The footnotes to your company’s financial statements give investors and lenders insight into account balances, accounting practices and potential risk factors — knowledge that’s vital to making well-informed business and investment decisions. Here are four important issues that you should cover in your footnote disclosures.
1. 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. Unscrupulous managers may attempt to downplay liabilities to avoid violating loan agreements or admitting financial problems to stakeholders.
2. Related-party transactions
Companies may employ friends and relatives — or give preferential treatment to, or receive it from, related parties. It’s important that footnotes disclose all related parties with whom the company and its management team conduct business.
For example, say, a dress boutique rents retail space from the owner’s uncle at below-market rents, saving roughly $120,000 each year. If the retailer doesn’t disclose that this favorable related-party deal exists, its lenders may mistakenly believe that the business is more profitable than it really is. When the owner’s uncle unexpectedly dies — and the owner’s cousin, 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.
3. Accounting changes
Footnotes disclose the nature and justification for a change in accounting principle, as well as how that change affects the financial statements. Valid reasons exist to change an accounting method, such as a regulatory mandate. But dishonest managers also can use accounting changes in, say, depreciation or inventory reporting methods to manipulate financial results.
4. Significant events
Disclosures may forewarn stakeholders that a company recently lost a major customer or will be subject to stricter regulatory oversight in the coming year. Footnotes disclose significant events that could materially impact future earnings or impair business value. But dishonest managers may overlook or downplay significant events to preserve the company’s credit standing.
Too much, too little or just right?
In recent years, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has been eliminating and simplifying footnote disclosures. While disclosure “overload” can be burdensome, it’s important that companies don’t cut back too much. Transparency is key to effective corporate governance.
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business decreased by one-and-one-half cents, to 56 cents per mile. As a result, you might claim a lower deduction for vehicle-related expenses for 2021 than you could for 2020 or 2019. This is the second year in a row that the cents-per-mile rate has decreased.
Deducting actual expenses vs. cents-per-mile
In general, businesses can deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases, certain limits apply to depreciation write-offs on vehicles that don’t apply to other types of business assets.
The cents-per-mile rate is useful if you don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this method, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses. However, you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.
Using the cents-per-mile rate is also popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal vehicles. These reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who drive their personal vehicles extensively for business purposes. Why? Under current law, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their own income tax returns.
If you do use the cents-per-mile rate, be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t comply, the reimbursements could be considered taxable wages to the employees.
The 2021 rate
Beginning on January 1, 2021, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 56 cents per mile. It was 57.5 cents for 2020 and 58 cents for 2019.
The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It’s based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. The rate partly reflects the current price of gas, which is down from a year ago. According to AAA Gas Prices, the average nationwide price of a gallon of unleaded regular gas was $2.42 recently, compared with $2.49 a year ago. Occasionally, if there’s a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the cents-per-mile rate midyear.
When this method can’t be used
There are some situations when you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. In some cases, it partly depends on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past. In other cases, it depends on if the vehicle is new to your business this year or whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation tax breaks on it.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider in deciding whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. We can help if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2021 — or claiming them on your 2020 income tax return.