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The balance sheet usually reflects the historic cost of assets and liabilities. But certain items must be reported at “fair value” under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Here’s a closer look at what fair value is and which balance sheet accounts it affects. 

Fair value vs. fair market value

Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 820 defines fair value as “the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.” This definition is similar in many respects to “fair market value,” which is defined in IRS Revenue Ruling 59-60. 

The main difference is that fair market value focuses on the universe of hypothetical buyers and sellers. Conversely, FASB uses the term “market participants,” which refers to buyers and sellers in the asset’s or liability’s principal market. The principal market is entity specific and may vary among companies.

Hierarchy of value

Under ASC Topic 820, fair value is most often associated with business combinations and subsequent accounting for goodwill and other intangibles after the deal closes. Other examples of items that are reported at fair value include

  • Impairment or disposals of long-lived assets,
  • Asset retirement or environmental obligations,
  • Stock compensation, and
  • Certain financial assets and liabilities.

When measuring fair value, the FASB provides a hierarchy of methods that may not necessarily apply to valuations performed for other purposes. GAAP gives top priority to market-based methods, such as quoted prices in active markets for identical assets or liabilities. 

When market data isn’t readily available for a specific company, GAAP looks to quoted prices in active markets for similar assets or liabilities — in other words, comparable public stock prices or sales of controlling interests in comparable companies. The least desirable level of inputs under GAAP is unobservable data, such as cash flow or cost estimates prepared by management (which may be used to estimate value under the income or cost approach).

Changes in value

Decreases in the fair value of an asset (or increases in the fair value of a liability) may result from, say, poor company performance, changes in economic conditions and inaccurate estimates made in the past. Companies aren’t allowed to overstate the value of assets (or understate the value of a liability) under GAAP, so changes in fair value may lead to write-offs or restatements.

Outside expertise 

Auditors are specifically prohibited from providing valuation services for their public audit clients. Private companies may follow suit to prevent independence issues during audits. So, companies often turn to valuation experts who are independent from their auditors to make fair value estimates — and then their auditors can evaluate whether those estimates appear reasonable. Contact us if you have any questions about fair value, including how it’s estimated or when it applies.

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Just about every business intends to provide world-class customer service. And though many claim their customer service is exceptional, very few can back up that assertion. After all, once a company has established a baseline level of success in interacting with customers, it’s not easy to get to that next level of truly great service. But, fear not, there are ways to elevate your game and, ultimately, strengthen your bottom line in the process.

Start at the top

As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your fellow owners (if any) and management team to regularly serve customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that serving others is important and rewarding. Your involvement shows that customer service is the source of your company’s ultimate triumph.

Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Publish articles about your customer service achievements in your company’s newsletter or post them on your website. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence.

Just make sure to empower all employees to make customer-service decisions. Don’t talk of catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to meet your customers’ needs.

Create a system

Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want information. So strive to provide immediate feedback to customers with a highly visible response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up. 

The size and shape of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the company itself. But it should likely encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquires along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.

Give them a thrill

Consistently great customer service can be an elusive goal. You may succeed for months at a time only to suffer setbacks. Don’t get discouraged. Our firm can help you build a profitable company that excels at thrilling your customers.

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You're probably familiar with 529 college savings plans. Named for Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, they're also known as qualified tuition programs, and they offer tax benefits when you save for college expenses.

But are you aware of a lesser-known cousin, established under Section 530 of the code? It's called a Coverdell Education Savings Account and it's been available since 1998.

The general idea of Coverdell accounts is similar to 529 plans – to provide tax incentives to encourage you to set money aside for education. However, one big difference between the two is this: Amounts you contribute to a Coverdell can be used to pay for educational costs from kindergarten through college.

Generally, you can establish a Coverdell for a child under the age of 18 – yours or someone else's. Once the Coverdell is set up, you can make contributions of as much as $2,000 each year. That contribution limit begins to phase out when your income reaches $190,000 for joint filers and $95,000 for single filers.

Anyone, including trusts and corporations, can contribute to the account until the child turns 18. There are no age restrictions when the Coverdell is established for someone with special needs.

While your contribution is not tax-deductible, earnings within the account are tax-free as long as you use them for educational expenses or qualify for an exception. In addition, you can make a tax-free transfer of the account balance to another eligible beneficiary.

Qualified distributions from a Coverdell are tax-free when you use the money to pay for costs such as tuition, room and board, books, and computers.

Please call for information about other rules that apply to Coverdell accounts. We'll be happy to help you decide whether establishing one makes sense for you.

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After you file your tax return, the last thing you want to see is a notice from the IRS questioning your return. Some IRS notices involve very minor changes, like a correction to a Social Security number. Some are for serious changes that could involve a lot of money, such as a billing for more taxes, interest, or penalties due for an adjustment to your total tax liability.

So, what should you do if you get a letter from the IRS?

Here is a list of do's and don'ts concerning contact from the IRS.

  • Don't ignore the notice; the problem will not go away.
  • Act promptly. A quick response to the IRS may eliminate further, more complicated correspondence.
  • If you agree with the IRS adjustment, you do not need to do anything unless a payment is due.
  • If the IRS is requesting more money or a significant amount of new information, be sure to contact your tax preparer immediately.
  • Always provide your tax preparer with a copy of any IRS notice, regardless of how minor it appears to be.
  • Keep a copy of all the IRS correspondence with your tax return copy for the year in question.

Often taxpayers experience anxiety when they receive correspondence from the IRS. Don't worry. The most important thing to remember is not to ignore the IRS. Bring any notice you receive to our office and let us assist you in resolving the problem quickly.

Are you looking forward to your tax refund? By now you know how much you'll be getting and approximately when the cash will land in your bank account. The only question is, what's the best way to put the money to work for you?

Here are two tax-smart ideas.

Fund your IRA. Depending on your income, making a contribution to a Traditional IRA could result in a deduction on next year's tax return – and possibly a credit of as much as $2,000. For 2016, you can contribute a maximum of $5,500 to your IRA. Add another $1,000 for a total of $6,500 if you're age 50 or older.

Invest in knowledge. Establish a qualified tuition plan, commonly called a Section 529 plan, or a Coverdell Education Savings Account. While contributions are not tax-deductible, the account earnings grow tax-free, and distributions used for educational expenses are also generally tax-free.

Do you need work-related training? Education required by your employer or courses that improve or maintain skills necessary for your present job, can qualify for a deduction.

Give us a call if you would like to talk about how these options apply to your tax situation

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Nonprofit organizations are required to file annual reports with the IRS. Organizations with gross receipts of $50,000 or less can file an e-Postcard instead of the longer Form 990. The deadline for nonprofit filings is the 15th day of the fifth month after their year-end. For calendar-year organizations, the filing deadline for 2016 reports is May 15, 2017.

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Can't finish your federal income tax return by the April 18 deadline? There's still time to get an automatic six-month extension.

There are four ways to obtain an extension:

  1. File a paper copy of Form 4868 with the IRS and enclose your payment of estimated tax due.
  2. File for an extension electronically using the IRS e-file system on your computer.
  3. Using IRS Direct Pay, you can pay all or part of your estimated income tax due and indicate the payment is for an extension.
  4. Have your tax preparer e-file for an extension on your behalf.

Remember that even if you file for an extension, you are still required to pay any taxes you owe by the April 18 filing deadline. An extension gives you more time to file your tax return, but not more time to pay the taxes you owe. You will be charged interest on any taxes you owe and do not pay by the filing deadline. If you are unable to pay on time, contact the IRS to set up a payment agreement.

Special extension rules apply to members of the military serving in combat zones and to certain others who live outside the U.S. Give us a call so we can discuss whether or not an extension is right for your situation.

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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.

To err is human, but your not-for-profit’s supporters, not to mention the IRS, may be less than forgiving if errors affect your financial books. Fortunately, if you attend to accounting details, you can avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Failing to follow accounting procedures. Even the smallest nonprofit should set formal, documented and detailed procedures for managing financial and bookkeeping chores. Your process should include all aspects of managing your organization’s money — how to accept, document and deposit donations, pay bills, and handle every step in between. Put these procedures in writing and make sure you follow each step, every time.

2. Making data entry errors. It’s easy to wreak havoc on your accounts by entering a $500 payment as $50 or transposing numbers. So check and double-check every entry every time. Reconcile accounts against bank statements immediately, and don’t overlook even the smallest discrepancy.

3. Working without a budget. You can’t control overspending or invest a surplus if you don’t know they exist. Budgets don’t have to be intricate to be useful; just look at a few months’ worth of bills and deposits to create a starting point. Then refine your plan as you go along. Include a “miscellaneous” category, but don’t allow it to account for the majority of your expenses.

4. Playing loose with petty cash. Small expenditures like picking up a few office supplies or buying a pizza for volunteers is much easier to do with a petty cash fund. Handle the cash with care, though. Lock it up, authorize only a few people to make disbursements and require receipts for all expenditures.

5. Neglecting to properly categorize. All money coming in and going out of your organization must be assigned to the appropriate category. This is particularly important if you accept donations that may be earmarked for certain programs. To be successful at this, you need to properly set up the initial chart of accounts and define how items should be assigned.

Contact us with any nonprofit financial question or if you need help devising organizationwide policies.
 

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Today’s businesses operate in an era of hyper-connectedness and, unfortunately, a burgeoning global cybercrime industry. You can’t afford to hope you’ll luck out and avoid a cyberattack. It’s essential to establish policies and procedures to minimize risk. One specific area on which to focus is your employees.

Know the threats

There are a variety of cybercrimes you need to guard against. For instance, thieves may steal proprietary or sensitive business data with the intention of selling that information to competitors or other hackers. Or they may be more interested in your employees’ or customers’ personal information for the same reason.

Some cybercriminals may not be necessarily looking to steal anything but rather disable or damage your business systems. For example, they may install “ransomware” that locks you out of your own data until you pay their demands. Or they might launch a “denial-of-service attack,” under which hackers overwhelm your site with millions of data requests until it can no longer function.

Be mindful

Naturally, crimes may be committed by shadowy outsiders. But, all too often, it’s a company employee who either leaves the door open for a cybercriminal or perpetrates the crime him- or herself.

For this reason, it’s essential for your hiring managers to be mindful of cybersecurity when reviewing employment applications — particularly those for positions that involve open access to sensitive company data. If an applicant has an unusual or spotty job history, be sure to find out why before hiring. Check references and conduct background checks as well.

For both new and existing employees, make sure your cybersecurity policies are crystal clear. Include a statement in your employment handbook informing employees that their communications are stored in a backup system, and that you reserve the right to monitor and examine company computers and emails (sent and received) on your system. When such monitoring systems are in place, prudence or suspicious activity will dictate when they should be ramped up.

Don’t compromise

These are just a few points to bear in mind in relation to your employees and cybercrime. Although most workers are honest and not looking to do harm, all it takes is one mistake or one bad apple to compromise your company’s cybersecurity. We can provide you with more ideas for protecting your data and your business systems.

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