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Because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday, the 2016 tax return filing deadline for individual taxpayers is Tuesday, April 18. The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 18 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. But dropping your return in a mailbox on the 18th may not be sufficient.

An example

Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 18, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared.

You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you’re hit with failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties totaling $1,500.

Avoiding penalty risk

To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:
   • DHL Express 9:00, Express 10:30, Express 12:00 or Express Envelope,
   • FedEx First Overnight, Priority Overnight, Standard Overnight or 2Day, or
   • UPS Next Day Air Early A.M., Next Day Air, Next Day Air Saver, 2nd Day Air A.M. or 2nd Day Air.

Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.

Another option

If you’re concerned about meeting the April 18 deadline, another option is to file for an extension. If you owe tax, you’ll still need to pay that by April 18 to avoid risk of late-payment penalties as well as interest.

If you’re owed a refund and file late, you won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty. However, filing for an extension may still be a good idea.

We can help you determine if filing for an extension makes sense for you — and help estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 18.

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A Roth IRA can be a valuable estate planning tool, offering the opportunity for tax-free growth as long as it exists and requiring no distributions during your life, thus allowing you to pass on a greater amount of wealth to your family. While traditional IRAs are more common, there’s no time like the present to consider how a Roth IRA might better help you achieve your estate planning goals.

Roth vs. traditional IRA

With a Roth IRA, you give up the deductibility of contributions for the opportunity to make tax-free withdrawals. This differs from a traditional IRA, where contributions may be deductible and earnings grow on a tax-deferred basis, but withdrawals (less any prorated nondeductible contributions) are subject to ordinary income taxes — plus a 10% penalty if you’re under age 59½ at the time of the distribution.

With a Roth IRA, you can make tax-free withdrawals up to the amount of your contributions at any time. And withdrawals of account earnings are tax-free if you make them after you’ve had the Roth IRA for five years and you’re age 59½ or older.

Also on the plus side, especially from an estate planning perspective, you can leave funds in your Roth IRA as long as you want. This differs from the required minimum distributions starting after age 70½ that generally apply to traditional IRAs.

So, with a Roth IRA, you can let the entire account grow tax-free over your lifetime for the benefit of one or more heirs. While the beneficiary will be required to take distributions, they’ll be tax-free and can be spread out over his or her lifetime, allowing the remaining assets in the account to continue to grow tax-free.

Limited contributions

For 2017, the annual Roth IRA contribution limit is $5,500 ($6,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older), reduced by any contributions made to traditional IRAs. Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may also affect your ability to contribute, however.

In 2017, the contribution limit phases out for married couples filing jointly with MAGIs between $186,000–$196,000. The 2017 phaseout range for single and head-of-household filers is $118,000–$133,000.

Conversion question

If your income is too high to contribute to a Roth IRA, consider converting your traditional IRA into a Roth, effectively turning future tax-deferred potential growth into tax-free potential growth. When you do a Roth conversion, you have to pay taxes on the amount you convert. But this also has an estate planning benefit because you’re paying taxes that your heirs might otherwise have to pay later.

If you have questions on how a Roth IRA may fit into your estate plan, please get in touch with us.

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Two female auditors at a laptopAccounts 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.

Starting point

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.

Potential risks

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.

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American Debt

 

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Affordable Care Act - written across a computer screenNow that the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been withdrawn and it’s uncertain whether there will be any other health care reform legislation this year, it’s a good time to review some of the tax-related ACA provisions affecting businesses:

Small employer tax credit. Qualifying small employers can claim a credit to cover a portion of the cost of premiums paid to provide health insurance to employees. The maximum credit is 50% of premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium.

Penalties for not offering complying coverage. Applicable large employers (ALEs) — those with at least 50 full-time employees (or the equivalent) — are required to offer full-time employees affordable health coverage that meets certain minimum standards. If they don’t, they’re charged a penalty if just one full-time employee receives a tax credit for purchasing his or her own coverage through a health care marketplace. This is sometimes called the “employer mandate.”

Reporting of health care costs to employees. The ACA generally requires employers who filed 250 or more W-2 forms in the preceding year to annually report to employees the value of health insurance coverage they provide. The reporting requirement is informational only; it doesn’t cause health care benefits to become taxable. 

Additional 0.9% Medicare tax. This applies to:
 

  • Wages and/or self-employment (SE) income above $200,000 for single and head of household filers, or
  • Combined wages and/or SE income above $250,000 for married couples filing jointly ($125,000 for married couples filing separately).

While there is no employer portion of this tax, employers are responsible for withholding the tax once an employee’s compensation for the calendar year exceeds $200,000, regardless of the employee’s filing status or income from other sources. 

Cap on health care FSA contributions. The Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cap is indexed for inflation. For 2017, the maximum annual FSA contribution by an employee is $2,600.

There’s also one significant change that hasn’t kicked in yet: Beginning in 2020, the ACA calls for health insurance companies that service the group market and administrators of employer-sponsored health plans to pay a 40% excise tax on premiums that exceed the applicable threshold, generally $10,200 for self-only coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. This is commonly referred to as the “Cadillac tax.”

The ACA remains the law, at least for now. Contact us if you have questions about how it affects your business’s tax situation.

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Young professionals around a computer, working togetherWhat would happen if one of your not-for-profit’s key people suddenly quit or had to go on long-term disability? Would you be able to conduct business as usual? To prevent a critical function from possibly coming to a standstill, consider cross-training staff. 

Organization benefits

Cross-training personnel means that you teach them how to do one another’s jobs. That way, if one staffer is unavailable, another can jump in and do the job. Cross-training also can increase your organization’s productivity. If the workload temporarily becomes heavy in one area, you’ll be able to shift employees where they’re needed.

There’s also value in a fresh pair of eyes. An employee who’s filling in for someone else can bring new perspective to day-to-day operations and may be able to come up with process improvements.

What’s more, cross-training staff is central to strong internal controls. Making sure that one accounting employee’s job is periodically performed by another employee can prevent fraud. Potential thieves are put on notice that their activities could come under review at any time.

Employees also gain

Employees can benefit, too. If the task a cross-trained staffer learns is vertical — it requires more responsibility or skill than that employee’s normal duties do — the employee may feel (and be) more valuable to the organization. If the task is lateral — with the same level of responsibility as the employee’s routine duties — the staffer still gains a greater understanding of the department or organization. Plus, the shared experience fosters mutual support.

Note, however, that not every employee is a candidate for cross-training. Choose people who show an interest in particular areas of your operation and are open to change. For example, your program coordinator might want to learn more about fundraising and could be an appropriate person to back up your development team.

Be sure to build the idea of cross-training into your hiring process. Select job candidates who show flexibility and curiosity, and let them know that, if hired, they may need to learn how to perform the duties of other employees.

Getting started

Begin the process by determining which positions should be cross-trained and creating an implementation plan. Contact us for tips on cross-training accounting and other employees.
 

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Three colorful houses with the question "Own a home?" above.  Wilmington Delaware CPA FirmCurrently, home ownership comes with many tax-saving opportunities. Consider both deductions and exclusions when you’re filing your 2016 return and tax planning for 2017:

Property tax deduction. Property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). 

Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible.

Home equity debt interest deduction. Interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. But keep in mind that, if home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes. 

Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.

Home office deduction. If your home office use meets certain tests, you generally can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, and the depreciation allocable to the space. Or you may be able to use a simplified method for claiming the deduction. 

Rental income exclusion. If you rent out all or a portion of your principal residence or second home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses directly associated with the rental, such as advertising and cleaning, won’t be deductible.

Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Be aware that gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable. 

Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it. 

The debt forgiveness exclusion and mortgage insurance premium deduction aren’t the only home-related breaks that might not be available in the future. There have been proposals to eliminate other breaks, such as the property tax deduction, as part of tax reform. 

Whether such changes will be signed into law and, if so, when they’d go into effect is uncertain. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So contact us for information on the latest tax reform developments or which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim.
 

Large happy family in front of a house. Wilmington Delaware AccountingOwning assets jointly with one or more children or other heirs is a common estate planning “shortcut.” But like many shortcuts, it can produce unintended — and costly — consequences. 

Advantages

There are two potential advantages to joint ownership: convenience and probate avoidance. If you hold title to property with a child as joint tenants with “right of survivorship,” when you die, the property is transferred to your child automatically. You don’t need a trust or other estate planning vehicles and it’s not necessary to go through probate.

Disadvantages

Joint ownership offers simplicity, but it can also create a number of problems, especially if you add someone as a co-tenant instead of a joint tenant with right of survivorship, including:

Unnecessary taxes. Adding a child’s name to the title may be considered an immediate taxable gift of one-half of the property’s value. And when you die, the property’s value then will be included in your taxable estate, though any gift tax paid with the original transfer would be allowed as an offset. 

Creditor claims. Joint ownership exposes the property to claims by your co-owner’s creditors or former spouses.

Loss of control. Your co-owner may be able to dispose of certain property without your consent or prevent you from selling or borrowing against certain property.

Unintended consequences. If your co-owner predeceases you, his or her share of the property may pass according to his or her estate plan or the laws of intestate succession. If you hold the property as co-tenants, instead of joint tenants with the right of survivorship, for instance, you’ll generally have no say in the ultimate disposition of that portion of the property. 

One or more properly drafted trusts can avoid each of these problems without the need for probate. If you have additional questions on how to address your assets in your estate plan, please contact us.

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Hallway lined with doors, man opening one and looking in.  Wilmington Delaware AccounantIt’s easy to think of lenders as doing your company a favor. But business financing relationships are just that: relationships. Yes, a lender has the working capital you need to grow. But a stable, successful business represents an enormously beneficial opportunity for the lender as well. So you should be just as picky with your lender as it is with your financials.

Where to start

If you indeed have a long-standing relationship with a local bank, make that your first call. There’s no understating the importance of familiarity, good communication and an amicable rapport when negotiating terms, making payments and dealing with whatever business complications may come up.

But should your local bank not offer the size or scope of financing needed, or if you’d just like to get an idea of what else is out there, don’t hesitate to shop around. Look for a lender with multiple loan products, so you have a better chance at structuring one to your liking. And get some referrals regarding the strength of service and support.

Other alternatives

If yours is a small business, check into the availability of Small Business Administration or other government-backed loan programs. These are often designed to boost local economies, so you may be able to get favorable terms and rates.

Last, but not least, don’t limit yourself to traditional lenders. Today’s lending environment is competitive and technology driven. So businesses have a wide variety of alternatives, many of which are just a few clicks away. These include angel investors, online peer-to-peer lending networks and crowdsourcing.

Best results

Many, if not most, companies can’t grow without taking on some debt. But precisely how you go about using debt to your advantage depends largely on the lenders with which you choose to do business. Let us play matchmaker and help you find the ideal partner. We can also offer assistance in structuring and presenting your financial statements for best results.

Controls assessmentThe Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires public companies to evaluate and report on internal controls over financial reporting using a recognized control framework. Private companies generally aren’t required to use a framework for the oversight of internal controls, unless they’re audited, but a strong system of checks and balances is essential for them as well. 

A critical process

Reporting on internal controls is an ongoing process, not a one-time assessment, that’s affected by an entity’s board of directors or owners, management, and other personnel. It’s designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of operations, the reliability of financial reporting, compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and safeguarding of assets. 

A strong system of internal controls helps a company achieve its strategic and financial goals, in addition to minimizing the risk of fraud. At the most basic level, auditors routinely monitor the following three control features. These serve as a system of checks and balances that help ensure management directives are carried out:

1. Physical restrictions. Employees should have access to only those assets necessary to perform their jobs. Locks and alarms are examples of ways to protect valuable tangible assets, including petty cash, inventory and equipment. But intangible assets — such as customer lists, lease agreements, patents and financial data — also require protection using passwords, access logs and appropriate legal paperwork.

2. Account reconciliation. Management should confirm and analyze account balances on a regular basis. For example, management should reconcile bank statements and count inventory regularly. 

Interim financial reports, such as weekly operating scorecards and quarterly financial statements, also keep management informed. But reports are useful only if management finds time to analyze them and investigate anomalies. Supervisory review takes on many forms, including observation, test counts, inquiry and task replication.

3. Job descriptions. Another basic control is detailed job descriptions. Company policies also should call for job segregation, job duplication and mandatory vacations. For example, the person who receives customer payments should not also approve write-offs (job segregation). And two signatures should be required for checks above a prescribed dollar amount (job duplication).

Controls assessment

Is your company’s internal control system strong enough? Even if you’re not required to follow the SEC’s rules on assessing internal controls, a thorough system of checks and balances will help your company achieve its goals. Company insiders sometimes lack the experience or objectivity to assess internal controls. But our auditors have seen the best — and worst — internal control systems and can help evaluate whether your controls are effective.

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