaknesses in your internal controls, and increase the level of confidence lenders and other stakeholders have in your financial reporting. But many companies are unclear about what to expect during a financial statement audit.
Here’s an overview of the five-step process.
Once your company has selected an audit firm, you must sign an engagement letter. Then your auditor will assemble your audit team, develop a timeline, and explain the scope of the audit inquiries and onsite “fieldwork.”
The primary goal of an audit is to determine whether a company’s financial statements are free from “material misstatement.” Management, along with third-party stakeholders that rely on your financial statements, count on them to be accurate and conform to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or another accepted standard. Auditing rules require auditors to assess general business risks, as well as industry- and company-specific risks. The assessment helps auditors 1) determine the accounts to focus audit procedures on, and 2) develop audit procedures to minimize potential risks.
Based on the risk assessment, the audit firm develops a detailed audit plan to test the internal control environment and investigate the accuracy of specific line items within the financial statements. The audit partner then assigns audit team members to work on each element of the plan.
During fieldwork, auditors test and analyze internal controls. For example, they may trace individual transactions to original source documents, such as sales contracts, bank statements or purchase orders. Or they may test a random sample of items reported on the financial statements, such as the prices or number of units listed for a randomly selected sample of inventory items. Auditors also may contact third parties — such as your company’s suppliers or customers — to confirm specific transactions or account balances.
At the end of the audit process, your auditor develops an “opinion” regarding the accuracy and integrity of your company’s financial statements. In order to do so, they rely on quantitative data such as the results of their testing, as well as qualitative data, including statements provided by the company’s employees and executives. The audit firm then issues a report on whether the financial statements 1) present a fair and accurate representation of the company’s financial performance, and 2) comply with applicable financial reporting standards.
Understanding the audit process can help you facilitate it. If your company doesn’t issue audited financials, this understanding can be used to evaluate whether your current level of assurance is adequate — or whether it’s time to upgrade. Contact us for additional information. © 2018
Work-in-progress (WIP) is a major inventory account for manufacturers, media and film companies, construction contractors, and other entities that enter into long-term contracts. WIP reports help management gauge the profit on each long-term project. To maximize profitability, it’s essential to regularly monitor these reports.
What Should be Included?
There are many ways to create WIP reports, including spreadsheet programs and accounting software add-ons. Whichever method you use, the report should track key information for each project in progress, such as: Contract price (including approved change orders), Estimated job costs, Estimated gross profits, Costs incurred to date, Revenues recognized, Percentage of completion, Billings to date, and Billings in excess of earnings or earnings in excess of billings. Most companies with long-term contracts run monthly WIP reports. But proactive managers run them weekly. Warning: The process requires a current and accurate assessment of estimated costs to complete each project. Otherwise, the information will be incorrect and could be misleading.
How Can you Spot Trouble?
WIP reports can help you identify problems and take corrective action before the problems spiral out of control. For example, say a job is 25% complete but your costs incurred to date are 40% of budget. That’s not good, but thanks to your WIP report, you’ll have time to investigate, make adjustments and, one hopes, get the project back on track. WIP reports also indicate whether a job is underbilled or overbilled. Either situation is a potential red flag of financial trouble. But, in many cases, there’s a benign explanation. For example, underbilling (that is, billing that fails to keep pace with a job’s progress) may be attributable to cost overruns, inefficient project management or sluggish billing. WIP reports can also help you spot “profit fade.” This is the gradual decline in projected gross profits over the course of a job. There are several potential causes of profit fade, including inaccurate estimates, lax project management and sloppy change order practices. Again, a WIP report can tip you off to project discrepancies before the job gets too far along. For more on WIP reports WIP reports may initially seem overwhelming. But once you understand the terminology used and conditions that raise a red flag, the WIP report can be a powerful management tool. We can help you create these reports and teach you how to monitor WIP on a regular basis. © 2018
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances some tax breaks for businesses while reducing or eliminating others. One break it enhances — temporarily — is bonus depreciation. While most TCJA provisions go into effect for the 2018 tax year, you might be able to benefit from the bonus depreciation enhancements when you file your 2017 tax return.
Pre-TCJA Bonus Depreciation
Under pre-TCJA law, for qualified new assets that your business placed in service in 2017, you can claim a 50% first-year bonus depreciation deduction. Used assets don’t qualify. This tax break is available for the cost of new computer systems, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment, office furniture, etc. In addition, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any qualified improvement to the interior portion of a nonresidential building if the improvement is placed in service after the date the building is placed in service. But qualified improvement costs don’t include expenditures for the enlargement of a building, an elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework of a building.
The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation. For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property. The new law also allows 100% bonus depreciation for qualified film, television and live theatrical productions placed in service on or after September 28, 2017. Productions are considered placed in service at the time of the initial release, broadcast or live commercial performance. Beginning in 2023, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced 20 percentage points each year. So, for example, it would be 80% for property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, etc., until it would be fully eliminated in 2027. For certain property with longer production periods, the reductions are delayed by one year. For example, 80% bonus depreciation would apply to long-production-period property placed in service in 2024. Bonus depreciation is only one of the business tax breaks that have changed under the TCJA. Contact us for more information on this and other changes that will impact your business. © 2018
The recently passed tax reform bill, commonly referred to as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), is the most expansive federal tax legislation since 1986. It includes a multitude of provisions that will have a major impact on businesses. Here’s a look at some of the most significant changes. They generally apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, except where noted.
Replacement of graduated corporate tax rates ranging from 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%
Repeal of the 20% corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT)
New 20% qualified business income deduction for owners of flow-through entities (such as partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations) and sole proprietorships — through 2025
Doubling of bonus depreciation to 100% and expansion of qualified assets to include used assets — effective for assets acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023
Doubling of the Section 179 expensing limit to $1 million and an increase of the expensing phaseout threshold to $2.5 million
Other enhancements to depreciation-related deductions
New disallowance of deductions for net interest expense in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income (exceptions apply)
New limits on net operating loss (NOL) deductions Elimination of the Section 199 deduction, also commonly referred to as the domestic production activities deduction or manufacturers’ deduction — effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, for noncorporate taxpayers and for tax years beginning after December 31, 2018, for C corporation taxpayers
New rule limiting like-kind exchanges to real property that is not held primarily for sale New tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave — through 2019
New limitations on excessive employee compensation
New limitations on deductions for employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation
Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to what we’ve covered here, and there are other TCJA provisions that may affect your business. Contact us for more details and to discuss what your business needs to do in light of these changes. © 2018
Does your small business engage in qualified research activities? If so, you may be eligible for a research tax credit that you can use to offset your federal payroll tax bill. This relatively new privilege allows the research credit to benefit small businesses that may not generate enough taxable income to use the credit to offset their federal income tax bills, such as those that are still in the unprofitable start-up phase where they owe little or no federal income tax. QSB status Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, a qualified small business (QSB) can elect to use up to $250,000 of its research credits to reduce the Social Security tax portion of its federal payroll tax bills. Under the old rules, QSBs could use the credit to offset only their federal income tax bills. However, many small businesses owe little or no federal income tax, especially small start-ups that tend to incur significant research expenses. For the purposes of the research credit, a QSB is generally defined as a business with: Gross receipts of less than $5 million for the current tax year, and No gross receipts for any taxable year preceding the five-taxable-year period ending with the current tax year. The allowable payroll tax reduction credit can’t exceed the employer portion of the Social Security tax liability imposed for any calendar quarter. Any excess credit can be carried forward to the next calendar quarter, subject to the Social Security tax limitation for that quarter.
Research Activities that Qualify
To be eligible for the research credit, a business must have engaged in “qualified” research activities. To be considered “qualified,” activities must meet the following four-factor test:
1. The purpose must be to create new (or improve existing) functionality, performance, reliability or quality of a product, process, technique, invention, formula or computer software that will be sold or used in your trade or business.
2. There must be an intention to eliminate uncertainty.
3. There must be a process of experimentation. In other words, there must be a trial-and-error process.
4. The process of experimentation must fundamentally rely on principles of physical or biological science, engineering or computer science. Expenses that qualify for the credit include wages for time spent engaging in supporting, supervising or performing qualified research, supplies consumed in the process of experimentation, and 65% of any contracted outside research expenses.
The ability to use the research credit to reduce payroll tax is a welcome change for eligible small businesses, but the rules are complex and we’ve only touched on the basics here. We can help you determine whether you qualify and, if you do, assist you with making the election for your business and filing payroll tax returns to take advantage of the new privilege. © 2017
Diversity in a company’s board of directors and its management team helps enhance corporate value. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) already requires limited disclosures on boardroom diversity and has plans to expand these disclosures in the future — but diversity isn’t just for public companies. Private companies can benefit from more diverse insights, too.
Benefits to Businesses
Getting input on major decisions from people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience levels helps enhance corporate value. During a recent speech, SEC Chief Accountant Wesley Bricker said, “Diversity of thoughts diminishes the extent of group thinking, and diversity of relevant skills (for example, industry or financial reporting expertise) enhances the audit committee’s ability to monitor financial reporting.” Academic research has found that boards with diverse members have better financial reporting quality and are more likely to hold management accountable after poor financial performance. This concept also extends to private companies: Management teams with people from diverse backgrounds and/or functional areas expand the business’s abilities to respond to growth opportunities and potential threats.
Financial Statement Disclosures
In 2009, the SEC issued Release No. 33-9089, Proxy Disclosure Enhancements, to set a number of disclosure rules, including the extent to which the company considers diversity in selecting board candidates. But several institutional investors — including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the New York State Common Retirement Fund — say the requirements don’t provide enough information and haven’t sufficiently increased diversity on corporate boards. Some investor groups want the SEC to require all public companies to disclose more detailed information about boardroom diversity. In 2016, the SEC’s Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies made a set of recommendations for improving the disclosure rules about the diversity of boards of directors. And, in May, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney and Donald S. Beyer, Jr., sent a letter to SEC Chair Jay Clayton, urging him to take action on women’s underrepresentation on America’s corporate boards. Be a leader, not a follower In the meantime, some companies have voluntarily expanded their disclosures to meet these recommendations. These businesses openly disclose in their proxy statements the extent to which their boards are diverse in race, gender and ethnicity. We can help assess your level of boardroom or management team diversity — and provide cutting-edge disclosures that show your commitment to enhancing shareholder value. © 2017
On October 12, an executive order was signed that, among other things, seeks to expand Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). HRAs are just one type of tax-advantaged account you can provide your employees to help fund their health care expenses. Also available are Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs). Which one should you include in your benefits package? Here’s a look at the similarities and differences:
An HRA is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses employees for medical expenses. Contributions are excluded from taxable income and there’s no government-set limit on their annual amount. But only you as the employer can contribute to an HRA; employees aren’t allowed to contribute. Also, the Affordable Care Act puts some limits on how HRAs can be offered. The October 12 executive order directs the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services to consider proposing regs or revising guidance to “increase the usability of HRAs,” expand the ability of employers to offer HRAs to their employees, and “allow HRAs to be used in conjunction with nongroup coverage.”
If you provide employees a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can also sponsor HSAs for them. Pretax contributions can be made by both you and the employee. The 2017 contribution limits (employer and employee combined) are $3,400 for self-only coverage and $6,750 for family coverage. The 2018 limits are $3,450 and $6,900, respectively. Plus, for employees age 55 or older, an additional $1,000 can be contributed. The employee owns the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and employees can carry over a balance from year to year.
Regardless of whether you provide an HDHP, you can sponsor FSAs that allow employees to redirect pretax income up to a limit you set (not to exceed $2,600 in 2017 and expected to remain the same for 2018). You, as the employer, can make additional contributions, generally either by matching employer contributions up to 100% or by contributing up to $500. The plan pays or reimburses employees for qualified medical expenses. What employees don’t use by the plan year’s end, they generally lose — though you can choose to have your plan allow employees to roll over up to $500 to the next year or give them a 2 1/2-month grace period to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If employees have an HSA, their FSA must be limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.
If you’d like to offer your employees a tax-advantaged way to fund health care costs but are unsure which type of account is best for your business and your employees, please contact us. We can provide the additional details you need to make a sound decision. © 2017
CPAs don’t just offer assurance services on historical financial results. They can also prepare prospective financial statements that predict how the company will perform in the future. This list of questions can help you make more meaningful assumptions for your forecasts and projections.
1. How far into the future do you want to plan? Forecasting is generally more accurate in the short term. The longer the time period, the more likely it is that customer demand or market trends will change. While quantitative methods, which rely on historical data, are typically the most accurate forecasting methods, they don’t work well for long-term predictions. If you’re planning to forecast over several years, try qualitative forecasting methods, which rely on expert opinions instead of company-specific data.
2. How steady is your demand? Sales can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, including sales promotions and weather. For example, if you sell ice cream, chances are good your sales dip in the winter. If demand for your products varies, consider forecasting with a quantitative method, such as time-series decomposition, which examines historical data and allows you to adjust for market trends, seasonal trends and business cycles. You also may want to use forecasting software, which allows you to plug other variables into the equation, such as individual customers’ short-term buying plans.
3. How much data do you have? Quantitative forecasting techniques require varying amounts of historical information. For instance, you’ll need about three years of data to use exponential smoothing, a simple yet fairly accurate method that compares historical averages with current demand. Want to forecast for something you don’t have data for, such as a new product? In that case, use qualitative forecasting or base your forecast on historical data for a similar product in your arsenal.
4. How do you fill your orders? Unless you fill custom orders on demand, your forecast will need to establish optimal inventory levels of finished goods. Many companies use multiple forecasting methods to estimate peak inventory levels. It’s also important to consider inventory needs at the individual product level and local warehouse level, which will help you ensure speedy delivery. If you’re forecasting demand for a wide variety of products, consider a relatively simple technique, such as exponential smoothing. If you offer only one or two key products, it’s probably worth your time and effort to perform a more complex, time-consuming forecast for each one, such as a statistical regression.
Plan to Succeed
You may not have a crystal ball, but using the right forecasting techniques will help you gaze into your company’s future with greater accuracy. We can help you establish the forecasting practices that make sense for your business. © 2017
Currently, a valuable income tax deduction related to real estate is for depreciation, but the depreciation period for such property is long and land itself isn’t depreciable. Whether real estate is occupied by your business or rented out, here’s how you can maximize your deductions.
Segregate Personal Property from Buildings
Generally, buildings and improvements to them must be depreciated over 39 years (27.5 years for residential rental real estate and certain other types of buildings or improvements). But personal property, such as furniture and equipment, generally can be depreciated over much shorter periods. Plus, for the tax year such assets are acquired and put into service, they may qualify for 50% bonus depreciation or Section 179 expensing (up to $510,000 for 2017, subject to a phaseout if total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million). If you can identify and document the items that are personal property, the depreciation deductions for those items generally can be taken more quickly. In some cases, items you’d expect to be considered parts of the building actually can qualify as personal property. For example, depending on the circumstances, lighting, wall and floor coverings, and even plumbing and electrical systems, may qualify. Carve out improvements from land As noted above, the cost of land isn’t depreciable. But the cost of improvements to land is depreciable. Separating out land improvement costs from the land itself by identifying and documenting those improvements can provide depreciation deductions. Common examples include landscaping, roads, and, in some cases, grading and clearing.
Convert Land into a Deductible Asset
Because land isn’t depreciable, you may want to consider real estate investment alternatives that don’t involve traditional ownership. Such options can allow you to enjoy tax deductions for land costs that provide a similar tax benefit to depreciation deductions. For example, you can lease land long-term. Rent you pay under such a “ground lease” is deductible. Another option is to purchase an “estate-for-years,” under which you own the land for a set period and an unrelated party owns the interest in the land that begins when your estate-for-years ends. You can deduct the cost of the estate-for-years over its duration.
More Limits and Considerations
There are additional limits and considerations involved in these strategies. Also keep in mind that tax reform legislation could affect these techniques. For example, immediate deductions could become more widely available for many costs that currently must be depreciated. If you’d like to learn more about saving income taxes with business real estate, please contact us. © 2017
Business owners may not be able to set aside as much as they’d like in tax-advantaged retirement plans. Typically, they’re older and more highly compensated than their employees, but restrictions on contributions to 401(k) and profit-sharing plans can hamper retirement-planning efforts. One solution may be a cash balance plan.
Defined Benefit Plan with a Twist
The two most popular qualified retirement plans — 401(k) and profit-sharing plans — are defined contribution plans. These plans specify the amount that goes into an employee’s retirement account today, typically a percentage of compensation or a specific dollar amount. In contrast, a cash balance plan is a defined benefit plan, which specifies the amount a participant will receive in retirement. But unlike traditional defined benefit plans, such as pensions, cash balance plans express those benefits in the form of a 401(k)-style account balance, rather than a formula tied to years of service and salary history. The plan allocates annual “pay credits” and “interest credits” to hypothetical employee accounts. This allows participants to earn benefits more uniformly over their careers, and provides a clearer picture of benefits than a traditional pension plan.
Greater savings for Owners
A cash balance plan offers significant advantages for business owners — particularly those who are behind on their retirement saving and whose employees are younger and lower-paid. In 2017, the IRS limits employer contributions and employee deferrals to defined contribution plans to $54,000 ($60,000 for employees age 50 or older). And nondiscrimination rules, which prevent a plan from unfairly favoring highly compensated employees (HCEs), can reduce an owner’s contributions even further. But cash balance plans aren’t bound by these limits. Instead, as defined benefit plans, they’re subject to a cap on annual benefit payouts in retirement (currently, $216,000), and the nondiscrimination rules require that only benefits for HCEs and non-HCEs be comparable. Contributions may be as high as necessary to fund those benefits. Therefore, a company may make sizable contributions on behalf of owner/employees approaching retirement (often as much as three or four times defined contribution limits), and relatively smaller contributions on behalf of younger, lower-paid employees.
There are some potential risks. The most notable one is that, unlike with profit-sharing plans, you can’t reduce or suspend contributions during difficult years. So, before implementing a cash balance plan, it’s critical to ensure that your company’s cash flow will be steady enough to meet its funding obligations. Right for you? Although cash balance plans can be more expensive than defined contribution plans, they’re a great way to turbocharge your retirement savings. We can help you decide whether one might be right for you. © 2017
How long will you take to collect the outstanding receivables that are reported on your balance sheet? Many companies take weeks or even months to collect invoices from customers. Fortunately, there are ways to convert them into cash now.
Line of Credit
A line of credit can help bridge the “cash gap” between performing work for customers and getting paid. Your credit line can be collateralized by unpaid invoices, just like you pledge equipment and property for conventional term loans. Banks typically charge fees and interest for securitized receivables. Each financial institution sets its own rates and conditions, but these arrangements generally provide immediate loans for up to 90% of the value of an outstanding debt and are typically repaid as customers pay their bills. For example, an HVAC contractor had difficulty making payroll after two of its large clients waited 75 days to pay outstanding invoices. A local bank gave the contractor a line of credit for $180,000. To secure the loan, the contractor was required to put up $200,000 in unpaid invoices as collateral and then repay the loan, plus fees and interest, once customers remitted payments.
Factoring is another option for companies that want to monetize their unpaid — but not yet delinquent — receivables. Here, receivables are sold to a third party factoring company for immediate cash. Costs associated with receivables factoring can be much higher than those for collateral-based loans. And factoring companies are likely to scrutinize the creditworthiness of your customers. But selling receivables for upfront cash may be advantageous, especially for smaller businesses, because it reduces the burden on accounting staff and saves time. For instance, a small tool-and-die shop faced cash flow issues because customers routinely paid their bills between 60 and 90 days after issuance. As a result, the owner used a high-interest-rate credit card to make payroll and spent at least three days a month chasing down late bills. So, the owner sold off roughly $200,000 of its annual receivables to an online factoring firm. This saved the shop hundreds of personnel hours annually and allowed it to stop building up high-rate credit card interest expenses, while considerably easing cash flow concerns.
Other Creative Solutions
Before monetizing receivables, banks and factoring companies will ask for a receivables aging schedule — and most won’t touch any receivable that’s over 90 days outstanding. What are your options for the stalest of receivables? Before you write them off, call the customer and ask what’s going on. Sometimes you might be able to negotiate a lower amount — which might be better than nothing if your customer is facing bankruptcy. If all else fails, you might consider a commission-based collection agency. Or call us to discuss your delinquent accounts receivable. We’ve helped many clients devise creative solutions to convert receivables into fast cash. © 2017
Today’s businesses face unprecedented uncertainty — from geopolitical risks and cyberthreats to tax and regulatory reforms. So, management’s historical means of addressing uncertainty in accounting estimates may not pass muster in the coming audit season.
Accounting for Uncertainty
Some financial statement items are relatively cut-and-dried. But others can’t be measured precisely and, instead, are based on what management expects to happen in the future. Examples of accounting estimates include: allowance for doubtful accounts, work-in-progress inventory, warranty obligations, depreciation method or asset useful life, recoverability provision against the carrying amount of investments, fair value of goodwill and other intangibles, long-term contracts, uncertain tax positions, and costs arising out of litigation settlements and judgments. Accounting estimates may be based on subjective or objective information (or both) and involve a level of measurement uncertainty. Each accounting estimate is subject to its own level of uncertainty — and highly uncertain outcomes can lead to unintentional errors or, worse, intentional misstatement.
Use of Specialists
Some estimates are easily determinable and may be made by in-house personnel with a fair degree of accuracy. This is especially true for estimates that can be made based on objective inputs (like published interest rates or percentages observed in previous reporting periods). Other estimates are inherently subjective or complex — and may be derived from speculative inputs. Examples include share-based payments, goodwill and impairment write-offs. Managers are champions of the company’s products and strategies and, therefore, may have unrealistic expectations. To avoid painting a rosier picture than reality, companies often use outside specialists, such as business appraisers or actuaries, to independently estimate complex items.
Ready for Audit Season?
Audit season is right around the corner for calendar-year-end businesses. In light of today’s volatile marketplace, expect auditors to give renewed attention to your accounting estimates. For example, they may ask more in-depth questions or perform additional testing procedures. You can facilitate audit fieldwork and minimize audit adjustments by identifying accounts that are based on management’s estimates and reviewing the procedures used to make the estimates. Some items may require a different measurement technique than you’ve used in the past. If you’re uncertain about how marketplace uncertainty could affect your estimates, contact us to help you get a timely, accurate assessment of financial performance before the start of audit season. © 2017
Two valuable depreciation-related tax breaks can potentially reduce your 2017 taxes if you acquire and place in service qualifying assets by the end of the tax year. Tax reform could enhance these breaks, so you’ll want to keep an eye on legislative developments as you plan your asset purchases.
Section 179 Expensing
Sec. 179 expensing allows businesses to deduct up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets (new or used) in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and real property improvements. The Sec. 179 expensing limit for 2017 is $510,000. The break begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2017 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million. Under current law, both limits are indexed for inflation annually. Under the initial version of the House bill, the limit on Section 179 expensing would rise to $5 million, with the phaseout threshold increasing to $20 million. These higher amounts would be adjusted for inflation, and the definition of qualifying assets would be expanded slightly. The higher limits generally would apply for 2018 through 2022. The initial version of the Senate bill also would increase the Sec. 179 expensing limit, but only to $1 million, and would increase the phaseout threshold, but only to $2.5 million. The higher limits would be indexed for inflation and generally apply beginning in 2018. Significantly, unlike under the House bill, the higher limits would be permanent under the Senate bill. There would also be some small differences in which assets would qualify under the Senate bill vs. the House bill.
First-year Bonus Depreciation
For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2017, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. Examples of qualifying assets include computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, office furniture and qualified improvement property. Currently, bonus depreciation is scheduled to drop to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019 and then disappear for 2020. The initial House bill would boost bonus depreciation to 100% for qualifying assets (which would be expanded to include certain used assets) acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023 (with an additional year for certain property with a longer production period). The initial Senate bill would allow 100% bonus depreciation for qualifying assets acquired and placed in service during the same period as under the House bill, though there would be some differences in which assets would qualify.
If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end to reduce your 2017 tax bill. If, however, you could save more taxes under tax reform legislation, for now you might want to limit your asset investments to the maximum 179 expense election currently available to you, and then consider additional investments depending on what happens with tax reform. It’s still uncertain what the final legislation will contain and whether it will be passed and signed into law this year. Contact us to discuss the best strategy for your particular situation. © 2017
With Veterans Day just behind us, it’s an especially good time to think about the sacrifices veterans have made for us and how we can support them. One way businesses can support veterans is to hire them. The Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC) can help businesses do just that, but it may not be available for hires made after this year. As released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would eliminate the WOTC for hires after December 31, 2017. So you may want to consider hiring qualifying veterans before year end.
The WOTC Up Close
You can claim the WOTC for a portion of wages paid to a new hire from a qualifying target group. Among the target groups are eligible veterans who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as “food stamps”), who have a service-related disability or who have been unemployed for at least four weeks. The maximum credit depends in part on which of these factors apply: Food stamp recipient or short-term unemployed (at least 4 weeks but less than 6 months): $2,400 Disabled: $4,800 Long-term unemployed (at least 6 months): $5,600 Disabled and long-term unemployed: $9,600 The amount of the credit also depends on the wages paid to the veteran and the number of hours the veteran worked during the first year of employment. You aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible veterans you can hire. For example, if you hire 10 disabled long-term-unemployed veterans, the credit can be as much as $96,000.
Before claiming the WOTC, you generally must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you. Also be aware that veterans aren’t the only target groups from which you can hire and claim the WOTC. But in many cases hiring a veteran will provided the biggest credit. Plus, research assembled by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University suggests that the skills and traits of people with a successful military employment track record make for particularly good civilian employees.
It’s still uncertain whether the WOTC will be repealed. The House bill likely will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and it’s also possible Congress will be unable to pass tax legislation this year. Under current law, the WOTC is scheduled to be available through 2019. But if you’re looking to hire this year, hiring veterans is worth considering for both tax and nontax reasons. Contact us for more information on the WOTC or on other year-end tax planning strategies in light of possible tax law changes. © 2017
A recent study has found that fewer public companies are reissuing financial statements due to errors or omissions, in large part due to stronger internal controls. Want to upgrade your controls and reduce your risk of restatement? Savvy business owners and managers borrow best practices from the framework auditors use to evaluate their clients’ internal controls.
Drop in Restatements
Research firm Audit Analytics found that the total number of restatements dropped to 6.83% (or 671 of 9,831 companies) in 2016. That’s the lowest number of restatements in 15 years. Why? The Audit Analytics study attributes the decrease in restatements, at least partially, to regulatory oversight. “I believe that the decrease in the number of restatements ... is a result, to some extent, of improved internal controls over financial reporting,” said Don Whalen, director of research at Audit Analytics. Companies institute internal controls primarily to deter accounting fraud. One resource used to improve internal controls is the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO). COSO first published its Internal Control — Integrated Framework in 1992 to help prevent a repeat of the types of accounting frauds that occurred in the 1980s. In 2013, COSO revised its framework to reflect changes to business and financial reporting that have taken place over the last two decades.
COSO Framework The updated COSO framework outlines five basic components of internal controls, including:
1. Control environment. A set of standards, processes and structures is needed to provide the basis for carrying out internal controls across the organization.
2. Risk assessment. This dynamic, iterative process identifies stumbling blocks to the achievement of the company’s objectives and forms the basis for determining how risks will be managed.
3. Control activities. Policies and procedures are necessary to help ensure that management’s directives to mitigate risks to the achievement of objectives are carried out.
4. Information and communication. Relevant and quality information supports the internal control process. Management needs to continually obtain and share this information with people inside and outside of the company.
5. Monitoring. Management should routinely evaluate whether each of the five components of internal controls is present and functioning.
External auditors generally rely on the framework’s concepts when they assess internal controls. Likewise, business owners and managers can use the framework as a guide to establish, strengthen and assess their company’s controls. Following this framework can help safeguard your operations from inadvertent financial reporting errors and fraud. Practical application COSO offers 81 “points of focus” that provide practical guidance in designing and implementing effective internal controls. Our audit team can help you turn the framework’s abstract concepts into actionable items. Contact us for more details. © 2017
Projecting your business income and expenses for this year and next can allow you to time when you recognize income and incur deductible expenses to your tax advantage. Typically, it’s better to defer tax. This might end up being especially true this year, if tax reform legislation is signed into law.
Timing Strategies for Businesses
Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses defer taxes:
1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before December 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.
Potential Impact of Tax Reform
These deferral strategies could be particularly powerful if tax legislation is signed into law this year that reflects the nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27. Among other things, the framework calls for reduced tax rates for corporations and flow-through entities as well as the elimination of many business deductions. If such changes were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for businesses to defer income to 2018 and accelerate deductible expenses into 2017. But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (such as if your business is having a bad year in 2017 but the outlook is much brighter for 2018 and you don’t expect that tax rates will go down), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but might save you tax over the two-year period.
Because of tax law uncertainty, in 2017 you may want to wait until closer to the end of the year to implement some of your year-end tax planning strategies. But you need to be ready to act quickly if tax legislation is signed into law. So keep an eye on developments in Washington and contact us to discuss the best strategies for you this year based on your particular situation. © 2017
A new accounting standard goes into effect starting in 2018 for churches, charities and other not-for-profit entities. Here’s a summary of the major changes.
Net Asset Classifications
The existing rules require nonprofit organizations to classify their net assets as either unrestricted, temporarily restricted or permanently restricted. But under Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-14, Not-for Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities, there will be only two classes: net assets with donor restrictions and net assets without donor restrictions. The simplified approach recognizes changes in the law that now allow organizations to spend from a permanently restricted endowment even if its fair value has fallen below the original endowed gift amount. Such “underwater” endowments will now be classified as net assets with donor restrictions, along with being subject to expanded disclosure requirements. In addition, the new standard eliminates the current “over-time” method for handling the expiration of restrictions on gifts used to purchase or build long-lived assets (such as buildings).
Other Major Changes
The new standard includes specific requirements to help financial statement users better assess a nonprofit’s operations. Specifically, organizations must provide information about: Liquidity and availability of resources. This includes qualitative and quantitative information about how they expect to meet cash needs for general expenses within one year of the balance sheet date.
The new standard requires entities to report expenses by both function (which is already required) and nature in one location. In addition, it calls for enhanced disclosures regarding specific methods used to allocate costs among program and support functions.
Organizations will be required to net all external and direct internal investment expenses against the investment return presented on the statement of activities. This will facilitate comparisons among different nonprofits, regardless of whether investments are managed externally (for example, by an outside investment manager who charges management fees) or internally (by staff). Additionally, the new standard allows nonprofits to use either the direct or indirect method to present net cash from operations on the statement of cash flows. The two methods produce the same results, but the direct method tends to be more understandable to financial statement users. To encourage not-for-profits to use the direct method, entities that opt for the direct method will no longer need to reconcile their presentation with the indirect method.
To Be Continued
ASU 2016-14 is the first major change to the accounting rules for not-for-profits since 1993. However, it’s only phase 1 of a larger project to enhance financial reporting transparency for donors, grantors, creditors and other users of nonprofits’ financial statements. Contact us for help preparing or evaluating an organization’s financial statements under the new standard. © 2017
If you own a profitable, unincorporated business with your spouse, you probably find the high self-employment (SE) tax bills burdensome. An unincorporated business in which both spouses are active is typically treated by the IRS as a partnership owned 50/50 by the spouses. (For simplicity, when we refer to “partnerships,” we’ll include in our definition limited liability companies that are treated as partnerships for federal tax purposes.)
For 2017, that means you’ll each pay the maximum 15.3% SE tax rate on the first $127,200 of your respective shares of net SE income from the business. Those bills can mount up if your business is profitable. To illustrate: Suppose your business generates $250,000 of net SE income in 2017. Each of you will owe $19,125 ($125,000 × 15.3%), for a combined total of $38,250.
Fortunately, there are ways spouse-owned businesses can lower their combined SE tax hit. Here are two.
1. Establish that you don’t have a spouse-owned partnership
While the IRS creates the impression that involvement by both spouses in an unincorporated business automatically creates a partnership for federal tax purposes, in many cases, it will have a tough time making the argument — especially when: the spouses have no discernible partnership agreement, and the business hasn’t been represented as a partnership to third parties, such as banks and customers. If you can establish that your business is a sole proprietorship (or a single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes), only the spouse who is considered the proprietor owes SE tax. Let’s assume the same facts as in the previous example, except that your business is a sole proprietorship operated by one spouse. Now you have to calculate SE tax for only that spouse. For 2017, the SE tax bill is $23,023 [($127,200 × 15.3%) + ($122,800 × 2.9%)]. That’s much less than the combined SE tax bill from the first example ($38,250).
2. Establish that you don’t have a 50/50 spouse-owned partnership Even if you do have a spouse-owned partnership, it’s not a given that it’s a 50/50 one. Your business might more properly be characterized as owned, say, 80% by one spouse and 20% by the other spouse, because one spouse does much more work than the other. Let’s assume the same facts as in the first example, except that your business is an 80/20 spouse-owned partnership. In this scenario, the 80% spouse has net SE income of $200,000, and the 20% spouse has net SE income of $50,000. For 2017, the SE tax bill for the 80% spouse is $21,573 [($127,200 × 15.3%) + ($72,800 × 2.9%)], and the SE tax bill for the 20% spouse is $7,650 ($50,000 × 15.3%). The combined total SE tax bill is only $29,223 ($21,573 + $7,650).
More-complicated strategies are also available. Contact us to learn more about how you can reduce your spouse-owned business’s SE taxes. © 2017
Businesses can’t eliminate risk, but they can manage it to maximize the entity’s economic return. A new framework aims to help business owners and managers more effectively integrate enterprise risk management (ERM) practices into their overall business strategies.
On September 6, the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) published Enterprise Risk Management — Integrating with Strategy and Performance. You can use the updated framework to develop a more effective risk management strategy and to monitor the results of your ERM practices. The updated framework discusses ERM relative to the changes in the financial markets, the emergence of new technologies and demographic changes.
It’s organized into five interrelated components:
1. Governance and culture. This refers to a company’s tone and oversight function. It includes ethics, values and identification of risks.
2. Strategy and objective setting. Proactive managers align the company’s appetite for risk with its strategy. This serves as the basis for identifying, assessing and responding to risk. By understanding risks, management enhances decision making.
3. Performance. Management must prioritize risks, allocate its finite resources and report results to stakeholders.
4. Review and revision. ERM is a continuous improvement process. Poorly functioning components may need to be revised.
5. Information, communication and reporting. Sharing information is an integral part of effective ERM programs. COSO Chair Robert Hirth said in a recent statement, “Our overall goal is to continue to encourage a risk-conscious culture.” He also said that the updated framework is not intended to replace COSO’s Enterprise Risk Management — Integrated Framework. Rather, it’s meant to reflect how the practice of ERM has evolved since 2004.
The updated framework clarifies several misconceptions from the previous version. Specifically, effective ERM encompasses more than taking an inventory of risks; it’s an entitywide process for proactively managing risk. Additionally, internal control is just one small part of ERM; ERM includes other topics such as strategy setting, governance, communicating with stakeholders and measuring performance. These principles apply at all business levels, across all functions and to organizations of any size. Moreover, the update enables management to better anticipate risk so they can get ahead of it, with an understanding that change creates opportunities — not simply the potential for crises. In short, it helps increase positive outcomes and reduce negative surprises that come from risk-taking activities.
ERM in the Future
We can help you identify and optimize risks in today’s complex, volatile and ambiguous business environment. We’re familiar with emerging ERM trends and challenges, such as dealing with prolific data, leveraging artificial intelligence and automating business functions. Contact us for help adopting cost-effective ERM practices to help make your business more resilient. © 2017
Updated travel per diem rates go into effect October 1. To simplify recordkeeping, they can be used for reimbursement of ordinary and normal business expenses incurred while employees travel away from home.
Per Diem Advantages
As long as employees properly account for their business-travel expenses, reimbursements are generally tax-free to the employees and deductible by the employer. But keeping track of actual costs can be a headache. With the per diem rates, employees don’t have to keep receipts for covered travel expenses. They just need to document the time, place and business purpose of the travel. Assuming that the travel qualifies as a business expense, the employer simply pays the employee the per diem allowance designated for the specific travel destination and deducts the per diem paid. Although the per diem rates are set by the General Services Administration (GSA) to cover travel by government employees, private employers may use them for tax purposes. The rates are updated annually for the following areas:
1. The 48 states in the continental United States and the District of Columbia (CONUS);
2. Nonstandard Areas (NSAs) that are in CONUS but have per diem rates higher than the standard CONUS rates;
3. Certain areas outside the continental United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and U.S. possessions (OCONUS); and
4. Foreign countries.
The rates include amounts for lodging and for meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) but not airfare and other transportation costs.
For October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018, the per diem standard CONUS rate is $144, an increase of $2 over the prior year. This rate consists of $93 for lodging and $51 for M&IE. Also effective October 1, there are 332 NSAs. The following locations have moved from NSAs into the standard CONUS rate: California: Redding Iowa: Cedar Rapids Idaho: Bonners Ferry / Sandpoint North Dakota: Dickenson / Beulah New York: Watertown Ohio: Youngstown Oklahoma: Enid Pennsylvania: Mechanicsburg Texas: Laredo, McAllen, Pearsall and San Angelo Wyoming: Gillette. There are no new NSA locations. What’s right for you? As noted earlier, the per diem changes go into effect on October 1, 2017. During the last three months of 2017, an employer may switch to the new rates or continue with the old rates. But an employer must select one set of rates for this quarter and stick with it; it can’t use the old rates for some employees and the new rates for others. Because travel expenses often attract IRS attention, they require careful recordkeeping. The per diem method can help, but it’s not the best solution for all employers. An even simpler “high-low” per diem method is also available. And, in some cases, a policy of reimbursing actual expenses could be beneficial, despite the recordkeeping hassles. If you have questions regarding travel expense reimbursements, please contact us. © 2017
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) recently issued some targeted improvements to its guidance that could encourage more companies to engage in hedging arrangements to minimize volatility in their financial statements. Here’s a close-up on how businesses can hedge price fluctuations and why businesses and their investors alike approve of the changes to the hedge accounting rules.
Some costs — such as interest rates, exchange rates and commoditized raw materials — are subject to price fluctuations based on changes in the external markets. Businesses may try to “hedge” against volatility in earnings, cash flow or fair value by purchasing derivatives based on those costs. If futures, options and other derivative instruments qualify for hedge accounting treatment, any gains and losses are generally recognized in the same period as the costs are incurred. But hedge accounting is a common source of confusion (and restatements) under U.S. GAAP. To qualify for the current hedge accounting rules, a transaction must be documented at inception and be “highly effective” at stabilizing price volatility. In addition, businesses must periodically assess hedging transactions for their effectiveness.
In August 2017, the FASB issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2017-12, Derivatives and Hedging (Topic 815): Targeted Improvements to Accounting for Hedging Activities. The updated standard expands the range of transactions that qualify for hedge accounting and simplifies the presentation and disclosure requirements. Notably, the update allows for hedging of nonfinancial components that are contractually specified and adds the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) Municipal Swap Rate to the list of acceptable benchmarks for fixed interest rate hedges. ASU 2017-12 also eliminates the requirement to measure and report hedge “ineffectiveness.” That’s the amount the hedge fails to offset the hedged item. Instead of reporting hedge ineffectiveness separately for cash flow hedges, the entire change in value of the derivative will be recorded in other comprehensive income and reclassified to earnings in the same period in which the hedged item affects earnings. Companies might still mismatch changes in value of a hedged item and the hedging instrument under the new standard, but they won’t be separately reported. Universal support Businesses, investors and other stakeholders universally welcome the changes to the hedge accounting rules. Although the updated standard goes into effect in 2019 for public companies and 2020 for private ones, many businesses that use hedging strategies are expected to adopt it early — and the FASB has hinted that the changes might encourage more companies to try hedging strategies. Could hedging work for your business? Contact us to discuss your options. © 2017
If you acquire a company, your to-do list will be long, which means you can’t devote all of your time to the deal’s potential tax implications. However, if you neglect tax issues during the negotiation process, the negative consequences can be serious. To improve the odds of a successful acquisition, it’s important to devote resources to tax planning before your deal closes.
Complacency can be Costly
During deal negotiations, you and the seller should discuss such issues as whether and how much each party can deduct their transaction costs and how much in local, state and federal tax obligations the parties will owe upon signing the deal. Often, deal structures (such as asset sales) that typically benefit buyers have negative tax consequences for sellers and vice versa. So it’s common for the parties to wrangle over taxes at this stage. Just because you seem to have successfully resolved tax issues at the negotiation stage doesn’t mean you can become complacent. With adequate planning, you can spare your company from costly tax-related surprises after the transaction closes and you begin to integrate the acquired business. Tax management during integration can also help your company capture synergies more quickly and efficiently. You may, for example, have based your purchase price on the assumption that you’ll achieve a certain percentage of cost reductions via postmerger synergies. However, if your taxation projections are flawed or you fail to follow through on earlier tax assumptions, you may not realize such synergies.
Merging Accounting Functions
One of the most important tax-related tasks is the integration of your seller’s and your own company’s accounting departments. There’s no time to waste: You generally must file federal and state income tax returns — either as a combined entity or as two separate sets — after the first full quarter following your transaction’s close. You also must account for any short-term tax obligations arising from your acquisition. To ensure the two departments integrate quickly and are ready to prepare the required tax documents, decide well in advance of closing which accounting personnel you’ll retain. If you and your seller use different tax processing software or follow different accounting methods, choose between them as soon as feasible. Understand that, if your acquisition has been using a different accounting method, you’ll need to revise the company’s previous tax filings to align them with your own accounting system. The tax consequences of M&A decisions may be costly and could haunt your company for years. We can help you ensure you plan properly and minimize any potentially negative tax consequences. © 2017
Virtually every business must file a tax return. So, some private companies issue tax-basis financial statements, rather than statements that comply with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). But doing so could result in significant differences in financial results.
Here are the key differences between these two financial reporting options.
GAAP is the most common financial reporting standard in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires public companies to follow it. Many lenders expect private borrowers to follow suit, because GAAP is familiar and consistent. In a nutshell, GAAP is based on the principle of conservatism, which generally ensures proper matching of revenue and expenses with a reporting period. The principle also aims to prevent businesses from overstating profits and asset values to mislead investors and lenders.
Compliance with GAAP can also be time-consuming and costly, depending on the level of assurance provided in the financial statements. So some smaller private companies opt to report financial statements using a special reporting framework. The most common type is the income-tax-basis format. Tax-basis statements employ the same methods and principles that businesses use to file their federal income tax returns. Contrary to GAAP, tax law tends to favor accelerated gross income recognition and won’t allow taxpayers to deduct expenses until the amounts are known and other requirements have been met.
When comparing GAAP and tax-basis statements, one difference relates to terminology used on the income statement: Under GAAP, businesses report revenues, expenses and net income. Tax-basis entities report gross income, deductions and taxable income. Their nontaxable items typically appear as separate line items or are disclosed in a footnote. Capitalization and depreciation of fixed assets is another noteworthy difference. Under GAAP, the cost of a fixed asset (less its salvage value) is capitalized and systematically depreciated over its useful life. Businesses must assess whether useful lives and asset values remain meaningful over time and they may occasionally incur impairment losses if an asset’s market value falls below its book value. For tax purposes, fixed assets typically are depreciated under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), which generally results in shorter lives than under GAAP. Salvage value isn’t subtracted for tax purposes, but Section 179 expensing and bonus depreciation are subtracted before computing MACRS deductions. Other reporting differences exist for inventory, pensions, leases, and accounting for changes and errors. In addition, businesses record allowances for bad debts, sales returns, inventory obsolescence and asset impairment under GAAP. But these allowances generally aren’t permitted under tax law; instead, they’re deducted when transactions take place or conditions are met that make the amount fixed and determinable. Tax law also prohibits the deduction of penalties, fines, start-up costs and accrued vacations (unless they’re taken within 2½ months after the end of the taxable year).
Pick a Winner
Tax-basis reporting is a shortcut that makes sense for certain types of businesses. But for others, tax-basis financial statements may result in missing or even misleading information. Contact us to discuss which reporting model will work the best for your business. © 2017
With Labor Day recently behind us, it’s a good time to focus on how your business pays employees. Payroll reporting doesn’t have to be a laborious process. Consider using an outside company to manage your payroll function. Here’s why payroll outsourcing may be beneficial and how a service audit can provide assurance about your payroll provider’s internal controls.
Rewards and Risks
Payroll can be an administrative nightmare if done in-house, especially for smaller companies. In addition to keeping up with employee withholdings and benefits enrollment, you must file state and federal payroll tax returns and follow union reporting requirements. Outside service companies that specialize in payroll administration can help you manage all of the details and minimize mistakes. Payroll providers can also handle expense reimbursement for employees and provide other services. When payroll is outsourced, however, your company could be exposed to identity theft and other fraud risks if the service provider lacks sufficient internal controls. For example, sensitive electronic personal data could be hacked from your network and sold on the Dark Net — or old-fashioned paper files could be stolen and used to commit fraud.
Audits of Payroll Companies
Fortunately, CPAs offer two types of reports that provide assurance on whether an outside payroll provider’s controls over paper and electronic records are adequate.
Type I audits
This level of assurance expresses an opinion as to whether controls are properly designed.
Type II audits
Here, the auditor goes a step further and expresses an opinion on whether the controls are operating effectively. When performing these attestation engagements, Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) No. 18 requires:
• The payroll company’s management to provide a written assertion about the fairness of the presentation of 1) the description of the organization’s control objectives and related controls and the suitability of their design; and 2) for a Type II audit, the operating effectiveness of those control objectives and related controls,
• The auditor’s opinion in a Type II audit regarding description and suitability to cover a period consistent with the auditor’s tests of operating effectiveness, rather than being as of a specified date, and
• Auditors to identify in the audit report any tests of control objectives and related controls conducted by internal auditors. Further, auditors are prohibited from using evidence on the satisfactory operation of controls in prior periods as a basis for a reduction in testing in the current period, even if it’s supplemented with evidence obtained during the current period. When an audit is complete, the service auditor typically will issue a report to the payroll company. As the customer of the service provider, it’s then up to you to obtain a copy of the audit report from the payroll provider and distribute it to your financial statement auditors as evidence of internal controls.
Outsourcing with Confidence
Your financial statement auditors are required to consider the internal control environment for any services you outsource, including payroll, customer service, benefits administration and IT functions. Most service providers obtain service audit reports. If yours doesn’t, you might need to request permission for your CPA to contact and visit the payroll provider to plan their financial statement audit. Contact us for more information. © 2017
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2017.
Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension: File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due. Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2017 estimated income taxes. © 2017
When businesses provide meals to their employees, generally their deduction is limited to 50%. But there are exceptions. One is if the meal qualifies as a de minimis fringe benefit under the Internal Revenue Code. A recent U.S. Tax Court ruling could ultimately mean that more employer-provided meals will be 100% deductible under this exception. The court found that the Boston Bruins hockey team’s pregame meals to players and personnel at out-of-town hotels qualified as a de minimis fringe benefit.
For meals to qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit, generally they must be occasional and have so little value that accounting for them would be unreasonable or administratively impracticable. But meals provided at an employer-operated eating facility for employees can also qualify. For meals at an employer-operated facility, one requirement is that they be provided in a nondiscriminatory manner: Access to the eating facility must be available “on substantially the same terms to each member of a group of employees, which is defined under a reasonable classification set up by the employer that doesn’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.”
Assuming that definition is met, employee meals generally constitute a de minimis fringe benefit if the following conditions also are met: 1. The eating facility is owned or leased by the employer. 2. The facility is operated by the employer. 3. The facility is located on or near the business premises of the employer. 4. The meals furnished at the facility are provided during, or immediately before or after, the employee’s workday. The meals generally also must be furnished for the convenience of the employer rather than primarily as a form of additional compensation.
On the Road
What’s significant about the Bruins case is that the meals were provided at hotels while the team was on the road. The Tax Court determined that the Bruins met all of the de minimis tests related to an employer-operated facility for their away-game team meals. The court’s reasoning included the following: Pregame meals were made available to all Bruins traveling hockey employees (highly compensated, non-highly compensated, players and nonplayers) on substantially the same terms. The Bruins agreements with the hotels were substantively leases. By engaging in its process with away-city hotels, the Bruins were “contract[ing] with another to operate an eating facility for its employees.” Away-city hotels were part of the Bruins’ business premises, because staying at out-of-town hotels was necessary for the teams to prepare for games, maintain a successful hockey operation and navigate the rigors of an NHL-mandated schedule. For every breakfast and lunch, traveling hockey employees were required to be present in the meal rooms. The meals were furnished for the convenience of the Bruins. If your business provides meals under similar circumstances, it’s possible you might also be eligible for a 100% deduction. But be aware that the facts of this case are specific and restrictive. Also the IRS could appeal, and an appeals court could rule differently. Questions about deducting meals you’re providing to employees? Contact us. © 2017
Most companies prepare financial statements on a monthly or quarterly basis. Unfortunately, it usually takes between two and six weeks for management to finalize reports that comply with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The process takes even longer if an outside accountant reviews or audits your financial statements. Decision-making based solely on this stale information is reactive, not proactive. To help bridge the timing gap between daily operations and receipt of monthly or quarterly financial statements, consider using “flash reports.”
Reap the Benefits
Flash reports typically provide a snapshot of key financial figures, such as cash balances, receivables aging, collections and payroll. Some metrics might be tracked daily — including sales, shipments and deposits. This is especially critical during seasonal peaks or among distressed borrowers. Effective flash reports are simple and comparative. Those that take longer than an hour to prepare or use more than one sheet of paper are too complex to maintain. Comparative flash reports identify patterns from week to week — or deviations from the budget that may need corrective action.
Beware of Limitations
Flash reports can help management proactively identify and respond to problems and weaknesses. But they have limitations that management should recognize to avoid misuse. Most important, flash reports provide a rough measure of performance and are seldom 100% accurate. It’s also common for items such as cash balances and collections to ebb and flow throughout the month, depending on billing cycles. Companies generally use flash reports only internally. They’re rarely shared with creditors and franchisors, unless required in bankruptcy or by the franchise agreement. A lender also may ask for flash reports if a borrower fails to meet liquidity, profitability and leverage covenants. If shared flash reports deviate from what’s subsequently reported on GAAP financial statements, stakeholders may wonder if management exaggerated results on the flash report or is simply untrained in financial reporting matters. If you need to share flash reports, consider adding a disclaimer that the results are preliminary, may contain errors or omissions, and haven’t been prepared in accordance with GAAP.
Customize your Flash Reports
Each company’s flash report should contain different information. For instance, billable hours might be more relevant to a law firm, and machine utilization rates more relevant to a manufacturer. We can help you figure out what items matter most in your industry and how to create an effective flash report for your business. © 2017
If your business offers health insurance benefits to employees, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a climb in premium costs in recent years — perhaps a dramatic one. To meet the challenge of rising costs, some employers are opting for a creative alternative to traditional health insurance known as “captive insurance.” A captive insurance company generally is wholly owned and controlled by the employer. So it’s essentially like forming your own insurance company. And it provides tax advantages, too.
Potential benefits of forming a captive insurance company include: stabilized or lower premiums, more control over claims, lower administrative costs, and access to certain types of coverage that are unavailable or too expensive on the commercial health insurance market. You can customize your coverage package and charge premiums that more accurately reflect your business’s true loss exposure. Another big benefit is that you can participate in the captive’s underwriting profits and investment income. When you pay commercial health insurance premiums, a big chunk of your payment goes toward the insurer’s underwriting profit. But when you form a captive, you retain this profit through the captive. Also, your business can enjoy investment and cash flow benefits by investing premiums yourself instead of paying them to a commercial insurer.
A captive insurance company may also save you tax dollars. For example, premiums paid to a captive are tax-deductible and the captive can deduct most of its loss reserves. To qualify for federal income tax purposes, a captive must meet several criteria. These include properly priced premiums based on actuarial and underwriting considerations and a sufficient level of risk distribution as determined by the IRS. Recent U.S. Tax Court rulings have determined that risk distribution exists if there’s a large enough pool of unrelated risks — or, in other words, if risk is spread over a sufficient number of employees. This is true regardless of how many entities are involved. Additional tax benefits may be available if your captive qualifies as a “microcaptive” (a captive with $2.2 million or less in premiums that meets certain additional tests): you may elect to exclude premiums from income and pay taxes only on net investment income. Be aware, however, that you’ll lose certain deductions with this election. Also keep in mind that there are some potential drawbacks to forming a captive insurance company. Contact us to learn more about the tax treatment and other pros and cons of captive insurance - we have extensive experience servicing this industry. © 2017
A new accounting standard on credit losses goes into effect in 2020 for public companies and 2021 for private ones. It will result in earlier recognition of losses and expand the range of information considered in determining expected credit losses. Here’s how the new methodology differs from existing practice.
Under existing U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), financial institutions must apply an “incurred loss” model when recognizing credit losses on financial assets measured at amortized cost. This model delays recognition until a loss is “probable” (or likely) to be incurred, based on past events and current conditions. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) found that, leading up to the global financial crisis, financial statement users made independent estimates of expected credit losses using forward-looking information and then devalued financial institutions before the institutions were permitted to recognize the losses. This practice made it clear that the requirements under GAAP weren’t meeting the needs of financial statement users.
Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-13, Financial Instruments — Credit Losses (Topic 326), introduces a new “current expected credit loss” (CECL) model. The CECL model requires financial institutions to immediately record the full amount of expected credit losses in their loan portfolios based on forward-looking information, rather than waiting until the losses are deemed probable based on what’s already happened. The FASB expects this change to result in more timely and relevant information. The measurement of expected credit losses will be based on relevant information about past events (including historical experience), current conditions, and the “reasonable and supportable” forecasts that affect the collectibility of the reported amount. Specifically, an allowance for credit losses will be deducted from the amortized cost of the financial asset to present its net carrying value on the balance sheet. The income statement will reflect the measurement of credit losses for newly recognized financial assets, as well as the expected increases or decreases of expected credit losses that have taken place during the relevant reporting period. Companies will be allowed to continue using many of the loss estimation techniques currently employed, including loss rate methods, probability of default methods, discount cash flow methods and aging schedules. But the inputs of those techniques will change to reflect the full amount of expected credit losses and the use of reasonable and supportable forecasts.
We Can Help
The updated guidance doesn’t prescribe a specific technique to estimate credit losses — rather, companies can exercise judgment to determine which method is appropriate. Contact us if you need help finding the optimal method for identifying and quantifying credit losses, along with complying with the expanded disclosure requirements. © 2017
It’s a safe bet that state tax authorities will let you know if you haven’t paid enough sales and use taxes, but what are the odds that you’ll be notified if you’ve paid too much? The chances are slim — so slim that many businesses use reverse audits to find overpayments so they can seek reimbursements.
Take All of Your Exemptions
In most states, businesses are exempt from sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing or recycling, and many states don’t require them to pay taxes on the utilities and chemicals used in these processes, either. In some states, custom software, computers and peripherals are exempt if they’re used for research and development projects. This is just a sampling of sales and use tax exemptions that might be available. Unless you’re diligent about claiming exemptions, you may be missing out on some to which you’re entitled. Many businesses have sales and use tax compliance systems to guard against paying too much, but if you haven’t reviewed yours recently, it may not be functioning properly. Employee turnover, business expansion or downsizing, and simple mistakes all can take their toll.
Look Back and Broadly
The audit should extend across your business, going back as far as the statute of limitations on state tax reviews. If your state auditors can review all records for the four years preceding the audit, for example, your reverse audit should encompass the same timeframe. What types of payments should be reviewed? You may have made overpayments on components of manufactured products as well as on the equipment you use to make the products. Other areas where overpayments may occur, depending on state laws, include: pollution control equipment and supplies, safety equipment, warehouse equipment, software licenses, maintenance fees, protective clothing, and service transactions. When considering whether you may have overpaid taxes in these and other areas, a clear understanding of your operations is key. If, for example, you want to ensure you’re receiving maximum benefit from industrial processing exemptions, you must know where your manufacturing process begins and ends.
Save Now and Later
Reverse audits can be time consuming and complicated, but a little pain can bring significant gain. Use your reverse audit not only to reap tax refund rewards now but also to update your compliance systems to help ensure you don’t overpay taxes in the future. Rules and regulations surrounding state sales and use tax refunds are complicated. We can help you understand them and ensure your refund claims are properly prepared before you submit them. © 2017
If your business is a limited liability company (LLC) or a limited liability partnership (LLP), you know that these structures offer liability protection and flexibility as well as tax advantages. But they once also had a significant tax disadvantage: The IRS used to treat all LLC and LLP owners as limited partners for purposes of the passive activity loss (PAL) rules, which can result in negative tax consequences. Fortunately, these days LLC and LLP owners can be treated as general partners, which means they can meet any one of seven “material participation” tests to avoid passive treatment.
The PAL Rules
The PAL rules prohibit taxpayers from offsetting losses from passive business activities (such as limited partnerships or rental properties) against nonpassive income (such as wages, interest, dividends and capital gains). Disallowed losses may be carried forward to future years and deducted from passive income or recovered when the passive business interest is sold. There are two types of passive activities: 1) trade or business activities in which you don’t materially participate during the year, and 2) rental activities, even if you do materially participate (unless you qualify as a “real estate professional” for federal tax purposes).
The 7 Tests
Material participation in this context means participation on a “regular, continuous and substantial” basis. Unless you’re a limited partner, you’re deemed to materially participate in a business activity if you meet just one of seven tests: 1. You participate in the activity at least 500 hours during the year; 2. Your participation constitutes substantially all of the participation for the year by anyone, including nonowners; 3. You participate more than 100 hours and as much or more than any other person; 4. The activity is a “significant participation activity” — that is, you participate more than 100 hours — but you participate less than one or more other people yet your participation in all of your significant participation activities for the year totals more than 500 hours; 5. You materially participated in the activity for any five of the preceding 10 tax years; 6. The activity is a personal service activity in which you materially participated in any three previous tax years; 7. Regardless of the number of hours, based on all the facts and circumstances, you participate in the activity on a regular, continuous and substantial basis. The rules are more restrictive for limited partners, who can establish material participation only by satisfying tests 1, 5 or 6. In many cases, meeting one of the material participation tests will require diligently tracking every hour spent on your activities associated with that business. Questions about the material participation tests? Contact us. © 2017
The Avrahami ruling reinforces suggested best practices for Captive Insurance operations. Captives, like any other business, must place a premium on compliance and business ethics. I recently gave a talk at the North Carolina Captive Conference about these very best practices and how critical their implementation is to the business operations. We are available to navigate the complicated landscape and help set your Captive up for success.
Click here for a brief overview and background on the case.
Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), there are strict rules on when to recognize revenues and expenses. Here’s important information about end of period accounting “cutoffs” as companies start to adopt the new revenue recognition standard.
How closely does your company follow the cutoff rules? The end of the period serves as a “cutoff” for recognizing revenue and expenses. However, some companies may be tempted to play timing games to lower taxes or boost financial results. To illustrate, let’s suppose a calendar-year, accrual-basis car dealer allows a customer to take home a minivan for a weekend test drive on December 29, 2017. The sales manager has verbally negotiated a deal with the customer, but the customer still needs to crunch the numbers with his spouse. The customer plans to return on January 2 to close the deal — or return the vehicle. Should the sale be reported in 2017 or 2018? Alternatively, consider a calendar-year, accrual-basis retailer that pays January’s rent on December 29, 2017. Rent is due on the first day of the month. Can the store deduct the extra month’s rent from this year’s taxable income? As tempting as it might be to inflate revenue to impress stakeholders or defer profits to lower your tax bill, the cutoff for a calendar-year business is December 31. So in both examples, the transaction should be reported in 2018.
The rules regarding cutoffs are changing for some companies. Under Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, revenue should be recognized “to depict the transfer of promised goods or services to customers in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled in exchange for the goods or services.” In some cases, the new standard could cause revenue to be reported sooner or later than under the existing rules. The updated standard goes into effect in 2018 for public companies and 2019 for private companies. The new guidance requires management to make judgment calls about identifying performance obligations (promises) in contracts, allocating transaction prices to these promises and estimating variable consideration. These judgments could be susceptible to management bias or manipulation. In turn, the risk of misstatement and the need for expanded disclosures will bring increased attention to revenue recognition practices. So, expect your auditors to ask more questions about cutoff policies and to perform additional audit procedures to test compliance with GAAP. For instance, they’ll likely review a larger sample of customer contracts and invoices to ensure you’re accurately applying the cutoff rules.
Timing is critical in financial reporting. Contact us if you need help understanding the rules on when to record revenue or expenses. We can help you comply with the rules and minimize audit adjustments next audit season. © 2017
Does your company have an internal audit function? If so, you may be able to use your internal audit team to streamline financial reporting by external auditors. Here’s guidance on how to facilitate this collaborative approach.
Recognize the Benefits
External auditors aren’t required to use internal auditors in any capacity. But collaboration between internal and external audit teams can be a win-win. Collaboration can help minimize disruptions to normal business operations that sometimes happen during external audit fieldwork. And internal audit personnel may have information that’s useful to the external auditor in obtaining an understanding of the entity and its environment and identifying and assessing risks of material misstatement.
Understand AICPA Guidance
In 2014, the Auditing Standards Board (ASB) of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) issued Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 128, Using the Work of Internal Auditors. This standard clarifies an external auditor’s responsibilities when using internal auditors. SAS 128 differentiates between two types of assistance provided by the internal audit function. Specifically, external auditors may consider using internal auditors to: obtain audit evidence, and provide direct assistance under the direction, supervision and review of the external auditor. One of the most significant changes in SAS 128 is the requirement for the internal audit function to apply a systematic and disciplined approach to planning, performing, supervising, reviewing and documenting its activities. This includes having appropriate quality control policies and procedures. If the external auditor determines that the internal audit function lacks a systematic and disciplined approach to its activities, the external auditor can’t use the work of the internal auditor in obtaining audit evidence. Additionally, SAS 128 requires management (or other parties charged with governance) to provide a written acknowledgment that internal auditors providing direct assistance will be permitted to follow the instructions of the external auditor and that the entity won’t interfere in the work the internal auditor performs for the external auditor.
Challenge the Status Quo
SAS 128 could change the role your internal auditors play on our external audit team. So, before your next audit, let’s evaluate whether your internal audit function meets the requirements of SAS 128. If so, we can leverage our capabilities, ensuring that next year’s fieldwork will run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. © 2017
Unemployment tax rates for employers vary from state to state. Your unemployment tax bill may be influenced by the number of former employees who’ve filed unemployment claims with the state, your current number of employees and your business’s age. Typically, the more claims made against a business, the higher the unemployment tax bill.
Here are six ways to control your unemployment tax costs:
1. Buy down your unemployment tax rate if your state permits it. Some states allow employers to annually buy down their rate. If you’re eligible, this could save you substantial dollars in unemployment taxes.
2. Hire new staff conservatively. Remember, your unemployment payments are based partly on the number of employees who file unemployment claims. You don’t want to hire employees to fill a need now, only to have to lay them off if business slows. A temporary staffing agency can help you meet short-term needs without permanently adding staff, so you can avoid layoffs. This is also a good way to try out a candidate.
3. Assess candidates before hiring them. Often it’s worth a small financial investment to have job candidates undergo prehiring assessments to see if they’re the right match for your business and the position available. Hiring carefully will increase the likelihood that new employees will work out.
4. Train for success. Many unemployment insurance claimants are awarded benefits despite employer assertions that the employee failed to perform adequately. Often this is because the hearing officer concluded the employer hadn’t provided the employee with enough training to succeed in the position.
5. Handle terminations thoughtfully. If you must terminate an employee, consider giving him or her severance as well as offering outplacement benefits. Severance pay may reduce or delay the start of unemployment insurance benefits. Effective outplacement services may hasten the end of unemployment insurance benefits, because the claimant has found a new job.
6. Leverage an acquisition. If you’ve recently acquired another company, it may have a lower established tax rate that you can use instead of the tax rate that’s been set for your existing business. You also may be able to request the transfer of the previous company’s unemployment reserve fund balance. If you have questions about unemployment taxes and how you can reduce them, contact our firm. We’d be pleased to help. © 2017
For years, private companies and their stakeholders have complained that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) catered too much to large, public companies and ignored the needs of smaller, privately held organizations that have less complex financial reporting issues. In other words, they’ve said that U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are too complicated for them. The FASB answered these complaints by issuing some Accounting Standards Updates (ASUs) that apply exclusively to private companies.
Currently there are four ASUs that apply only to private companies: 1. ASU No. 2014-02, Intangibles — Goodwill and Other (Topic 350): Accounting for Goodwill. Under this alternative, private companies may elect to amortize goodwill on their balance sheets over a period not to exceed 10 years, rather than test it annually for impairment. 2. ASU No. 2014-03, Derivatives and Hedging (Topic 815): Accounting for Certain Receive-Variable, Pay-Fixed Interest Rate Swaps — Simplified Hedge Accounting Approach. This alternative allows nonfinancial institution private companies to elect an easier form of hedge accounting when they use simple interest rate swaps to secure fixed-rate loans. 3. ASU No. 2014-18, Business Combinations (Topic 805): Accounting for Identifiable Intangible Assets in a Business Combination. This alternative exempts private companies from recognizing certain hard-to-value intangible assets — such as noncompetes and certain customer-related intangibles — when they buy or merge with another company. It doesn’t eliminate the requirement to recognize and separately value other intangible assets acquired in business combinations, such as trade names and patents. 4. ASU No. 2014-07, Consolidation (Topic 810): Applying Variable Interest Entities Guidance to Common Control Leasing Arrangements. This option simplifies the consolidation reporting requirements of lessors in certain private company leasing transactions. It’s important to note that the FASB is currently considering expanding this alternative: In June 2017, the FASB issued a proposal that would allow private companies that use variable interest entities (VIEs) to skip the consolidation guidance. Comments on the proposal are due on September 5.
No Effective Dates or Preferability Assessments
After the FASB issued these alternatives, it updated the guidance to remove the effective dates. It also has exempted private companies from having to make a preferability assessment before adopting one of these accounting alternatives. Under the previous rules, a private company that wanted to adopt an accounting alternative after its effective date had to first assess whether the alternative was preferable to its accounting policy at that time. Forgoing an initial preferability assessment allows private companies to adopt a private company accounting alternative when they experience a change in circumstances or management’s strategic plan. It also allows private companies that were unaware of an accounting alternative to adopt the alternative without having to bear the cost of justifying preferability.
Right for You?
Simplified reporting sounds like a smart idea, but regulators, lenders and other stakeholders may require a private company to continue to apply traditional accounting models, especially if the company is large enough to consider going public or may merge with a public company. We can help private companies weigh the pros and cons of electing these alternatives. © 2017
With an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), employee participants take part ownership of the business through a retirement savings arrangement. Meanwhile, the business and its existing owner(s) can benefit from some potential tax breaks, an extra-motivated workforce and potentially a smoother path for succession planning.
How ESOPs Work
To implement an ESOP, you establish a trust fund and either: Contribute shares of stock or money to buy the stock (an “unleveraged” ESOP), or Borrow funds to initially buy the stock, and then contribute cash to the plan to enable it to repay the loan (a “leveraged” ESOP). The shares in the trust are allocated to individual employees’ accounts, often using a formula based on their respective compensation. The business has to formally adopt the plan and submit plan documents to the IRS, along with certain forms.
Among the biggest benefits of an ESOP is that contributions to qualified retirement plans such as ESOPs typically are tax-deductible for employers. However, employer contributions to all defined contribution plans, including ESOPs, are generally limited to 25% of covered payroll. In addition, C corporations with leveraged ESOPs can deduct contributions used to pay interest on the loan. That is, the interest isn’t counted toward the 25% limit. Dividends paid on ESOP stock passed through to employees or used to repay an ESOP loan, so long as they’re reasonable, may be tax-deductible for C corporations. Dividends voluntarily reinvested by employees in company stock in the ESOP also are usually deductible by the business. (Employees, however, should review the tax implications of dividends.) In another potential benefit, shareholders in some closely held C corporations can sell stock to the ESOP and defer federal income taxes on any gains from the sale, with several stipulations. One is that the ESOP must own at least 30% of the company’s stock immediately after the sale. In addition, the sellers must reinvest the proceeds (or an equivalent amount) in qualified replacement property securities of domestic operation corporations within a set period of time. Finally, when a business owner is ready to retire or otherwise depart the company, the business can make tax-deductible contributions to the ESOP to buy out the departing owner’s shares or have the ESOP borrow money to buy the shares.
More Tax Considerations
There are tax benefits for employees, too. Employees don’t pay tax on stock allocated to their ESOP accounts until they receive distributions. But, as with most retirement plans, if they take a distribution before they turn 59½ (or 55, if they’ve terminated employment), they may have to pay taxes and penalties — unless they roll the proceeds into an IRA or another qualified retirement plan. Also be aware that an ESOP’s tax impact for entity types other than C corporations varies somewhat from what we’ve discussed here. And while an ESOP offers many potential benefits, it also presents risks. For help determining whether an ESOP makes sense for your business, contact us. © 2017
Cash flow statement reporting is a leading cause of company financial restatements. Do you know how to categorize items on your statement of cash flows? Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-15, Statement of Cash Flows (Topic 230): Classification of Certain Cash Receipts and Cash Payments, attempts to minimize diversity in cash flow reporting practices.
Accounting Standards Codification Topic 230, Statement of Cash Flows, provides guidance on classifying and presenting cash receipts and payments as operating, investing or financing activities. Critics say the existing guidance is confusing and, at times, even contradictory. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) began its work on improving the statement of cash flows in April 2014. The cash flow project was a large undertaking. It wasn’t until August 2016 that the FASB launched the first part of its cash flow project by providing clarity on the following eight issues: 1. Debt prepayment and debt extinguishment costs (penalties paid by borrowers to settle debts early) should be classified as cash outflows for financing activities. 2. Cash payments attributable to accreted interest on zero-coupon bonds (a type of debt security that is issued or traded at significant discounts) should be classified as a cash outflow for operating activities. The portion of cash payments attributable to principal should be classified as a cash outflow for financing activities. 3. Cash payments for the settlement of a contingent consideration liability made by a business after it buys another business should be separated from the purchase price and classified as cash outflows for either financing activities or operating activities. (Contingent consideration is typically an obligation to transfer additional assets or equity interests to the former owners of the acquired business if certain conditions are met.) Cash payments up to the amount of the contingent consideration liability recognized at the acquisition date should be classified as financing activities. Any excess should be classified as operating activities. 4. The proceeds from the settlement of insurance claims should be classified based on the type of insurance coverage and the type of loss. For example, a claim to cover destruction of a building would be classified as an investing activity, while a claim to cover loss of inventory would be classified as an operating activity. 5. Proceeds businesses receive from corporate-owned life insurance (the insurance policies they take out on employees) should be classified as investing activities. 6. Distributions received from equity method investees should be presumed to be returns on the investment and classified as cash inflows from operating activities, unless the investor’s cumulative distributions received (less distributions received in prior periods that were determined to be returns of investment) exceed cumulative equity in earnings recognized by the investor. When such an excess occurs, the current-period distribution up to this excess should be classified as cash inflows from investing activities. No solution was provided for equity method investment measured using the fair value option, however. 7. For beneficial interests in securitization transactions, the updated guidance proposes two changes: 1) Disclosure of a transferor’s beneficial interest obtained in a securitization of financial assets must be classified as a noncash activity, and 2) cash receipts from payments on the transferor’s beneficial interests in securitized trade receivables should be classified as cash inflows from investing activities. These types of transactions are common for financial companies, large retailers and credit card companies. 8. Topic 230 acknowledges that it’s not always clear how cash flows should be classified, especially when cash receipts and payments have characteristics of more than one type of activity. The updated guidance clarifies that the business should look at the activity that’s likely to be the “predominant” source of cash flows for the item.
For public companies, the amendments go into effect for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2017, and interim periods within those fiscal years. For all other entities, the amendments are effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2018, and interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019. Early adoption is permitted. © 2017
Tax reform has been a major topic of discussion in Washington, but it’s still unclear exactly what such legislation will include and whether it will be signed into law this year. However, the last major tax legislation that was signed into law — back in December of 2015 — still has a significant impact on tax planning for businesses. Let’s look at three midyear tax strategies inspired by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act:
1. Buy equipment.
The PATH Act preserved both the generous limits for the Section 179 expensing election and the availability of bonus depreciation. These breaks generally apply to qualified fixed assets, including equipment or machinery, placed in service during the year. For 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000, subject to a $2,030,000 phaseout threshold. Without the PATH Act, the 2017 limits would have been $25,000 and $200,000, respectively. Higher limits are now permanent and subject to inflation indexing. Additionally, for 2017, your business may be able to claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified costs in excess of what you expense under Sec. 179. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019 before it’s set to expire on December 31, 2019.
2. Ramp up research.
After years of uncertainty, the PATH Act made the research credit permanent. For qualified research expenses, the credit is generally equal to 20% of expenses over a base amount that’s essentially determined using a historical average of research expenses as a percentage of revenues. There’s also an alternative computation for companies that haven’t increased their research expenses substantially over their historical base amounts. In addition, a small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts may claim the credit against its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And, a start-up company with less than $5 million in gross receipts may claim the credit against up to $250,000 in employer Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes.
3. Hire workers from “target groups.”
Your business may claim the Work Opportunity credit for hiring a worker from one of several “target groups,” such as food stamp recipients and certain veterans. The PATH Act extended the credit through 2019. It also added a new target group: long-term unemployment recipients. Generally, the maximum Work Opportunity credit is $2,400 per worker. But it’s higher for workers from certain target groups, such as disabled veterans. One last thing to keep in mind is that, in terms of tax breaks, “permanent” only means that there’s no scheduled expiration date. Congress could still pass legislation that changes or eliminates “permanent” breaks. But it’s unlikely any of the breaks discussed here would be eliminated or reduced for 2017. To keep up to date on tax law changes and get a jump start on your 2017 tax planning, contact us. © 2017
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) is commonly used to assess financial health and evaluate investment decisions. But sometimes this metric overstates a company’s true performance, ability to service debt, and value. That’s why internal and external stakeholders should exercise caution when reviewing EBITDA.
History of EBITDA
The market’s preoccupation with EBITDA started during the leveraged buyout craze of the 1980s. The metric was especially popular among public companies in capital-intensive industries, such as steel, wireless communications and cable television. Many EBITDA proponents claim it provides a clearer view of long-term financial performance, because EBITDA generally excludes nonrecurring events and one-time capital expenditures. Today, EBITDA is the third most quoted performance metric — behind earnings per share and operating cash flow — in the “management discussion and analysis” section of public companies’ annual financial statements. The corporate obsession with EBITDA has also infiltrated smaller, private entities that tend to use oversimplified EBITDA pricing multiples in mergers and acquisitions. And it’s provided technology and telecommunication companies with a convenient way to dress up lackluster performance.
EBITDA isn’t recognized under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a measure of profitability or cash flow. Without formal guidance, companies have been free to define EBITDA any way they choose — which can make it difficult to assess company performance. For example, some analysts when calculating EBITDA subtract nonrecurring and extraordinary business charges, such as goodwill impairment, restructuring expenses, and the cost of long-term incentive compensation and stock option plans. Others, however, subtract none or only some of those charges. Therefore, comparing EBITDA between companies can be like comparing apples and oranges. Moreover, the metric fails to consider changes in working capital requirements, income taxes, principal repayments and capital expenditures. When used in mergers and acquisitions, EBITDA pricing multiples generally fail to address the company’s asset management efficiency, the condition and use of its fixed assets, or the existence of nonoperating assets and unrecorded liabilities. In fact, many high profile accounting scandals and bankruptcies have been linked to the misuse of EBITDA, including those involving WorldCom, Cablevision, Vivendi, Enron and Sunbeam.
Despite these shortcomings, EBITDA isn’t all bad. It can provide insight when used in conjunction with more traditional metrics, such as cash flow, net income and return on investment. For help performing comprehensive due diligence that looks beyond EBITDA, contact us. © 2017
According to IRS Publication 5137, Fringe Benefit Guide, a fringe benefit is “a form of pay (including property, services, cash or cash equivalent), in addition to stated pay, for the performance of services.” But the tax treatment of a fringe benefit can vary dramatically based on the type of benefit. Generally, the IRS takes one of four tax approaches to fringe benefits:
1. Taxable/includable. The value of benefits in this category are taxable because they must be included in employees’ gross income as wages and reported on Form W-2. They’re usually also subject to federal income tax withholding, Social Security tax (unless the employee has already reached the current year Social Security wage base limit) and Medicare tax. Typical examples include cash bonuses and the personal use of a company vehicle.
2. Nontaxable/excludable. Benefits in this category are considered nontaxable because you may exclude them from employees’ wages under a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. Examples include: Working-condition fringe benefits, which are expenses that, if employees had paid for the item themselves, could have been deducted on their personal tax returns (such as subscriptions to business periodicals or websites and some types of on-the-job training), De minimis fringe benefits, which include any employer-provided property or service that has a value so small that accounting for it is “unreasonable or administratively impracticable” (such as occasional coffee, doughnuts or soft drinks and permission to make occasional local telephone calls), Properly documented work-related travel expenses (such as transportation and lodging), Up to $50,000 in group term-life insurance, as long as the policy meets certain IRS requirements, and Employer-paid health care premiums under a qualifying plan.
3. Partially taxable. In some cases, the value of a fringe benefit will be excluded under an IRC section up to a certain dollar limit with the remainder taxable. A public transportation subsidy under Section 132 is one example.
4. Tax-deferred. This designation applies to fringe benefits that aren’t taxable when received but that will be subject to tax later. A common example is employer contributions to a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) plan.
Are you applying the proper tax treatment to each fringe benefit you provide? If not, you could face unexpected tax liabilities or other undesirable consequences. Please contact us with any questions you have about the proper tax treatment of a particular benefit you currently offer or are considering offering. © 2017
It’s common for a business to own not only typical business assets, such as equipment, inventory and furnishings, but also the building where the business operates — and possibly other real estate as well. There can, however, be negative consequences when a business’s real estate is included in its general corporate assets. By holding real estate in a separate entity, owners can save tax and enjoy other benefits, too.
Capturing Tax Savings
Many businesses operate as C corporations so they can buy and hold real estate just as they do equipment, inventory and other assets. The expenses of owning the property are treated as ordinary expenses on the company’s income statement. However, if the real estate is sold, any profit is subject to double taxation: first at the corporate level and then at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. As a result, putting real estate in a C corporation can be a costly mistake. If the real estate is held instead by the business owner(s) or in a pass-through entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or limited partnership, and then leased to the corporation, the profit on a sale of the property is taxed only once — at the individual level.
LLC: The Entity of Choice
The most straightforward and seemingly least expensive way for an owner to maximize the tax benefits is to buy the real estate outright. However, this could transfer liabilities related to the property (such as for injuries suffered on the property ) directly to the owner, putting other assets — including the business — at risk. In essence, it would negate part of the rationale for organizing the business as a corporation in the first place. So, it’s generally best to put real estate in its own limited liability entity. The LLC is most often the vehicle of choice for this. Limited partnerships can accomplish the same ends if there are multiple owners, but the disadvantage is that you’ll incur more expense by having to set up two entities: the partnership itself and typically a corporation to serve as the general partner. We can help you create a plan of ownership for real estate that best suits your situation. © 2017
Interesting read about the virtual workplace and its impact on employee socialization, morale, and effectiveness. We are curious as to how this works in the CPA environment and exploring the concept ourselves.
Auditor independence is still a hot topic among investors and lenders even though the financial crisis of 2008 was nine years ago. Here’s an overview of the independence guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These rules apply specifically to public companies, but auditors of private companies are typically held to the same (or similar) standards.
External auditors are supposed to be “independent” of their audit clients — both in appearance and in fact. This may seem like common sense. But there’s sometimes confusion about the rule, causing the SEC to file auditor independence cases on a regular basis. These enforcement actions generally fall into three broad categories: 1. Auditors who provide prohibited nonaudit services to audit clients, 2. Auditors who enter into prohibited employment (or employment-like) arrangements with audit clients, and 3. Auditors (or associated entities) with prohibited financial ties to audit clients (or their affiliates). To avoid independence-related enforcement actions, it’s important for auditors and their clients to respect the auditor independence guidance. Audit clients generally include companies whose financial statements are being audited, reviewed or otherwise attested — and any affiliates of those companies.
Unsure whether an assignment violates the auditor independence guidance? Consider these questions: 1. Does it create a mutual or conflicting interest? 2. Does it put the auditor in a position of auditing his or her own work? 3. Does it result in the auditor acting as a member of management or an employee of its audit client? 4. Does it put the auditor in a position of being the client’s advocate? Affirmative answers may indicate possible independence issues. The SEC applies these factors on a fact-sensitive, case-by-case basis. Examples of prohibited nonaudit services for public audit clients include bookkeeping, financial information systems design, valuation services, management functions, legal services and expert services unrelated to the audit. The auditor independence guidance applies to audit firms, covered people in those firms and their immediate family members. The concept of “covered people” extends beyond audit team members. It may include individuals in the firm’s chain of command who might affect the audit process, as well as other current and former partners and managers.
Independence is Universal
CPAs are public watchdogs — we protect the interests of not only public company investors but also private company shareholders and financial institutions that lend money to companies of all sizes. Our auditors are committed to maintaining independence in order to provide accurate and reliable financial statements that stakeholders can count on. If you have concerns about auditor independence issues, please contact us to discuss them. © 2017
The sweeping new revenue recognition standard goes into effect soon. But many companies are behind on implementing it. Whether your company is public or private, you can’t afford to delay the implementation process any longer.
Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, requires companies following U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to use a principles-based approach for recognizing revenues from long-term contracts. Under the new guidance, companies must follow five steps when deciding how and when to recognize revenues: 1. Identify a contract with a customer. 2. Separate the contract’s commitments. 3. Determine the transaction price. 4. Allocate a price to each promise. 5. Recognize revenue when or as the company transfers the promised good or service to the customer, depending on the type of contract. In some cases, the new guidance will result in earlier revenue recognition than in current practice. This is because the new standard will require companies to estimate the effects of sales incentives, discounts and warranties.
The new standard goes into effect for public companies next year. Private companies have a one-year reprieve. The breadth of change that will be experienced from the new standard depends on the industry. Companies that currently follow specific industry-based guidance, such as software, real estate, asset management and wireless carrier companies, will feel the biggest changes. Nearly all companies will be affected by the expanded disclosure requirements. Some companies that have already started the implementation process have found that it’s more challenging than they initially expected, especially if the company issues comparative statements. Reporting comparative results in accordance with the new standard requires a two-year head start to ensure all of the relevant data is accurately collected.
Reasons for Procrastination
Why are so many companies dragging their feet? Reasons may include: Lack of funding or staff, Challenges interpreting the standard’s technical requirements, and Difficulty collecting data. Many companies remain uncertain how to prepare their accounting systems and recordkeeping to accommodate the changes, even though the FASB has issued several amendments to help clarify the guidance. In addition, the AICPA’s FinREC has published industry-specific interpretive guidance to address specific implementation issues related to the revenue recognition standard. Got contracts? We’ve already helped other companies start the implementation process — and we’re ready to help get you up to speed, too. Contact us for questions on how the new revenue recognition standard will impact your financial statements and accounting systems. © 2017
Donating to charity is more than good business citizenship; it can also save tax. Here are three lesser-known federal income tax breaks for charitable donations by businesses.
Charitable write-offs for donated food (such as by restaurants and grocery stores) are normally limited to the lower of the taxpayer’s basis in the food (generally cost) or fair market value (FMV), but an enhanced deduction equals the lesser of: The food’s basis plus one-half the FMV in excess of basis, or Two times the basis. To qualify, the food must be apparently wholesome at the time it’s donated. Your total charitable write-off for food donations under the enhanced deduction provision can’t exceed: 15% of your net income for the year (before considering the enhanced deduction) from all sole proprietorships, S corporations and partnership businesses (including limited liability companies treated as partnerships for tax purposes) from which food donations were made, or For a C corporation taxpayer, 15% of taxable income for the year (before considering the enhanced deduction).
Qualified Conservation Contributions
Qualified conservation contributions are charitable donations of real property interests, including remainder interests and easements that restrict the use of real property. For qualified C corporation farming and ranching operations, the maximum write-off for qualified conservation contributions is increased from the normal 10% of adjusted taxable income to 100% of adjusted taxable income. Qualified conservation contributions in excess of what can be written off in the year of the donation can be carried forward for 15 years.
S Corporation Stock Donations
A favorable tax basis rule is available to shareholders of S corporations that make charitable donations of appreciated property. For such donations, each shareholder’s basis in the S corporation stock is reduced by only the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s tax basis in the donated asset. Without this provision, a shareholder’s basis reduction would equal the passed-through write-off for the donation (a larger amount than the shareholder’s pro-rata percentage of the company’s basis in the donated asset). This provision is generally beneficial to shareholders, because it leaves them with higher tax basis in their S corporation shares.
If you believe you may be eligible to claim one or more of these tax breaks, contact us. We can help you determine eligibility, prepare the required documentation and plan for charitable donations in future years. © 2017
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has amended U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to clarify the guidance on reporting restricted cash balances on cash flow statements. Until now, Accounting Standards Codification Topic 230, Statement of Cash Flows, didn’t specify how to classify or present changes in restricted cash. Over the years, the lack of specific instructions has led businesses to report transfers between cash and restricted cash as operating, investing or financing activities — or a combination of all three. The new guidance essentially says that none of the above classifications are correct. FASB members hope the amendments will cut down on some of the inconsistent reporting practices that have been in place because of the lack of clear guidance.
Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-18, Statement of Cash Flows (Topic 230) — Restricted Cash, still doesn’t define restricted cash or restricted cash equivalents. But the updated guidance requires that transfers between cash, cash equivalents, and amounts generally described as restricted cash or restricted cash equivalents be excluded from the entity’s operating, investing and financing activities. In other words, the details of those transfers shouldn’t be reported as cash flow activities in the statement of cash flows at all. Instead, if the cash flow statement includes a reconciliation of the total cash balances for the beginning and end of the period, the FASB wants the amounts for restricted cash and restricted cash equivalents to be included with cash and cash equivalents. When, during a reporting period, the totals change for cash, cash equivalents, restricted cash and restricted cash equivalents, the updated guidance requires that these changes be explained. These amounts are typically found just before the reconciliation of net income to net cash provided by operating activities in the statement of cash flows. Moreover, a business must provide narrative and/or tabular disclosures about the nature of restrictions on its cash and cash equivalents.
The updated guidance goes into effect for public companies in fiscal years that start after December 15, 2017. Private companies have an extra year before they have to apply the changes. Early adoption is permitted. Contact us if you have additional questions about reported restricted cash or any other items on your company’s statement of cash flows. © 2017
Please enjoy this article, which is a very nice summary for the multi-family business:
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.) File a 2016 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.
Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2017 estimated income taxes. If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension: File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due. Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans. © 2017
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has clarified its guidance on pro forma compilations. Here’s an explanation of when the new Statement on Standards for Accounting and Review Services (SSARS) applies and what your CPA now expects from you when performing these nontraditional attestation services.
SSARS 22 applies when an accountant has been engaged to perform a compilation engagement on pro forma financial information. Unlike forecasts or projections that reflect prospective financial results, pro forma financial information shows what the historical financial statements would have looked like had a transaction or event — such as a business combination, disposition of a business line or change in capitalization — occurred at an earlier date. The new guidance explains that a compilation engagement on pro forma financial information is often undertaken as a separate engagement. But it can also be done in conjunction with a compilation, a review or an audit of financial statements.
Expectations for Clients
When compiling pro forma statements, what do we expect from you? Under SSARS 22, the company’s management must 1) provide written acknowledgment that it accepts full responsibility for the preparation and fair presentation of the pro forma financial information in accordance with the applicable financial reporting framework, and 2) include (or make readily available) the following in any document containing the pro forma financial information: your company’s financial statements for the most recent year, a summary of significant assumptions, interim period historical financial information, if interim period pro forma financial information is presented, and in the case of a business combination, the relevant historical financial information for the significant constituent parts of the combined entity. Financial statements and historical interim financial information are deemed to be “readily available” if a third party can obtain them without any further action by the entity. For example, historical interim financial information on a company’s website may be considered readily available. However, information that’s available upon request isn’t considered readily available. Additionally, pro forma financial information must be based on historical financial statements that have been compiled, reviewed or audited. Moreover, the new standard requires you to ask your CPA for permission before including the compilation report in any document containing pro forma financial information that indicates that a compilation has been performed on such information.
Up and Running
SSARS 22 is effective for compilation reports on pro forma financial information dated on or after May 1, 2017. We understand these fundamental changes and have updated our practices to comply with the new guidance. Contact us for help compiling your pro formas. © 2017
It’s common for closely held businesses to transfer money into and out of the company, often in the form of a loan. However, the IRS looks closely at such transactions: Are they truly loans, or actually compensation, distributions or contributions to equity?
Loans to Owners
When an owner withdraws funds from the company, the transaction can be characterized as compensation, a distribution or a loan. Loans aren’t taxable, but compensation is and distributions may be. If the company is a C corporation and the transaction is considered a distribution, it can trigger double taxation. If a transaction is considered compensation, it’s deductible by the corporation, so it doesn’t result in double taxation — but it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes. If the company is an S corporation or other pass-through entity and the transaction is considered a distribution, there’s no entity-level tax, so double taxation won’t be an issue. But distributions reduce an owner’s tax basis, which makes it harder to deduct business losses. If the transaction is considered compensation, as with a C corporation, it will be taxable to the owner and subject to payroll taxes.
Loans to the Business
There are also benefits to treating transfers of money from owners to the business as loans. If such advances are treated as contributions to equity, for example, any reimbursements by the company may be taxed as distributions. Loan payments, on the other hand, aren’t taxable, apart from the interest, which is deductible by the company. A loan may also give the owner an advantage in the event of the company’s bankruptcy, because debt obligations are paid before equity is returned.
Is it a Loan or Not?
To enjoy the tax advantages of a loan, it’s important to establish that a transaction is truly a loan. Simply calling a withdrawal or advance a “loan” doesn’t make it so. Whether a transaction is a loan is a matter of intent. It’s a loan if the borrower has an unconditional intent to repay the amount received and the lender has an unconditional intent to obtain repayment. Because the IRS and the courts aren’t mind readers, it’s critical to document loans and treat them like other arm’s-length transactions. This includes: executing a promissory note, charging a commercially reasonable rate of interest — generally, no less than the applicable federal rate, establishing and following a fixed repayment schedule, Securing the loan using appropriate collateral, which will also give the lender bankruptcy priority over unsecured creditors, treating the transaction as a loan in the company’s books, and ensuring that the lender makes reasonable efforts to collect in case of default. Also, to avoid a claim that loans to owner-employees are disguised compensation, you must ensure that they receive reasonable salaries. If you’re considering a loan to or from your business, contact us for more details on how to help ensure it will be considered a loan by the IRS. ©2017
Do you procrastinate when it comes to closing your books and delivering year-end financial statements? Lenders and investors may think the worst if a company’s financial statements aren’t submitted in a timely manner.
Here are three assumptions your stakeholders could make when your financial statements are late.
You’re hiding negative results
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. Deferred financial reporting can lead investors and lenders to presume that the company’s performance has fallen below historical levels or what was forecast at the beginning of the year.
Your management team is inept, uninformed or both
Alternatively, stakeholders may assume that management is hopelessly disorganized and can’t pull together the requisite data to finish the financials. For example, late financials are common when a controller is inexperienced, the accounting department is understaffed or a major accounting rule change has gone into effect. Delayed statements may also signal that management doesn’t consider financial reporting a priority. This lackadaisical mindset implies that no one is monitoring financial performance throughout the year.
You’re more likely to be a victim of occupational fraud
If financial statements aren’t timely or prioritized by the company’s owners, unscrupulous employees may see it as a golden opportunity to steal from the company. Fraud is more difficult to hide if you insist on timely financial statements and take the time to review them.
Get back on track
Late financial statements cost more than time; they can impair relations with lenders and investors. Regardless of your reasons for holding out, timely financial statements are a must for fostering goodwill with outside stakeholders. We can help you stay focused, work through complex reporting issues and communicate weaker-than-expected financial results in a positive, professional manner. © 2017
If your employees incur work-related travel expenses, you can better attract and retain the best talent by reimbursing these expenses. But to secure tax-advantaged treatment for your business and your employees, it’s critical to comply with IRS rules.
Reasons to Reimburse
While unreimbursed work-related travel expenses generally are deductible on a taxpayer’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, many employees won’t be able to benefit from the deduction. Why? It’s likely that some of your employees don’t itemize. Even those who do may not have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income floor. And only expenses in excess of the floor can actually be deducted. On the other hand, reimbursements can provide tax benefits to both your business and the employee. Your business can deduct the reimbursements (also subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment), and they’re excluded from the employee’s taxable income — provided that the expenses are legitimate business expenses and the reimbursements comply with IRS rules. Compliance can be accomplished by using either the per diem method or an accountable plan.
Per Diem Method
The per diem method is simple: Instead of tracking each individual’s actual expenses, you use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, or just for meals and incidental expenses. (If you don’t go with the per diem method for lodging, you’ll need receipts to substantiate those expenses.) The IRS per diem tables list localities here and abroad. They reflect seasonal cost variations as well as the varying costs of the locales themselves — so London’s rates will be higher than Little Rock’s. An even simpler option is to apply the “high-low” per diem method within the continental United States to reimburse employees up to $282 a day for high-cost localities and $189 for other localities. You must be extremely careful to pay employees no more than the appropriate per diem amount. The IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely fail to do so.
An accountable plan is a formal arrangement to advance, reimburse or provide allowances for business expenses. To qualify as “accountable,” your plan must meet the following criteria: It must pay expenses that would otherwise be deductible by the employee. Payments must be for “ordinary and necessary” business expenses. Employees must substantiate these expenses — including amounts, times and places — ideally at least monthly. Employees must return any advances or allowances they can’t substantiate within a reasonable time, typically 120 days. If you fail to meet these conditions, the IRS will treat your plan as nonaccountable, transforming all reimbursements into wages taxable to the employee, subject to income taxes (employee) and employment taxes (employer and employee). Whether you have questions about which reimbursement option is right for your business or the additional rules and limits that apply to each, contact us. We’d be pleased to help. ©2017
By midyear, most businesses that follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) have issued their year-end financial statements. But how many have actually used them to improve their business operations in the future? Producing financial statements is more than a matter of compliance — owners and managers can use them to analyze performance and find ways to remedy inefficiencies and anomalies. How? Let’s start by looking at the income statement.
Ratio analysis facilitates comparisons over time and against industry norms. Here are four ratios you can compute from income statement data: 1. Gross profit. This is profit after cost of goods sold divided by sales. This critical ratio indicates whether the company can operate profitably. It’s a good ratio to compare to industry statistics because it tends to be calculated on a consistent basis. 2. Net profit margin. This is calculated by dividing net income by sales and is the ultimate scorecard for management. If the margin is rising, the company must be doing something right. Often, this ratio is computed on a pretax basis to accommodate for differences in tax rates between pass-through entities and C corporations. 3. Return on assets. This is calculated by dividing net income by the company’s total assets. The return shows how efficiently management is using its assets. 4. Return on equity. This is calculated by dividing net profits by shareholders’ equity. The resulting figure tells how well the shareholders’ investment is performing compared to competing investment vehicles. For all four profitability ratios, look at two key elements: changes between accounting periods and differences from industry averages.
Plugging Profit Drains
What if your company’s profitability ratios have deteriorated compared to last year or industry norms? Rather than overreacting to a decline, it’s important to find the cause. If the whole industry is suffering, the decline is likely part of a macroeconomic trend. If the industry is healthy, yet a company’s margins are falling, management may need to take corrective measures, such as: reining in costs, investing in technology, and/or looking for signs of fraud. For example, if an employee is colluding with a supplier in a kickback scam, direct materials costs may skyrocket, causing the company’s gross profit to fall.
For clues into what’s happening, study the main components of the income statement: gross sales, cost of sales, and selling and administrative costs. Determine if line items have fallen due to company-specific or industrywide trends by comparing them to public companies in the same industry. Also, monitor trade publications, trade associations and the Internet for information. Contact us to discuss possible causes and brainstorm ways to fix any problems. © 2017
In today’s competitive environment, offering employees an equity interest in your business can be a powerful tool for attracting, retaining and motivating quality talent. If your business is organized as a partnership, however, there are some tax traps you should watch out for. Once an employee becomes a partner, you generally can no longer treat him or her as an employee for tax and benefits purposes, which has significant tax implications.
Employees pay half of the Social Security and Medicare taxes on their wages, through withholdings from their paychecks. The employer pays the other half. Partners, on the other hand, are treated as being self-employed — they pay the full amount of “self-employment” taxes through quarterly estimates. Often, when employees receive partnership interests, the partnership continues to treat them as employees for tax purposes, withholding employment taxes from their wages and paying the employer’s share. The problem with this practice is that, because a partner is responsible for the full amount of employment taxes, the partnership’s payment of a portion of those taxes will likely be treated as a guaranteed payment to the partner. That payment would then be included in income and trigger additional employment taxes. Any employment taxes not paid by the partnership on a partner’s behalf are the partner’s responsibility. Treating a partner as an employee can also result in overpayment of employment taxes. Suppose your partnership pays half of a partner’s employment taxes and the partner also has other self-employment activities — for example, interests in other partnerships or sole proprietorships. If those activities generate losses, the losses will offset the partner’s earnings from your partnership, reducing or even eliminating self-employment taxes.
Partners and employees are treated differently for purposes of many benefit plans. For example, employees are entitled to exclude the value of certain employer-provided health, welfare and fringe benefits from income, while partners must include the value in their income (although they may be entitled to a self-employed health insurance deduction). And partners are prohibited from participating in a cafeteria plan. Continuing to treat a partner as an employee for benefits purposes may trigger unwanted tax consequences. And it could disqualify a cafeteria plan.
There are techniques that allow you to continue treating newly minted partners as employees for tax and benefits purposes. For example, you might create a tiered partnership structure and offer employees of a lower-tier partnership interests in an upper-tier partnership. Because these employees aren’t partners in the partnership that employs them, many of the problems discussed above will be avoided. If your business is contemplating offering partnership interests to key employees, contact us for more information about the potential tax consequences and how to avoid any pitfalls. © 2017
Honored to be named a Short List Contender for CPA Firm of the Year by Captive Review!
Think the rules for reporting employee stock options and restricted stock are too complicated? The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) agrees — and it has simplified the rules starting in 2017 for public companies and 2018 for private companies. Here’s how.
Under current U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), for each share-based payment, employers must determine whether the difference between the deduction for tax purposes and the compensation cost recognized for financial reporting purposes results in either an excess tax benefit or a tax deficiency. Currently, when the deduction for a share-based payment for income tax purposes exceeds the compensation cost for accounting purposes, the employer recognizes an excess tax benefit in additional paid-in capital, which is an equity account on the balance sheet. Conversely, tax deficiencies are recognized either as an offset to accumulated excess tax benefits, if any, or in the income statement. Excess tax benefits aren’t recognized until the deduction reduces taxes payable.
Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-09, Compensation — Stock Compensation (Topic 718): Improvements to Employee Share-Based Payment Accounting, moves all accounting for income tax consequences of share-based payments to the income statement. Under the simplified rules: all excess tax benefits and tax deficiencies will be recognized as income tax expense or benefit; the tax effects of exercised or vested awards will be treated as discrete items in the reporting; Employers will recognize excess tax benefits regardless of whether the benefit reduces taxes payable in the current period. The new standard also calls for excess tax benefits to be classified on the statement of cash flows as an operating activity with other income tax cash flows. Under current GAAP, employers are required to separate excess tax benefits from other income tax cash flows and classify them as financing activities.
Alternative for Private Companies
Many people forget that private companies also may award stock options and restricted shares to employees. However, it’s more challenging to value share-based awards for private companies, because their shares don’t trade in the public markets. The updated guidance provides a simplified formula for estimating the expected term for nonpublic entities that issue share-based payments based on a service or performance condition. Under this optional practical expedient, the expected term of a share-based payment will generally be the midpoint between the requisite service period and the contractual term of the award, if vesting is dependent only on a service condition. That formula also applies if the award is dependent on satisfying a performance condition that’s probable of being achieved.
Right for You?
Share-based payments can be an effective way for cash-strapped businesses to attract and retain executives. But the existing accounting rules have discouraged some companies from trying out employee stock options and restricted stock in their compensation plans. With simplification efforts in effect, it’s easier than ever to report these transactions. Contact us to discuss whether share-based payments could work for your company. © 2017
When companies reissue prior financial statements, it raises a red flag to investors and lenders. But not all restatements are bad news. Some result from an honest mistake or misinterpretation of an accounting standard, rather than from incompetence or fraud. Here’s a closer look at restatements and how external auditors can help a company’s management get it right.
Avoid Knee-Jerk Responses
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) defines a restatement as “a revision of a previously issued financial statement to correct an error.” Accountants decide whether to restate a prior period based on whether the error is material to the company’s financial results. Unfortunately, there aren’t any bright-line percentages to determine materiality. When you hear the word “restatement,” don’t automatically think of the frauds that occurred at Xerox, Enron or WorldCom. Some unscrupulous executives do use questionable accounting practices to meet quarterly earnings projections, maintain stock prices and achieve executive compensation incentives. But many restatements result from unintentional errors.
Spot Error-Prone Accounts
Accounting rules can be complex. Recognition errors are one of the most common causes of financial restatements. They sometimes happen when companies implement a change to the accounting rules (such as the updated guidance on leases or revenue recognition) or engage in a complex transaction (such as reporting compensation expense from backdated stock options, hedge accounting, the use of special purpose or variable interest entities, and consolidating with related parties). Income statement and balance sheet misclassifications also cause a large number of restatements. For instance, a borrower may need to shift cash flows between investing, financing and operating on the statement of cash flows. Equity transaction errors, such as improper accounting for business combinations and convertible securities, can also be problematic. Other leading causes of restatements are valuation errors related to common stock issuances, preferred stock errors, and the complex rules related to acquisitions, investments and tax accounting.
Want More Accurate Results?
Restatements also happen when a company upgrades to a higher level of assurance (say, when transitioning from reviewed statements to audited statements). That’s because audits are more likely than compilation or review procedures to catch reporting errors from prior periods. An external auditor is required to “plan and perform an audit to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement, whether caused by error or fraud.” But after the initial transition period, audits typically catch errors before financial statements are published, minimizing the need for restatements. Auditors are trained experts on U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) — and they must take continuing professional education courses to stay atop the latest changes to the rules. In addition to auditing financial statements, we can help implement cost-effective internal control procedures to prevent errors and accurately report error-prone accounts and transactions. Contact us for help correcting a previous error, remedying the source of an error or upgrading to a higher level of assurance. © 2017
The California Competes Tax Credit Program provides over $200 million in tax credits to business owners willing to add just one job. The application period beings July 24, 2017. Contact us for more details.
If you recently filed for your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.
Catching the IRS’s Eye
Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples: significant inconsistencies between previous years’ filings and your most current filing, gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and miscalculated or unusually high deductions. An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.
If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call. The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors. More good news: in no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, you’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you: understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always crystal clear), gather the specific documents and information needed, and respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner. Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place. © 2017
Working capital — current assets minus current liabilities — is a common measure of liquidity. High liquidity generally equates with low risk, but excessive amounts of cash tied up in working capital may detract from growth opportunities and other spending options, such as expanding to new markets, buying equipment and paying down debt. Here are some recent working capital trends and tips for keeping your working capital in shape.
Working capital management among U.S. companies has been relatively flat over the last four years, excluding the performance of oil and gas companies, according to the 2016 U.S. Working Capital Survey published by consulting firm REL and CFO magazine. The overall results were skewed somewhat because oil and gas companies increased their inventory reserves to take advantage of low oil prices, thereby driving up working capital balances for that industry. The study estimates that, if all of the 1,000 companies surveyed managed working capital as efficiently as do the companies in the top quartile of their respective industries, more than $1 trillion of cash would be freed up from receivables, inventory and payables. Rather than improve working capital efficiency, however, many companies have chosen to raise cash with low interest rate debt. Companies in the survey currently carry roughly $4.86 trillion in debt, more than double the level in 2008. As the Federal Reserve Bank increases rates, companies will likely look for ways to manage working capital better.
How can your company decrease the amount of cash that’s tied up in working capital? Best practices vary from industry to industry. Here are three effective exercises for improving working capital: Expedite collections. Possible solutions for converting receivables into cash include: tighter credit policies, early bird discounts, collection-based sales compensation and in-house collection personnel. Companies also can evaluate administrative processes — including invoice preparation, dispute resolution and deposits — to eliminate inefficiencies in the collection cycle. Trim inventory. This account carries many hidden costs, including storage, obsolescence, insurance and security. Consider using computerized inventory systems to help predict demand, enable data-sharing up and down the supply chain, and more quickly reveal variability from theft. Postpone payables. By deferring vendor payments, your company can increase cash on hand. But be careful: Delaying payments for too long can compromise a firm’s credit standing or result in forgone early bird discounts.
From Analysis to Action
No magic formula exists for reducing working capital, but continuous improvement is essential. We can help train you on how to evaluate working capital accounts, identify strengths and weaknesses, and find ways to minimize working capital without compromising supply chain relationships. © 2017
It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines. But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.
Do You Have “Nexus”?
Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations. Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include: Employing workers in the state, owning (or, in some cases even leasing) property there, marketing your products or services in the state, Maintaining a substantial amount of inventory there, and using a local telephone number. Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.
If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you. Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill. The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines. © 2017
Many business owners use a calendar year as their company’s tax year. It’s intuitive and aligns with most owners’ personal returns, making it about as simple as anything involving taxes can be. But for some businesses, choosing a fiscal tax year can make more sense.
What’s a Fiscal Tax Year?
A fiscal tax year consists of 12 consecutive months that don’t begin on January 1 or end on December 31 — for example, July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The year doesn’t necessarily need to end on the last day of a month. It might end on the same day each year, such as the last Friday in March. Flow-through entities (partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies) using a fiscal tax year must file their return by the 15th day of the third month following the close of their fiscal year. So, if their fiscal year ends on March 31, they would need to file their return by June 15. (Fiscal-year C corporations generally must file their return by the 15th day of the fourth month following the fiscal year close.)
When a Fiscal Year Makes Sense
A key factor to consider is that if you adopt a fiscal tax year you must use the same time period in maintaining your books and reporting income and expenses. For many seasonal businesses, a fiscal year can present a more accurate picture of the company’s performance. For example, a snowplowing business might make the bulk of its revenue between November and March. Splitting the revenue between December and January to adhere to a calendar year end would make obtaining a solid picture of performance over a single season difficult. In addition, if many businesses within your industry use a fiscal year end and you want to compare your performance to your peers, you’ll probably achieve a more accurate comparison if you’re using the same fiscal year. Before deciding to change your fiscal year, be aware that the IRS requires businesses that don’t keep books and have no annual accounting period, as well as most sole proprietorships, to use a calendar year.
It Can Make a Difference
If your company decides to change its tax year, you’ll need to obtain permission from the IRS. The change also will likely create a one-time “short tax year” — a tax year that’s less than 12 months. In this case, your income tax typically will be based on annualized income and expenses. But you might be able to use a relief procedure under Section 443(b)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code to reduce your tax bill. Although choosing a tax year may seem like a minor administrative matter, it can have an impact on how and when a company pays taxes. We can help you determine whether a calendar or fiscal year makes more sense for your business. © 2017
Running a business is like going on a road trip — and a detailed business plan that includes a set of pro forma financials can serve as a road map or GPS app that improves your odds of arriving on time and on budget. If your plan doesn’t cover the prospective quantitative details in pro formas, expect to hit some bumps along the road to achieving your strategic goals.
What to Include
Investors and lenders may require business plans from companies that are starting up, seeking additional funding, or restructuring to avoid bankruptcy. Beyond all of the verbiage in the executive summary, business description and market analysis, comprehensive business plans include at least three years of pro forma: Balance sheets (projecting assets, liabilities and equity), Income statements (projecting expected revenue, expenses, gains, losses and net profits), and Cash flow statements (highlighting sources and uses of cash from operating, financing and investing activities). Pro forma financial statements are the quantitative details that back up the qualitative portions of your business plan. Pro formas tell stakeholders that management is aware of when cash flow and capacity shortages are likely to occur and how sensitive the results are to changes in the underlying assumptions.
How to Crunch the Numbers
Unless you’re launching a start-up, historical financial statements are the usual starting point for pro forma financials. Historical statements tell where the company is now. The next step is to ask, “Where do we want to be in three, five or 10 years?” Long-term goals fuel the assumptions that, in turn, drive the pro formas. For example, suppose a company with $5 million in sales wants that figure to double over a three-year period. How will it get from Point A ($5 million in 2016) to Point B ($10 million in 2019)? Many roads lead to the desired destination. Management could, for example, hire new salespeople, acquire the assets of a bankrupt competitor, build a new plant or launch a new product line. Attach a “statement of assumptions” to your pro forma financials, which shows how you plan to achieve your goals and how the changes will flow through the financial statements.
Running a company following a business plan that doesn’t include pro forma financials is like going on a road trip with an unreliable GPS app or a bad map: Pro formas help you monitor where you are, what alternate routes or side trips exist along the way, and how close you are to the final destination. We can help you prepare pro forma financial statements, compare expected to actual results and adjust your assumptions as needed. © 2017
Private companies with more than one owner should have a buy-sell agreement to spell out how ownership shares will change hands should an owner depart. For businesses structured as C corporations, the agreements also have significant tax implications that are important to understand.
A buy-sell agreement sets up parameters for the transfer of ownership interests following stated “triggering events,” such as an owner’s death or long-term disability, loss of license or other legal incapacitation, retirement, bankruptcy, or divorce. The agreement typically will also specify how the purchase price for the departing owner’s shares will be determined, such as by stating the valuation method to be used. Another key issue a buy-sell agreement addresses is funding. In many cases, business owners don’t have the cash readily available to buy out a departing owner. So insurance is commonly used to fund these agreements. And this is where different types of agreements — which can lead to tax issues for C corporations — come into play. Under a cross-purchase agreement, each owner buys life or disability insurance (or both) that covers the other owners, and the owners use the proceeds to purchase the departing owner’s shares. Under a redemption agreement, the company buys the insurance and, when an owner exits the business, buys his or her shares. Sometimes a hybrid agreement is used that combines aspects of both approaches. It may stipulate that the company gets the first opportunity to redeem ownership shares and that, if the company is unable to buy the shares, the remaining owners are then responsible for doing so. Alternatively, the owners may have the first opportunity to buy the shares.
C corp. tax consequences
A C corp. with a redemption agreement funded by life insurance can face adverse tax consequences. First, receipt of insurance proceeds could trigger corporate alternative minimum tax. Second, the value of the remaining owners’ shares will probably rise without increasing their basis. This, in turn, could drive up their tax liability if they later sell their shares. Heightened liability for the corporate alternative minimum tax is generally unavoidable under these circumstances. But you may be able to manage the second problem by revising your buy-sell as a cross-purchase agreement. Under this approach, owners will buy additional shares themselves — increasing their basis. Naturally, there are downsides. If owners are required to buy a departing owner’s shares, but the company redeems the shares instead, the IRS may characterize the purchase as a taxable dividend. Your business may be able to mitigate this risk by crafting a hybrid agreement that names the corporation as a party to the transaction and allows the remaining owners to buy back the shares without requiring them to do so. For more information on the tax ramifications of buy-sell agreements, contact us. And if your business doesn’t have a buy-sell in place yet, we can help you figure out which type of funding method will best meet your needs while minimizing any negative tax consequences. © 2017
BARTERING MAY BE CASH-FREE, BUT IT’S NOT TAX-FREE
Bartering might seem like something that happened only in ancient times, but the practice is still common today. And the general definition remains the same: the exchange of goods and services without the exchange of money. Because no cash changes hands in a typical barter transaction, it’s easy to forget about taxes. But, as one might expect, you can’t cut Uncle Sam out of the deal. A taxing transaction The IRS generally treats a barter exchange similarly to a transaction involving cash, so you must report as income the fair market value of the products or services you receive. If there are business expenses associated with the transaction, those can be deducted. Any income arising from a bartering arrangement is generally taxable in the year you receive the bartered product or service. And income tax liability isn’t the only thing you’ll need to consider. Barter activities may also trigger self-employment taxes, employment taxes or an excise tax.
Barter in Action
Let’s look at an example. Mike, a painting contractor, requires legal representation for a lawsuit. He engages Maria as legal counsel to represent him during the litigation. Maria charges Mike $6,000 for her work on the case. Being short of cash, Mike agrees to paint Maria’s office in exchange for her $6,000 fee. Both Mike and Maria must report $6,000 of taxable gross income during the year the exchange takes place. Because Mike and Maria each operate a viable business, they’re entitled to deduct any business expenses resulting from the barter transaction.
Using an Exchange Company
You may wish to arrange a bartering deal through an exchange company. For a fee, one of these companies can allow you to network with other businesses looking to trade goods and services. For tax purposes, a barter exchange company typically must issue a Form 1099-B, “Proceeds From Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions,” annually to its clients or members. Although bartering may appear cut and dried, the tax implications can complicate the deal. We can help you assess a bartering arrangement and manage the tax impact. © 2017
Accounts receivable represents a major asset for many companies. But how do your company’s receivables compare to others? Here’s the skinny on receivables ratios, including how they’re computed and sources of potential benchmarking data.
A logical starting point for evaluating the quality of receivables is the days sales outstanding (DSO) ratio. This represents the average number of days you take to collect money after booking sales. It can be computed by dividing the average accounts receivable balance by annual revenues and then multiplying the result by 365 days. Companies that are diligent about managing receivables may be rewarded with lower DSO ratios. Those with relatively high DSO ratios may have “stale” receivables on the books. In some cases, these accounts may be overdue by 31 to 90 days — or longer. If more than 20% of receivables are stale, it may indicate lax collection habits, a poor-quality customer base or other serious issues. The percentage of delinquent accounts is another critical number. You may decide to outsource these accounts to third-party collectors to eliminate the hassles of making collections calls and threatening legal actions to collect what you’re owed.
Accounts receivable also may be a convenient place to hide fraud because of the high volume of transactions involved. When receivables are targeted in a fraud scheme, it’s common for there to be an increase in stale receivables, a higher percentage of write-offs compared to previous periods, or an increase in receivables as a percentage of sales or total assets. In addition to creating phony invoices or customers, a dishonest worker may engage in lapping scams. This happens when a receivables clerk assigns payments to incorrect accounts to conceal systematic embezzlement. For example, a fraudster might steal Company A’s payment and cover it up by subsequently applying Company B’s payment to Company A’s outstanding balance. Then Company C’s payment is later applied to Company B’s outstanding balance, and so on. Alternatively, a fraudster may send the customer an inflated invoice and then “skim” the difference after applying the legitimate amount to the customer’s account. Using separate employees for invoicing and recording payments helps reduce the likelihood that skimming will occur, unless two or more employees work together to steal from their employer.
Call for Help
Like any valuable asset, accounts receivable needs to be managed and safeguarded. Auditors evaluate receivables as part of their standard auditing procedures, including performing ratio analysis, sending confirmation letters and reconciling bank deposits with customer receipts. Contact us if you have any concerns regarding receivables midyear or your financial statements aren’t audited. In addition to surprise audits, we can customize an agreed-upon-procedures engagement that zeroes in on receivables. © 2017
Reimbursing employees for education expenses can both strengthen the capabilities of your staff and help you retain them. In addition, you and your employees may be able to save valuable tax dollars. But you have to follow IRS rules. Here are a couple of options for maximizing tax savings.
A Fringe Benefit
Qualifying reimbursements and direct payments of job-related education costs are excludable from employees’ wages as working condition fringe benefits. This means employees don’t have to pay tax on them. Plus, you can deduct these costs as employee education expenses (as opposed to wages), and you don’t have to withhold income tax or withhold or pay payroll taxes on them. To qualify as a working condition fringe benefit, the education expenses must be ones that employees would be allowed to deduct as a business expense if they’d paid them directly and weren’t reimbursed. Basically, this means the education must relate to the employees’ current occupations and not qualify them for new jobs. There’s no ceiling on the amount employees can receive tax-free as a working condition fringe benefit.
An Educational Assistance Program
Another approach is to establish a formal educational assistance program. The program can cover both job-related and non-job-related education. Reimbursements can include costs such as: Undergraduate or graduate-level tuition, Fees, Books, and Equipment and supplies. Reimbursement of materials employees can keep after the courses end (except for textbooks) aren’t eligible. You can annually exclude from the employee’s income and deduct up to $5,250 (or an unlimited amount if the education is job related) of eligible education reimbursements as an employee benefit expense. And you don’t have to withhold income tax or withhold or pay payroll taxes on these reimbursements. To pass muster with the IRS, such a program must avoid discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees, their spouses and their dependents, and it can’t provide more than 5% of its total annual benefits to shareholders, owners and their dependents. In addition, you must provide reasonable notice about the program to all eligible employees that outlines the type and amount of assistance available. Train and retain If your company has employees who want to take their professional skill sets to the next level, don’t let them go to a competitor to get there. By reimbursing education costs as a fringe benefit or setting up an educational assistance program, you can keep your staff well trained and evolving toward the future and save taxes, too. Please contact us for more details. © 2017
Assessing fraud risks is an integral part of the auditing process. Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 99, Consideration of Fraud in a Financial Statement Audit, requires auditors to consider potential fraud risks before and during the information-gathering process. Business owners and managers may find it helpful to understand how this process works — even if their financial statements aren’t audited. Risk factors SAS 99 advises auditors to presume that, if given the opportunity, companies will improperly recognize revenue and management will attempt to override internal controls. Certain factors create opportunities for dishonest employees to commit fraud and, therefore, should be avoided, if possible. Examples of fraud risk factors that auditors consider include: * Large amounts of cash or other valuable inventory items on hand, without adequate security measures in place,* Heavy dependence on a few key employees, who have too much power and too few checks and balances, * Employees with conflicts of interest, such as relationships with other employees and financial interests in vendors or customers, * Unrealistic goals and performance-based compensation that tempt workers to artificially boost revenue and profits, * Failure to conduct background checks and other pre-employment screening, and* Weak internal controls. Auditors also watch for questionable journal entries that dishonest employees could use to hide their impropriety. These entries might, for example, be made to seldom-used or intracompany accounts; on holidays, weekends, or the last day of the accounting period; or with limited descriptions. Fraudsters also tend to use round numbers — just below the dollar threshold that would require additional signatures — for their fictitious journal entries.
Auditors are responsible for using professional skepticism throughout the audit process, as well as planning and performing the audit to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement, either caused by fraud or error. Auditors generally aren’t required to investigate fraud. But they are required to communicate fraud risk findings to the appropriate level of management, who can then take actions to prevent fraud in their organizations. If conditions exist that make it impractical to plan an audit in a way that will adequately address fraud risks, an auditor may even decide to withdraw from the engagement. When conditions are ripe for fraud, we can help you pursue a formal forensic accounting investigation to find out more. © 2017
If you run a business “on the side” and derive most of your income from another source (whether from another business you own, employment or investments), you may face a peculiar risk: Under certain circumstances, this on-the-side business might not be a business at all in the eyes of the IRS. It may be a hobby.
The Hobby Loss Rules
Generally, a taxpayer can deduct losses from profit-motivated activities, either from other income in the same tax year or by carrying the loss back to a previous tax year or forward to a future tax year. But, to ensure these pursuits are really businesses — and not mere hobbies intended primarily to offset other income — the IRS enforces what are commonly referred to as the “hobby loss” rules. If you haven’t earned a profit from your business in three out of five consecutive years, including the current year, you’ll bear the burden of proof to show that the enterprise isn’t merely a hobby. But if this profit test can be met, the burden falls on the IRS. In either case, the agency looks at factors such as the following to determine whether the activity is a business or a hobby: Do you carry on the activity in a business-like manner? Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit? Do you depend on income from the activity? If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business? Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability? Do you (or your advisors) have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business? Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past? Does the activity make a profit in some years? Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity? Dangers of reclassification If your enterprise is reclassified as a hobby, you can’t use a loss from the activity to offset other income. You may still write off certain expenses related to the hobby, but only to the extent of income the hobby generates. If you’re concerned about the hobby loss rules, we can help you evaluate your situation. © 2017
If last year your business made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, you may be eligible for a valuable deduction on your 2016 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly “repairs,” and not actually “improvements.” Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted. What’s an “improvement”? In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be capitalized. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property. Under the “betterment test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property. Under the “restoration test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property. Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service. 2 safe harbors Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help: 1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS. Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be capitalized, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements. 2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less. There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. Contact us for details on these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions. © 2017
Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) are sometimes regarded as the “no-brainer” first choice for high-income small-business owners who don’t currently have tax-advantaged retirement plans set up for themselves. Why? Unlike other types of retirement plans, a SEP is easy to establish and a powerful retroactive tax planning tool: The deadline for setting up a SEP is favorable and contribution limits are generous. SEPs do have a couple of downsides if the business has employees other than the owner: 1) Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for the owner, and 2) employee accounts are immediately 100% vested. Deadline for set-up and contributions A SEP can be established as late as the due date (including extensions) of the business’s income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. For example: A calendar-year partnership or S corporation has until March 15, 2017, to establish a SEP for 2016 (September 15, 2017, if the return is extended). A calendar-year sole proprietor or C corporation has until April 18, 2017 (October 16, 2017, if the return is extended), because of their later filing deadlines. The deadlines for limited liability companies (LLCs) depend on the tax treatment the LLC has elected. Furthermore, the business has until these same deadlines to make 2016 contributions and still claim a potentially hefty deduction on its 2016 return. Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2016, in order for 2016 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2016 contributions to be made in 2017). Contribution amounts Contributions to SEPs are discretionary. The business can decide what amount of contribution it will make each year. The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee. For 2016, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction) of up to $265,000, subject to a contribution cap of $53,000. The 2017 limits are $270,000 and $54,000, respectively. Setting up a SEP is easy A SEP is established by completing and signing the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). Form 5305-SEP is not filed with the IRS, but it should be maintained as part of the business’s permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement. Of course, additional rules and limits do apply to SEPs, but they’re generally much less onerous than those for other retirement plans. If you think a SEP might be good for your business, please contact us. © 2017
Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, making them particularly valuable. Two available credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits. And one of them might not be available after 2017. Small-business health care credit The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2016, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $25,000 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,000. To qualify for the credit, online enrollment in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) generally is required. In addition, the credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.) If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2016 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away for 2018 because lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA. Most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2018 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2016, you may also be able to claim it on your 2017 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.
Retirement plan credit
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs. Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving. If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2016, it might not be too late. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions.
Maximize tax savings
Be aware that additional rules apply beyond what we’ve discussed here. We can help you determine whether you’re eligible for these credits. We can also advise you on what other credits you might be eligible for when you file your 2016 return so that you can maximize your tax savings. © 2017
Financial statements are generally prepared under the assumption that the business will remain a “going concern.” That is, it’s expected to continue to generate a positive return on its assets and meet its obligations in the ordinary course of business. But sometimes conditions put that assumption into question. Recently, the responsibility for making going concern assessments shifted from auditors to management. So, it’s important for you to identify the red flags that going concern issues exist. Make the call Under Accounting Standards Update No. 2014-15, Presentation of Financial Statements — Going Concern (Subtopic 205-40): Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, management is responsible for assessing whether there are conditions or events that raise “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date that the financial statements are issued — or available to be issued. (The alternate date prevents financial statements from being held for several months after year end to see if the company survives.) When going concern issues arise, auditors may adjust balance sheet values to liquidation values, rather than historic costs. Footnotes also may report going concern issues. And the auditor’s opinion letter — which serves as a cover letter to the financial statements — may be downgraded to a qualified or adverse opinion. All of these changes forewarn lenders and investors that the company is experiencing financial distress. Meet the threshold When evaluating the going concern assumption, look for signs that your company’s long-term viability may be questionable, such as: Recurring operating losses or working capital deficiencies, Loan defaults and debt restructuring, Denial of credit from suppliers, Dividend arrearages, Disposals of substantial assets, Work stoppages and other labor difficulties, Legal proceedings or legislation that jeopardizes ongoing operations, Loss of a key franchise, license or patent, Loss of a principal customer or supplier, and An uninsured or underinsured catastrophe. The existence of one or more of these conditions or events doesn’t automatically mean that there’s a going concern issue. Similarly, the absence of these conditions or events isn’t a guarantee that your company will meet its obligations over the next year. Comply with the new guidance Compliance with the new accounting standard starts with annual periods ending after December 15, 2016. So, managers of calendar-year entities will need to make the going concern assessment starting with their 2016 year-end financial statements. Contact us for more information about making going concern assessments and how it will affect your financial reporting. © 2017
Like many business owners, you might also own highly appreciated business or investment real estate. Fortunately, there’s an effective tax planning strategy at your disposal: the Section 1031 “like kind” exchange. It can help you defer capital gains tax on appreciated property indefinitely. How it works Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” In fact, these arrangements are often referred to as “like-kind exchanges.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property. Personal property must be of the same asset or product class. But virtually any type of real estate will qualify as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall. Executing the deal Although an exchange may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance. When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property. To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer. An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days. The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. Be sure to contact us when exploring a Sec. 1031 exchange. © 2017
What’s the most costly type of white collar crime? On average, a company is likely to lose more money from a scheme in which the financial statements are falsified or manipulated than from any other type of occupational fraud incident. The costs frequently include more than just the loss of assets — victimized companies also may suffer lost shareholder value, lower employee morale, premature tax liabilities and reputational damage. Let’s take a closer look at what’s at stake when employees “cook the books.” Low frequency, high cost The Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse published in 2016 by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that less than 10% of the fraud schemes in its survey involved financial statement fraud. However, those cases clocked the greatest financial effect, with a median loss of $975,000. Compare that amount to the median losses for asset misappropriation ($125,000) and corruption ($200,000). What makes financial statement fraud especially problematic is that the costs can quickly snowball out of control. For example, when an executive fudges the numbers to make a company appear more profitable, the company will likely incur greater liability for taxes or dividends. Plus, it might be necessary to take on debt to make those payments, leading to higher interest costs. Or an acquisition of a healthy company might be pursued to hide the actual underperformance. In the end, more fraud may be necessary to pay for the original scam. Common schemes The ACFE defines financial statement fraud as “a scheme in which an employee intentionally causes a misstatement or omission of material information in the organization’s financial reports.” Common ploys include: * Concealed liabilities, * Fictitious revenues, * Inflated asset valuations, * Misleading disclosures, and * Timing differences. Revenue recognition is a particularly ripe area for financial statement fraud, especially as companies start to implement the new revenue recognition guidance for long-term contracts. Early revenue recognition can be accomplished through several avenues, including 1) keeping books open past the end of the accounting period, 2) delivering products early, 3) recording revenue before full performance of a contract, and 4) backdating sales agreements. Preventive medicine Victims of financial statement fraud often find their long-term survival severely threatened in a relatively short period of time. Hiring an outside forensic accounting specialist to evaluate internal controls can help identify red flags, ferret out ongoing schemes and deter would-be fraudsters. Contact us for more information. © 2017
The Section 199 deduction is intended to encourage domestic manufacturing. In fact, it’s often referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction.” But this potentially valuable tax break can be used by many other types of businesses besides manufacturing companies. Sec. 199 deduction 101 The Sec. 199 deduction, also called the “domestic production activities deduction,” is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts. Yes, the deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible. The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax. How income is calculated To determine a company’s Sec. 199 deduction, its qualified production activities income must be calculated. This is the amount of domestic production gross receipts (DPGR) exceeding the cost of goods sold and other expenses allocable to that DPGR. Most companies will need to allocate receipts between those that qualify as DPGR and those that don’t ― unless less than 5% of receipts aren’t attributable to DPGR. DPGR can come from a number of activities, including the construction of real property in the United States, as well as engineering or architectural services performed stateside to construct real property. It also can result from the lease, rental, licensing or sale of qualifying production property, such as: • Tangible personal property (for example, machinery and office equipment), • Computer software, and • Master copies of sound recordings. The property must have been manufactured, produced, grown or extracted in whole or “significantly” within the United States. While each situation is assessed on its merits, the IRS has said that, if the labor and overhead incurred in the United States accounted for at least 20% of the total cost of goods sold, the activity typically qualifies. Contact us to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2016 return. © 2017
Employee benefit plans with 100 or more participants must generally provide an audit report when filing IRS Form 5500 each year. Plan administrators have fiduciary responsibilities to hire independent qualified public accountants to perform quality audits. Select a qualified auditor ERISA guidelines require employee benefit plan auditors to be licensed or certified public accountants. They also require auditors to be independent. In other words, they can’t have a financial interest in the plan or the plan sponsor that would bias their opinion about a plan’s financial condition. But specialization also matters. The more training and experience that an auditor has with plan audits, the more familiar he or she will be with benefit plan practices and operations, as well as the special auditing standards and rules that apply to such plans. Examples of audit areas that are unique to employee benefit plans include contributions, benefit payments, participant data, and party-in-interest and prohibited transactions. Ask questions Employee benefit plan audits are a matter of more than just compliance. The auditor’s report highlights any problems unearthed during the audit, which can serve as a springboard for improving plan operations. The conclusion of audit work is a good time to ask such questions as the following: * Have plan assets covered by the audit been fairly valued? * Are plan obligations properly stated and described? * Were contributions to the plan received in a timely manner? * Were benefit payments made in accordance with plan terms? * Did the auditor identify any issues that may impact the plan’s tax status? * Did the auditor identify any transactions that are prohibited under ERISA? Experienced auditors can also suggest ways to improve your plan’s operations based on their audit findings. Protect yourself Employee benefit plan audits offer critical protection to plan administrators and employees. Your company can’t afford to skimp when it comes to hiring an auditor who is unbiased, experienced and reliable. Contact us for more information on hiring a plan auditor. © 2017
Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The PATH Act, signed into law a little over a year ago, extended 50% bonus depreciation through 2017. Claiming this break is generally beneficial, though in some cases a business might save more tax in the long run if they forgo it. However, 2016 may be an especially good year to take bonus depreciation. Keep this in mind when you’re filing your 2016 tax return. Eligible assets New tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment) qualifies for bonus depreciation. So does off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified improvement property. And beginning in 2016, the qualified improvement property doesn’t have to be leased. It isn’t enough, however, to have acquired the property in 2016. You must also have placed the property in service in 2016. Now vs. later If you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation (to the extent you’ve exhausted any Section 179 expensing available to you) is likely a good tax strategy. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial. But if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax for 2016, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re paying a higher tax rate. Making a decision for 2016 The greater tax-saving power of deductions when rates are higher is why 2016 may be a particularly good year to take bonus depreciation. With both President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress wishing to reduce tax rates, there’s a good chance that such legislation could be signed into law. This means your tax rate could be lower for 2017 (if changes go into effect for 2017) and future years. If that happens, there’s a greater likelihood that taking bonus depreciation for 2016 would save you more tax than taking all of your deduction under normal depreciation schedules over a period of years. Also keep in mind that, under the PATH Act, bonus depreciation is scheduled to drop to 40% for 2018, drop to 30% for 2019, and expire Dec. 31, 2019. Of course, Congress could pass legislation extending 50% bonus depreciation or making it permanent — or it could eliminate it or reduce the bonus depreciation percentage sooner. If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2016 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us. © 2017
Successful business people have a solid understanding of the three financial statements prepared under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). A complete set of financial statements helps stakeholders — including managers, investors and lenders — evaluate a company’s financial condition and results. Here’s an overview of each report.
1. Income statement The income statement (also known as the profit and loss statement) shows sales, expenses and the income earned after expenses over a given period. A common term used when discussing income statements is “gross profit,” or the income earned after subtracting the cost of goods sold from revenue. Cost of goods sold includes the cost of labor, materials and overhead required to make a product. Another important term is “net income.” This is the income remaining after all expenses (including taxes) have been paid.
2. Balance sheet This report tallies the company’s assets, liabilities and net worth to create a snapshot of its financial health. Current assets (such as accounts receivable or inventory) are reasonably expected to be converted to cash within a year, while long-term assets (such as plant and equipment) have longer lives. Similarly, current liabilities (such as accounts payable) come due within a year, while long-term liabilities are payment obligations that extend beyond the current year or operating cycle. Net worth or owners’ equity is the extent to which the book value of assets exceeds liabilities. Because the balance sheet must balance, assets must equal liabilities plus net worth. If the value of your liabilities exceeds the value of the assets, your net worth will be negative. Public companies may provide the details of shareholders’ equity in a separate statement called the statement of retained earnings. It details sales or repurchases of stock, dividend payments and changes caused by reported profits or losses.
3. Cash flow statement This statement shows all the cash flowing into and out of your company. For example, your company may have cash inflows from selling products or services, borrowing money and selling stock. Outflows may result from paying expenses, investing in capital equipment and repaying debt. Although this report may seem similar to an income statement, it focuses solely on cash. It’s possible for an otherwise profitable business to suffer from cash flow shortages, especially if it’s growing quickly. Typically, cash flows are organized in three categories: operating, investing and financing activities. The bottom of the statement shows the net change in cash during the period. To remain in business, companies must continually generate cash to pay creditors, vendors and employees. So watch your statement of cash flows closely.
Ratios and Trends
Are you monitoring ratios and trends from your financial statements? Owners and managers who pay regular attention to these three key reports stand a better chance of catching potential trouble before it gets out of hand and pivoting, when needed, to maximize the company’s value.
Differentiating the purchase of a business from the purchase of a group of assets is something that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has been debating for years. In January 2017, the board finally published guidance to help financial executives and accountants define what a business is in thea context of a business combination.
Business owners and managers generally know the difference between a business and a group of assets. But in some instances — such as a merger or an acquisition — the distinction is unclear. Under existing U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), a business has three elements:
2. Processes, and
The existing guidance requires no minimum inputs or outputs to meet the definition of a business, leading to broad interpretations. In many cases, routine asset purchases are currently treated like complex business combinations.
Under Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2017-01, Business Combinations (Topic 805): Clarifying the Definition of a Business, a business must. at minimum, include an input and a “substantive process” that contributes to the ability to create outputs. The presence of more than an insignificant amount of goodwill is an indicator that a substantive process is present.
Inputs can include people, money, raw materials, finished goods and other economic resources that create (or have the ability to create) goods or services. Outputs typically are considered goods or services for customers that provide (or have the ability to provide) a return to the business’s investors in the form of dividends, lower costs or other economic benefits.
The update includes an initial test to help businesses make a quick decision regarding whether the business combination accounting rules apply to a particular transaction: If substantially all of the fair value of the gross assets acquired is concentrated in a single identifiable asset (or group of similar identifiable assets), the deal won’t be considered a business combination. To illustrate, when a company leases a building, the lease and building are considered a single identifiable asset.
The update is expected to reduce the number of transactions that qualify as business combinations vs. routine asset acquisitions. Unsure how to account for an upcoming acquisition (or disposal) under the new rules? We can help.