Experience is the Difference®

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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Concentration risks are a threat to your supply chain. These occur when a company relies on a customer or supplier for 10% or more of its revenue or materials, or on several customers or suppliers located in the same geographic region. If a key customer or supplier experiences turmoil, the repercussions travel up or down the supply chain and can quickly and negatively impact your business.

To protect yourself, it’s important to look for concentration risks as you monitor your financials and engage in strategic planning. Remember to evaluate not only your own success and stability, but also that of your key customers and supply chain partners.

2 types of concentration

Businesses tend to experience two main types of concentration risks:

1. Product-related. If your company’s most profitable product line depends on a few key customers, you’re essentially at their mercy. Key customers that unexpectedly cut budgets or switch to a competitor could significantly lower revenues.

Similarly, if a major supplier suddenly increases prices or becomes lax in quality control, it could cause your profits to plummet. This is especially problematic if your number of alternative suppliers is limited.

2. Geographic. When gauging geographic risks, assess whether a large number of your customers or suppliers are located in one geographic region. Operating near supply chain partners offers advantages such as lower transportation costs and faster delivery. Conversely, overseas locales may enable you to cut labor and raw materials expenses.

But there are also potential risks associated with geographic centricity. Local weather conditions, tax rate hikes and regulatory changes can have a significant impact. And these threats increase substantially when dealing with global partners, which may also present risks in the form of geopolitical uncertainty and exchange rate volatility.

Financially feasible

Your supply chain is much like your cash flow: When it’s strong, stable and uninterrupted, you’re probably in pretty good shape. Our firm can help you assess your concentration risks and find financially feasible solutions.

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For many, an important estate planning goal is to encourage their children or other heirs to lead responsible, productive lives. One tool for achieving this goal is a principle trust.

By providing your trustee with guiding values and principles (rather than the set of rigid rules found in an incentive trust), a principle trust may be an effective way to accomplish your objectives. However, not everyone will be comfortable trusting a trustee with the broad discretion a principle trust requires.

Discretion and flexibility offered

A principle trust guides the trustee’s decisions by setting forth the principles and values you hope to instill in your beneficiaries. These principles and values may include virtually anything, from education and gainful employment to charitable endeavors and other “socially valuable” activities.

By providing the trustee with the discretion and flexibility to deal with each beneficiary and each situation on a case-by-case basis, it’s more likely that the trust will reward behaviors that are consistent with your principles and discourage those that are not.

Suppose, for example, that you value a healthy lifestyle free of drug and alcohol abuse. An incentive trust might withhold distributions (beyond the bare necessities) from a beneficiary with a drug or alcohol problem, but this may do little to change the beneficiary’s behavior. The trustee of a principle trust, on the other hand, is free to distribute funds to pay for a rehabilitation program or medical care.

At the same time, the trustee of a principle trust has the flexibility to withhold funds from a beneficiary who appears to meet your requirements “on paper,” but otherwise engages in behavior that violates your principles. Another advantage of a principle trust is that it gives the trustee the ability to withhold distributions from beneficiaries who neither need nor want the money, allowing the funds to continue growing and benefit future generations.

Not for everyone

Not everyone is comfortable providing a trustee with the broad discretion a principle trust requires. If it’s important for you to prescribe the specific conditions under which trust distributions will be made or withheld, an incentive trust may be appropriate. But keep in mind that even the most carefully drafted incentive trust can sometimes lead to unintended results, and the slightest ambiguity can invite disputes.

On the other hand, if you’re comfortable conferring greater power on your trustee, a principle trust can be one way to ensure that your wishes are carried out regardless of how your beneficiaries’ circumstances change in the future. We can help you decide which trust type might be more appropriate for your specific situation.

 

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The word "errors" being earased on lined paper. 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. 

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Should you pay for your child's college education? Or should your child find the financing? There are compelling arguments for both sides, but ultimately, your family needs to do what's best for your financial situation. Most families find that a combination of both works the best.

Parents should pay.

Arguments in favor of shelling out your hard-earned cash for a son's or daughter's higher education can be compelling. For one thing, college is a very expensive proposition these days. A year of undergraduate study at a private university can easily top $30,000 and public in-state schools can run over $12,000. Of course, if your student decides to get an advanced degree or go to medical or law school, he or she can run up a bill exceeding the cost of your home mortgage. Advocates of this point of view ask, "Do you really want to saddle your kid with that kind of debt so early in life?"

They add that if your child ends up working to pay for college, that's less time available for study and making friends. And, of course, friendships built in college can generate a wealth of opportunities for a future career. Also, by investing in tax-deferred 529 plans, parents can withdraw funds free from federal and some state income taxes when it's time for college.

The child should take the responsibility.

Others argue that covering the cost of your child's college education should not be your priority. After all, they reason, your kid has a lifetime to pay back student loans, and making loan payments can generate a positive credit history. Advocates of this position also argue that kids who have to pay for their own tuition, books, and living expenses learn responsibility and value the investment that college represents. They also point to available tuition reimbursement plans provided by some companies or the military service option as a way to get a college education without breaking the bank.

Those on this side of the debate often argue that 529 plans are overrated as a savings vehicle because investment options can be limited and tax rules are likely to change, undermining future tax benefits. Finally, they reason that a parent's own retirement savings should take precedence over saving for a child's education.

Making the decision.

Of course, your family's dynamics, the importance you place on a college education, and your personal financial priorities will factor into this decision. If you'd like help looking at the pros and cons of this important issue, give us a call.

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Whether your firm has been operating for years, or you decided over last night's coffee to start a new venture, you're sure to face the need for business credit. Entrepreneurs often ask friends and family to invest in their start-up businesses, and many draw on personal funds to launch new firms. But to address ongoing business needs – such as requirements for inventory, equipment, and real estate – most firms seek additional help from credit card companies and banks.

Unfortunately, today financial institutions are more wary than they used to be about extending credit to small companies. And with many business revenues faltering because of market pressures, even well-established companies have found it difficult to obtain loans.

As a result, establishing good business credit has become more important than ever. To convince a lender that your company represents a good risk, you should first prepare a well-written business plan. It need not be as long as a Tolstoy novel, but should lay out in some detail your products, pricing, estimates, competition, and basis for cash flow projections. A clearly defined business plan will convince potential lenders that you've addressed the greatest obstacles to your firm's success. Before approaching lenders, consider your business structure as well. For example, a limited liability company or corporation may be seen as less risky than a sole proprietorship. The goal is to present a professional image to convince the lender that your company will prosper in good times and bad.

To establish good business credit, you'll also want to make sure all required licenses are current and your firm is registered with the major business credit reporting bureaus such as Experian and Equifax. Work with vendors who report to these bureaus so that your on-time payments are tracked.

Of course, the key to building good business credit is making all your payments on time. As with personal credit, your business credit score will climb as managers prove their skill at monitoring the firm's cash flow and their commitment to honoring the firm's obligations.

Also consider having our office review your financial statements before you send them to the bank. If you need assistance with this or other business concerns, give us a call.

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Many taxpayers have questions after they file their tax returns. The IRS provides answers to many of them. These are a few of the most common.

How can I check the status of my refund?
You can go online to check on your refund if it has been 24 hours since the IRS would have received your e-filed tax return or four weeks after you mailed your paper return. Go to www.irs.gov and click on "Where's My Refund?" You will need your Social Security number, your filing status, and the amount of your tax refund.

What records should I keep?
Keep receipts, canceled checks, or other substantiation for any deductions or credits you claimed. Also keep records that verify other items on your tax return (W-2s, 1099s, etc.). Keep a copy of the tax return, along with the supporting records, for seven years.

What if I discover that I made a mistake on my return?
If you discover that you failed to report some income or claim a deduction or tax credit to which you are entitled, you can correct the error by filing an amended tax return using Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

What if my address changes after I file?
If you move or have an address change after filing your return, send Form 8822, Change of Address, to the IRS. You should also notify the Postal Service of your new address so that you'll receive any refund you're due or any notices sent by the IRS.

For answers to other tax questions you may have, give us a call.

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Your role as an executor or personal administrator of an estate involves a number of responsibilities. Did you know that part of your responsibility involves making sure the necessary tax returns are filed? And there might be more of those than you expect.

Here's an overview:

  • Personal income tax. You may need to file a federal income tax return for the decedent for the prior year as well as the year of death. Both are due by April 15 of the following year, even if the amount of time covered is less than a full year. You can request a six-month extension if you need additional time to gather information.
  • Gift tax. If the individual whose estate you're administering made gifts in excess of the annual exclusion ($14,000 per person for 2017), a gift tax payment may be required. Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, is due April 15 of the year following the gift. The filing date can be extended six months.
  • Estate income tax. Income earned after death, such as interest on estate assets, is reported on Form 1041, Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts. You'll generally need to file if the estate's gross income is $600 or more, or if any beneficiary is a nonresident alien. For estates with a December 31 year-end, Form 1041 is due April 15 of the following year.
  • Estate tax. An estate tax return, Form 706, United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, is required when the fair market value of all estate assets exceeds $5,490,000 (in 2017). One thing to watch for: Spouses can transfer unused portions of the $5,490,000 exemption to each other. This is called the "portability" election. To benefit, you will need to file Form 706 when the total value of the estate is lower than the exemption.
  • Form 706 is due nine months after the date of death. You can request a six-month extension of time to file.

Give us a call if you need more information about administering an estate. We're here to help make your task less stressful.

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