Experience is the Difference®

From the time a business opens its doors, the owner is told “cash is king.” It may seem to follow that having a very large amount of cash could never be a bad thing. But, the truth is, a company that’s hoarding excessive cash may be doing itself more harm than good.

Liquidity overload
What’s the harm in stockpiling cash? Granted, an extra cushion helps weather downturns or fund unexpected repairs and maintenance. But cash has a carrying cost — the difference between the return companies earn on their cash and the price they pay to obtain cash.

For instance, checking accounts often earn no interest, and savings accounts typically generate returns below 2% and in many cases well below 1%. Most cash hoarders simultaneously carry debt on their balance sheets, such as equipment loans, mortgages and credit lines. Borrowers are paying higher interest rates on loans than they’re earning from their bank accounts. This spread represents the carrying cost of cash.

A variety of possibilities
What opportunities might you be missing out on by neglecting to reinvest a cash surplus to earn a higher return? There are a variety of possibilities. You could: 

  • Acquire a competitor (or its assets). You may be in a position to profit from a competitor’s failure. When expanding via acquisition, formal due diligence is key to avoiding impulsive, unsustainable projects. 
  • Invest in marketable securities. As mentioned, cash accounts provide nominal return. More aggressive businesses might consider mutual funds or diversified stock and bond portfolios. A financial planner can help you choose securities. Some companies also use surplus cash to repurchase stock — especially when minority shareholders routinely challenge the owner’s decisions.
  • Repay debt. This reduces the carrying cost of cash reserves. And lenders look favorably upon borrowers who reduce their debt-to-equity ratios.

Optimal cash balance
Taking a conservative approach to saving up cash isn’t necessarily wrong. But every company has an optimal cash balance that will help safeguard cash flow while allocating dollars for smart spending. Our firm can assist you in identifying and maintaining this mission-critical amount.
 

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Auditor IndependenceAuditor 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. 

Independence guidelines

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.

Four questions

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.

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.

5 steps

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.

Changes coming

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. 

 
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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. 

Old rules

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.

New rules

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. 

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The IRS announced that it will begin conducting examinations with a new pilot program. The “IRS Taxpayer Digital Communications Secure Messaging” program is designed to save time and costs by reducing paper mail and phone correspondence. The IRS plans to invite 8,000 taxpayers who are currently undergoing correspondence examinations to participate. Tax preparers who have valid powers of attorney can also take part if their clients receive letters confirming eligibility. Taxpayers will register, communicate and transfer documents using Internet-based channels. 

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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.

Strategic moves

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.

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Many companies take an ad hoc approach to technology. If you’re among them, it’s understandable; you probably had to automate some tasks before others, your tech needs have likely evolved over time, and technology itself is always changing.

Unfortunately, all of your different hardware and software may not communicate so well. What’s worse, lack of integration can leave you more vulnerable to security risks. For these reasons, some businesses reach a point where they decide to implement a strategic IT plan.

Setting objectives

The objective of a strategic IT plan is to — over a stated period — roll out consistent, integrated, and secure hardware and software. In doing so, you’ll likely eliminate many of the security dangers wrought by lack of integration, while streamlining data-processing efficiency.

To get started, define your IT objectives. Identify not only the weaknesses of your current infrastructure, but also opportunities to improve it. Employee feedback is key: Find out who’s using what and why it works for them.

From a financial perspective, estimate a reasonable return on investment that includes a payback timetable for technology expenditures. Be sure your projections factor in both:

  • Hard savings, such as eliminating redundant software or outdated processes, and
  • Soft benefits, such as being able to more quickly and accurately share data within the office as well as externally (for example, from sales calls).

Also calculate the price of doing nothing. Describe the risks and potential costs of falling behind or failing to get ahead of competitors technologically.

Working in phases

When you’re ready to implement your strategic IT plan, devise a reasonable and patient time line. Ideally, there should be no need to rush. You can take a phased approach, perhaps laying the foundation with a new server and then installing consistent, integrated applications on top of it.

A phased implementation can also help you stay within budget. You’ll need to have a good idea of how much the total project will cost. But you can still allow flexibility for making measured progress without putting your cash flow at risk.

Bringing it all together

There’s nothing wrong or unusual about wandering the vast landscape of today’s business technology. But, at some point, every company should at least consider bringing all their bits and bytes under one roof. Please contact our firm for help managing your IT spending in a measured, strategic way.

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Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.

Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.

“Professional” requirements

To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:

  • More than 50% of your personal services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate, and
  • More than 750 hours of service in these businesses.

Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)

Tax strategies

If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:

Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.

Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.

Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.

Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.

If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.

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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.

Response measures

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.

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What do charitable donors want? The classic answer is: Go ask each one individually. However, research provides some insight into donor motivation that can help your not-for-profit grow its financial support.

Taxing matters

The biennial U.S. Trust® Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, conducted in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, regularly finds that wealthy donors are primarily motivated by philanthropy. The tax benefits of giving were cited by only 18% of respondents in the 2016 survey.

On its own, your organization has little control over tax rates or deductions. But by teaming up with other nonprofits, you can exercise influence over tax policy. For example, groups such as the Charitable Giving Coalition have been credited with helping to defeat congressional challenges to the charitable deduction. Some nonprofits also partner up to influence state legislation on charitable giving incentive caps. Just keep in mind that, to preserve your nonprofit’s tax-exempt status, political lobbying should be kept to a minimum.

Matching opportunity

Other research has found that donors are just as motivated by matching gifts as they are by tax benefits. A joint Australian and American study gave supporters a choice between a tax rebate and a matching donation to charity. Donors were evenly split between the two — but those opting for the match gave more generously than those who took the rebate.

If your nonprofit hasn’t already tried offering matching gifts, it’s worth testing. You’ll need to identify donors willing to use their large gift to incentivize others — reliable supporters such as board members or trustees. Consider using their gifts during short-lived fundraisers, where a “ticking clock” lends the offer greater urgency.

Other strategies can enable donors to stretch their giving dollars. For example, encourage your supporters to give appreciated stock or real estate. As long as the donors meet applicable rules, they can avoid the capital gains tax liability they’d incur if they sold the assets.

Don’t make assumptions

Donors can be motivated by many social, emotional and financial factors. So it’s important not to assume you know how your target audience will respond to certain types of fundraising appeals. Perform some basic research, asking major donors and their advisors about their philanthropic priorities. Contact us for more revenue-boosting ideas.
 

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