Updated accounting rules for long-term leases took effect in 2019 for public companies. Now, after several deferrals by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), private companies and private not-for-profit entities must follow suit, starting in fiscal year 2022. The updated guidance requires these organizations to report — for the first time — the full magnitude of their long-term lease obligations on the balance sheet. Here are the details.
In 2019, the FASB deferred Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), to 2021 for private entities. Then, in 2020, the FASB granted another extension to the effective date of the updated leases standard for private firms, because of disruptions to normal business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, the changes for private entities will apply to annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2021, and to interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2022. Early adoption is also permitted.
Most private organizations have welcomed these deferrals. Implementing the requisite changes to your organization’s accounting practices and systems can be time-consuming and costly, depending on its size, as well as the nature and volume of its leasing arrangements.
The accounting rules that currently apply to private entities require them to record lease obligations on their balance sheets only if the arrangements are considered financing transactions. Few arrangements are recorded, because accounting rules give lessees leeway to arrange the agreements in a way that they can be treated as simple rentals for financial reporting purposes. If an obligation isn’t recorded on a balance sheet, it makes a business look like it is less leveraged than it really is.
The updated guidance calls for major changes to current accounting practices for leases with terms of a year or longer. In a nutshell, ASU 2016-02 requires lessees to recognize on their balance sheets the assets and liabilities associated with all long-term rentals of machines, equipment, vehicles and real estate. The updated guidance also requires additional disclosures about the amount, timing and uncertainty of cash flows related to leases.
Most existing arrangements that currently are reported as leases will continue to be reported as leases under the updated guidance. In addition, the new definition is expected to encompass many more types of arrangements that aren’t reported as leases under current practice. Some of these arrangements may not be readily apparent, for example, if they’re embedded in service contracts or contracts with third-party manufacturers.
You can’t afford to wait until year end to adopt the updated guidance for long-term leases. Many public companies found that the implementation process took significantly more time and effort than they initially expected. Contact us to help evaluate which of your contracts must be reported as lease obligations under the new rules.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2021. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
Note: Certain tax-filing and tax-payment deadlines may be postponed for taxpayers who reside in or have a business in federally declared disaster areas.
Friday, October 15
Monday, November 1
Wednesday, November 10
Wednesday, December 15
Friday, December 31
Contact us if you’d like more information about the filing requirements and to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines.
Businesses rely on internal controls to help ensure the accuracy and integrity of their financial statements, as well as prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Given their importance, internal controls are a key area of focus for internal and external auditors.
Many auditors use detailed internal control questionnaires to help evaluate the internal control environment — and ensure a comprehensive assessment. Although some audit teams still use paper-based questionnaires, many now prefer an electronic format. Here’s an overview of the types of questions that may be included and how the questionnaire may be used during an audit.
The contents of internal control questionnaires vary from one audit firm to the next. They also may be customized for a particular industry or business. Most include general questions pertaining to the company’s mission, control environment and compliance situation. There also may be sections dedicated to mission-critical or fraud-prone elements of the company’s operations, such as:
Questionnaires usually don’t take long to complete, because most questions are closed-ended, requiring only yes-or-no answers. For example, a question might ask: Is a physical inventory count conducted annually? However, there also may be space for open-ended responses. For instance, a question might ask for a list of controls that limit physical access to the company’s inventory.
Internal control questionnaires are generally administered using one the following three approaches:
1. Completion by company personnel. Here, management completes the questionnaire independently. The audit team might request the company’s organization chart to ensure that the appropriate individuals are selected to participate. Auditors also might conduct preliminary interviews to confirm their selections before assigning the questionnaire.
2. Completion by the auditor based on inquiry. Under this approach, the auditor meets with company personnel to discuss a particular element of the internal control environment. Then the auditor completes the relevant section of the questionnaire and asks the people who were interviewed to review and validate the responses.
3. Completion by the auditor after testing. Here, the auditor completes the questionnaire after observing and testing the internal control environment. Once auditors complete the questionnaire, they typically ask management to review and validate the responses.
The purpose of the internal control questionnaire is to help the audit team assess your company’s internal control system. Coupled with the audit team’s training, expertise and analysis, the questionnaire can help produce accurate, insightful audit reports. The insight gained from the questionnaire also can add value to your business by revealing holes in the control system that may need to be patched to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Contact us for more information.
Do you play a major role in a closely held corporation and sometimes spend money on corporate expenses personally? These costs may wind up being nondeductible both by an officer and the corporation unless proper steps are taken. This issue is more likely to arise in connection with a financially troubled corporation.
Deductible vs. nondeductible expenses
In general, you can’t deduct an expense you incur on behalf of your corporation, even if it’s a legitimate “trade or business” expense and even if the corporation is financially troubled. This is because a taxpayer can only deduct expenses that are his own. And since your corporation’s legal existence as a separate entity must be respected, the corporation’s costs aren’t yours and thus can’t be deducted even if you pay them.
What’s more, the corporation won’t generally be able to deduct them either because it didn’t pay them itself. Accordingly, be advised that it shouldn’t be a practice of your corporation’s officers or major shareholders to cover corporate costs.
When expenses may be deductible
On the other hand, if a corporate executive incurs costs that relate to an essential part of his or her duties as an executive, they may be deductible as ordinary and necessary expenses related to his or her “trade or business” of being an executive. If you wish to set up an arrangement providing for payments to you and safeguarding their deductibility, a provision should be included in your employment contract with the corporation stating the types of expenses which are part of your duties and authorizing you to incur them. For example, you may be authorized to attend out-of-town business conferences on the corporation’s behalf at your personal expense.
Alternatively, to avoid the complete loss of any deductions by both yourself and the corporation, an arrangement should be in place under which the corporation reimburses you for the expenses you incur. Turn the receipts over to the corporation and use an expense reimbursement claim form or system. This will at least allow the corporation to deduct the amount of the reimbursement.
Contact us if you’d like assistance or would like to discuss these issues further.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials are seeing a large increase in the number of new businesses being launched. From June 2020 through June 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that business applications are up 18.6%. The Bureau measures this by the number of businesses applying for an Employer Identification Number.
Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many of the expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your federal tax bill.
How to treat expenses for tax purposes
If you’re starting or planning to launch a new business, keep these three rules in mind:
In general, start-up expenses are those you make to:
To qualify for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To be eligible as an “organization expense,” an expense must be related to establishing a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.
There’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be at risk for paying personally if you own or manage a business with employees. It’s called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty” and it applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.
Because taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes will be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.
The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.
Here are some answers to questions about the penalty so you can safely avoid it.
What actions are penalized? The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.
Who is at risk? The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax as well as a partnership’s partners, or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under some circumstances. In some cases, responsibility has even been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.
According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and have the power to pay them but instead make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.
Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken entirely on his or her own after the penalty is paid. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.
What’s considered “willful?” For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due the government is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to take care of the job yourself can be treated as the willful element.
Never borrow from taxes
Under no circumstances should you fail to withhold taxes or “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds withheld should be paid over to the government on time. Contact us with any questions about making tax payments.
Are you eligible to take the deduction for qualified business income (QBI)? Here are 10 facts about this valuable tax break, referred to as the pass-through deduction, QBI deduction or Section 199A deduction.
As you can see, this substantial deduction is complex, especially if your taxable income exceeds the thresholds discussed above. Other rules apply. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) is a valuable tax break that was extended and modified by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted in March of 2021. Here’s a rundown of the rules.
Back in March of 2020, Congress originally enacted the ERTC in the CARES Act to encourage employers to hire and retain employees during the pandemic. At that time, the ERTC applied to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. However, Congress later modified and extended the ERTC to apply to wages paid before July 1, 2021.
The ARPA again extended and modified the ERTC to apply to wages paid after June 30, 2021, and before January 1, 2022. Thus, an eligible employer can claim the refundable ERTC against “applicable employment taxes” equal to 70% of the qualified wages it pays to employees in the third and fourth quarters of 2021. Except as discussed below, qualified wages are generally limited to $10,000 per employee per 2021 calendar quarter. Thus, the maximum ERTC amount available is generally $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter or $28,000 per employee in 2021.
For purposes of the ERTC, a qualified employer is eligible if it experiences a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of business due to a government order. Employers with up to 500 full-time employees can claim the credit without regard to whether the employees for whom the credit is claimed actually perform services. But, except as explained below, employers with more than 500 full-time employees can only claim the ERTC with respect to employees that don’t perform services.
Employers who got a Payroll Protection Program loan in 2020 can still claim the ERTC. But the same wages can’t be used both for seeking loan forgiveness or satisfying conditions of other COVID relief programs (such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program) in calculating the ERTC.
Beginning in the third quarter of 2021, the following modifications apply to the ERTC:
Contact us if you have any questions related to your business claiming the ERTC.
Businesses need financial information that’s accurate, relevant and timely. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires publicly traded companies to follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), often considered the “gold standard” in financial reporting in the United States. But privately held companies can use simplified alternative accounting methods. What’s right for your business depends on its size, regulatory and contractual requirements, management’s future plans and the needs of its stakeholders.
Menu of accounting methods
Here’s an overview of the accounting methods available for small and medium-sized entities (SMEs):
GAAP. This framework follows rules set forth by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). It’s based on the accrual method of accounting, where revenues and expenses are matched to the reporting period in which they’re earned and incurred, respectively. Under this method, companies report receivables for revenue that’s earned but not yet collected and payables for expenses that are incurred but not yet paid. Prepaid (and accrued) expenses are also reported on an accrual-basis balance sheet.
Financial Reporting Framework for SMEs. This framework is rooted in GAAP, but it’s adjusted to accommodate the needs of private businesses. Developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), this simplified framework blends traditional accounting principles with accrual-basis income tax accounting methods.
This non-GAAP framework is based on historic cost, steering away from complex, fair-value-based standards that have been implemented in recent years. For example, it retains the familiar accounting for revenue recognition and leases. It also includes targeted disclosure requirements and provides a degree of optionality, enabling SMEs to customize their financial statements to meet the needs of stakeholders.
Tax-basis method. Under this method, companies use the same accounting principles for book and federal income tax purposes. The U.S. tax code provides the rules that apply under this method.
Cash-basis method. This is the simplest reporting method. Revenues are recognized when received from customers and expenses when the company pays them. But there’s a potential downside: Revenues for the period aren’t necessarily matched to the related expenses for the period. This can lead to fluctuations in profits and financial ratios when comparing performance over time.
Discuss the following questions with your accounting professional to help select the right method for your business:
For example, the cash- or tax-basis method may be appropriate for a single-owner business without any debt that uses its financial statements for internal purposes only. But larger private firms may decide it’s advantageous to comply with GAAP to attract outside investors, obtain loans, satisfy bonding and regulatory requirements, and evaluate strategic business decisions.
What’s right for you?
As your business grows in size, sophistication and complexity, it may be time to upgrade to a more complicated and consistent method of accounting. Contact us to help select a reporting framework that suits your current needs.
Working capital equals the difference between current assets and current liabilities. Organizations need a certain amount of working capital to run their operations smoothly. The optimal (or “target”) amount of working capital depends on the nature of operations and the industry. Inefficient working capital management can hinder growth and performance.
The term “liquidity” refers to how quickly an item can be converted to cash. In general, receivables are considered more liquid than inventory. Working capital is often evaluated using the following liquidity metrics:
Current ratio. This is computed by dividing current assets by current liabilities. A current ratio of at least 1.0 means that the company has enough current assets on hand to cover liabilities that are due within 12 months.
Quick (or acid-test) ratio. This is a more conservative liquidity benchmark. It typically excludes prepaid assets and inventory from the calculation.
An alternative perspective on working capital is to compare it to total assets and annual revenues. From this angle, working capital becomes a measure of operating efficiency. Excessive amounts of cash tied up in working capital detract from other spending options, such as expanding to new markets, buying equipment and paying down debt.
High liquidity generally equates with low financial risk. However, you can have too much of a good thing. If working capital is trending upward from year to year — or it’s significantly higher than your competitors — it may be time to take proactive measures to speed up cash inflows and delay cash outflows.
Lean operations require taking a closer look at each component of working capital and implementing these best practices:
1. Put cash to good use. Excessive cash balances encourage management to become complacent about working capital. If your organization has plenty of money in its checkbook, you might be less hungry to collect receivables and less disciplined when ordering inventory.
2. Expedite collections. Organizations that sell on credit effectively finance their customers’ operations. Stale receivables — typically any balance over 45 or 60 days outstanding, depending on the industry — are a red flag of inefficient working capital management.
Getting a handle on receivables starts by evaluating which items should be written off as bad debts. Then viable balances need to be “talked in the door” as soon as possible. Enhanced collections efforts might include early bird discounts, electronic invoices and collections-based sales compensation programs.
3. Carry less inventory. Inventory represents a huge investment for manufacturers, distributors, retailers and contractors. It’s also difficult to track and value. Enhanced forecasting and data sharing with suppliers can reduce the need for safety stock and result in smarter ordering practices. Computerized technology — such as barcodes, radio frequency identification and enterprise resource planning tools — also improve inventory tracking and ordering practices.
4. Postpone payments. Credit terms should be extended as long as possible — without losing out on early bird discounts. If you can stretch your organization’s average days in payables from, say, 45 to 60 days, it trains vendors and suppliers to accept the new terms, particularly if you’re a predictable, reliable payor.
Prioritize working capital
Some organizations are so focused on the income statement, including revenue and profits, that they lose sight of the strategic significance of the balance sheet — especially working capital accounts. We can benchmark your organization’s liquidity and asset efficiency over time and against competitors. If necessary, we also can help implement strategies to improve your performance, without exposing you to unnecessary risk.
Internal controls are a system of policies and procedures organizations put in place to protect assets and improve operating efficiency. Effective internal controls are critical to accurate financial reporting. A solid system of controls can help prevent, detect and correct financial misstatements due to errors and fraud.
Internal and external risk factors evolve over time. So, upon completion of the year-end financial statements, managers and internal auditors should reassess whether internal controls are up to snuff and brainstorm ways to solidify controls. Start your annual assessment with the following three basic controls:
1. Physical restrictions
Employees only should have access to 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 with controls including passwords, access logs and appropriate legal paperwork.
2. Account reconciliation
Management should confirm and analyze account balances on a regular basis. To illustrate, strong organizations reconcile bank statements and count inventory on a regular basis. Waiting until year-end to complete these basic procedures is a potential red flag of weak oversight.
Interim financial reports, such as weekly operating scorecards and quarterly financial statements, also keep management informed. But reports are only useful 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 maintaining detailed, up-to-date job descriptions. This exercise can help you better understand how financial job duties interact with one another. It can also highlight possible conflicts of interest that could lead to improper recordkeeping.
Your policies 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).
It’s important to confirm during the annual review whether employees are aware of internal control policies and procedures — and whether they’re being strictly followed. At some organizations, certain internal controls procedures have been suspended while employees are working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
No time like the present
For many businesses and not-for-profits, the pandemic has slowed operations. Unfortunately, times of financial distress may also entice some employees to exaggerate financial results or even commit fraud. Our auditors have seen the best (or worst) in internal control practices. We can help you identify potential weaknesses and — regardless of whether your organization is large or small — find cost-effective ways to reinforce your controls.
If you’re claiming deductions for business meals or auto expenses, expect the IRS to closely review them. In some cases, taxpayers have incomplete documentation or try to create records months (or years) later. In doing so, they fail to meet the strict substantiation requirements set forth under tax law. Tax auditors are adept at rooting out inconsistencies, omissions and errors in taxpayers’ records, as illustrated by one recent U.S. Tax Court case.
Facts of the case
In the case, the taxpayer ran a notary and paralegal business. She deducted business meals and vehicle expenses that she allegedly incurred in connection with her business.
The deductions were denied by the IRS and the court. Tax law “establishes higher substantiation requirements” for these and certain other expenses, the court noted. No deduction is generally allowed “unless the taxpayer substantiates the amount, time and place, business purpose, and business relationship to the taxpayer of the person receiving the benefit” for each expense with adequate records or sufficient evidence.
The taxpayer in this case didn’t provide adequate records or other sufficient evidence to prove the business purpose of her meal expenses. She gave vague testimony that she deducted expenses for meals where she “talked strategies” with people who “wanted her to do some work.” The court found this was insufficient to show the connection between the meals and her business.
When it came to the taxpayer’s vehicle expense deductions, she failed to offer credible evidence showing where she drove her vehicle, the purpose of each trip and her business relationship to the places visited. She also conceded that she used her car for both business and personal activities. (TC Memo 2021-50)
Best practices for business expenses
This case is an example of why it’s critical to maintain meticulous records to support business expenses for meals and vehicle deductions. Here’s a list of “DOs and DON'Ts” to help meet the strict IRS and tax law substantiation requirements for these items:
DO keep detailed, accurate records. For each expense, record the amount, the time and place, the business purpose, and the business relationship of any person to whom you provided a meal. If you have employees who you reimburse for meals and auto expenses, make sure they’re complying with all the rules.
DON’T reconstruct expense logs at year end or wait until you receive a notice from the IRS. Take a moment to record the details in a log or diary or on a receipt at the time of the event or soon after. Require employees to submit monthly expense reports.
DO respect the fine line between personal and business expenses. Be careful about combining business and pleasure. Your business checking account shouldn’t be used for personal expenses.
DON’T be surprised if the IRS asks you to prove your deductions. Meal and auto expenses are a magnet for attention. Be prepared for a challenge.
With organization and guidance from us, your tax records can stand up to scrutiny from the IRS. There may be ways to substantiate your deductions that you haven’t thought of, and there may be a way to estimate certain deductions (“the Cohan rule”), if your records are lost due to a fire, theft, flood or other disaster.
In recent years, the accounting rules for certain balance sheet items have transitioned from historical cost to “fair value.” Examples of assets that may currently be reported at fair value are asset retirement obligations, derivatives and intangible assets acquired in a business combination. Though fair value may better align your company’s financial statements with today’s market values, estimating fair value may require subjective judgment.
Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), fair value is “the price that would be received to sell an asset in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.” Accounting Standards Codification Topic 820, Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures, explains how companies should estimate the fair value of assets and liabilities by using available, quantifiable market-based data.
Topic 820 provides the following three-tier valuation hierarchy for valuation inputs:
Fair value measurements, especially those based on the third level of inputs, may involve a high degree of subjectivity, making them susceptible to misstatement. Therefore, these estimates usually require more auditor focus.
Auditing standards generally require auditors to select one or a combination of the following approaches to substantively test fair value measurements:
Test management’s process. Auditors evaluate the reasonableness and consistency of management’s assumptions, as well as test whether the underlying data is complete, accurate and relevant.
Develop an independent estimate. Using management’s assumptions (or alternate assumptions), auditors come up with an estimate to compare to what’s reported on the internally prepared financial statements.
Review subsequent events or transactions. The reasonableness of fair value estimates can be gauged by looking at events or transactions that happen after the balance sheet date but before the date of the auditor’s report.
Measuring fair value is outside the comfort zone of most in-house accounting personnel. Fortunately, an outside valuation expert can provide objective, market-based evidence to support the fair value of assets and liabilities. Contact us for more information.
Many companies are continuing to struggle financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. If cash is tight, what can your business do to shorten its cash cycle? The answer could lie in your outstanding accounts receivable. Here are five strategies to help convert receivables into cash ASAP.
1. Apply for a line of credit. A line of credit can help bridge the “cash gap” between making a sale and getting paid. Often credit lines are collateralized by unpaid invoices, just like equipment and property are pledged for conventional term loans. Banks typically charge fees and interest for securitized receivables.
Each financial institution sets its own rates and conditions. Typically, these arrangements provide immediate loans for up to 90% of the value of an outstanding debt and are repaid as customers pay their bills.
2. Encourage early payment. Your company may be able to expedite collections if customers are given a financial incentive to pay their bills early. For example, you might give a 3% discount to customers who pay with 14 days of receiving their invoices. Online and autopayment options often work in tandem with these discounts.
3. Consider factoring. This option allows companies to monetize their unpaid — but not yet delinquent — receivables. Here, receivables are sold to a third-party factoring company for immediate cash.
Costs associated with receivables factoring can be much higher than those for collateral-based loans. And factoring companies are likely to scrutinize the creditworthiness of your customers. But selling receivables for upfront cash may be advantageous, especially for smaller businesses, because it reduces the burden on accounting staff and saves time.
4. Renegotiate with customers. Before you write off stale receivables that are more than 90 days outstanding, call the customer and ask what’s going on. Sometimes you might be able to negotiate a lower amount or installment payments — which might be better than a write-off if your customer is facing bankruptcy.
5. Focus on collections. Some small companies haven’t historically needed to dedicate specific resources to collections, because customers have generally paid in a timely matter. However, if significant collection issues have built up during the pandemic, it may be time to pick a customer service rep to be in charge of making collections calls. For more serious issues, you might prefer hiring a seasoned, in-house collections professional or reaching out to an external commission-based collection agency.
If slow-to-pay customers are adversely affecting your company’s cash flow, contact us. We’ve helped many businesses implement creative solutions to convert receivables into fast cash.
Many businesses provide education fringe benefits so their employees can improve their skills and gain additional knowledge. An employee can receive, on a tax-free basis, up to $5,250 each year from his or her employer for educational assistance under a “qualified educational assistance program.”
For this purpose, “education” means any form of instruction or training that improves or develops an individual’s capabilities. It doesn’t matter if it’s job-related or part of a degree program. This includes employer-provided education assistance for graduate-level courses, including those normally taken by an individual pursuing a program leading to a business, medical, law or other advanced academic or professional degree.
The educational assistance must be provided under a separate written plan that’s publicized to your employees, and must meet a number of conditions, including nondiscrimination requirements. In other words, it can’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. In addition, not more than 5% of the amounts paid or incurred by the employer for educational assistance during the year may be provided for individuals who (including their spouses or dependents) who own 5% or more of the business.
No deduction or credit can be taken by the employee for any amount excluded from the employee’s income as an education assistance benefit.
If you pay more than $5,250 for educational benefits for an employee during the year, he or she must generally pay tax on the amount over $5,250. Your business should include the amount in income in the employee’s wages. However, in addition to, or instead of applying, the $5,250 exclusion, an employer can satisfy an employee’s educational expenses, on a nontaxable basis, if the educational assistance is job-related. To qualify as job-related, the educational assistance must:
“Job-related” employer educational assistance isn’t subject to a dollar limit. To be job-related, the education can’t qualify the employee to meet the minimum educational requirements for qualification in his or her employment or other trade or business.
Educational assistance meeting the above “job-related” rules is excludable from an employee’s income as a working condition fringe benefit.
In addition to education assistance, some employers offer student loan repayment assistance as a recruitment and retention tool. Recent COVID-19 relief laws may provide your employees with tax-free benefits. Contact us to learn more about setting up an education assistance or student loan repayment plan at your business.
Owners of incorporated businesses know that there’s a tax advantage to taking money out of a C corporation as compensation rather than as dividends. The reason: A corporation can deduct the salaries and bonuses that it pays executives, but not dividend payments. Thus, if funds are paid as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is only taxed once — to the employee who receives it.
However, there are limits to how much money you can take out of the corporation this way. Under tax law, compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion isn’t deductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. Keep in mind that the IRS is generally more interested in unreasonable compensation payments made to someone “related” to a corporation, such as a shareholder-employee or a member of a shareholder’s family.
Determining reasonable compensation
There’s no easy way to determine what’s reasonable. In an audit, the IRS examines the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include the employee’s duties and the amount of time spent on those duties, as well as the employee’s skills, expertise and compensation history. Other factors that may be reviewed are the complexities of the business and its gross and net income.
There are some steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation. For example, you can:
You can avoid problems and challenges by planning ahead. If you have questions or concerns about your situation, contact us.
As a business owner, you should be aware that you can save family income and payroll taxes by putting your child on the payroll.
Here are some considerations.
Shifting business earnings
You can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income by shifting some business earnings to a child as wages for services performed. In order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.
For example, suppose you’re a sole proprietor in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old son to help with office work full-time in the summer and part-time in the fall. He earns $10,000 during the year (and doesn’t have other earnings). You can save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your son, who can use his $12,550 standard deduction for 2021 to shelter his earnings.
Family taxes are cut even if your son’s earnings exceed his standard deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to him beginning at a 10% rate, instead of being taxed at your higher rate.
Income tax withholding
Your business likely will have to withhold federal income taxes on your child’s wages. Usually, an employee can claim exempt status if he or she had no federal income tax liability for last year and expects to have none this year.
However, exemption from withholding can’t be claimed if: 1) the employee’s income exceeds $1,100 for 2021 (and includes more than $350 of unearned income), and 2) the employee can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.
Keep in mind that your child probably will get a refund for part or all of the withheld tax when filing a return for the year.
Social Security tax savings
If your business isn’t incorporated, you can also save some Social Security tax by shifting some of your earnings to your child. That’s because services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent isn’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes.
A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA (unemployment) tax, which exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 employed by a parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting only of his or her parents.
Note: There’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or is a partnership that includes non-parent partners. However, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work you’d pay someone else to do.
Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement savings, depending on your plan and how it defines qualifying employees. For example, if you have a SEP plan, a contribution can be made for the child up to 25% of his or her earnings (not to exceed $58,000 for 2021).
Contact us if you have any questions about these rules in your situation. Keep in mind that some of the rules about employing children may change from year to year and may require your income-shifting strategies to change too.
The statement of cash flows essentially tells you about cash entering and leaving a business. It’s arguably the most misunderstood and underappreciated part of a company’s annual report. After all, a business that reports positive net income on its income statements sometimes doesn’t have enough cash in the bank to pay its bills. Reviewing the statement of cash flows can provide significant insight into a company’s financial health and long-term viability.
Under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the statement of cash flows is typically organized into three sections:
1. Cash flows from operations. This section focuses on cash flows from selling products and services. It customarily starts with accrual-basis net income. Then it’s adjusted for items related to normal business operations, such as:
The end result is cash-basis net income. Companies that report several successive years of negative operating cash flows may be better off closing than continuing to incur losses.
2. Cash flows from investing activities. If a company buys or sells property, equipment or marketable securities, the transaction generally shows up here. This section reveals whether a company is reinvesting in its future operations — or divesting assets for emergency funds.
3. Cash flows from financing activities. This section shows cash flows from raising, borrowing and repaying capital. It highlights the company’s ability to obtain cash from lenders and investors, including:
Capital leases and noncash transactions are reported in a separate schedule at the bottom of the statement of cash flows or in a narrative footnote disclosure. For example, if a borrower purchases equipment directly using loan proceeds, the transaction would typically appear at the bottom of the statement, rather than as a cash outflow from investing activities and an inflow from financing activities.
In addition, U.S. companies that enter into foreign currency transactions customarily report the effect of exchange rate changes as a separate item in the reconciliation of beginning and ending balances of cash and cash equivalents.
For more information
The statement of cash flows provides valuable insight about your company’s financial health. But it may not always be clear how to classify transactions. We can help you get it right.
President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on March 11. While the new law is best known for the provisions providing relief to individuals, there are also several tax breaks and financial benefits for businesses.
Here are some of the tax highlights of the ARPA.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC). This valuable tax credit is extended from June 30 until December 31, 2021. The ARPA continues the ERC rate of credit at 70% for this extended period of time. It also continues to allow for up to $10,000 in qualified wages for any calendar quarter. Taking into account the Consolidated Appropriations Act extension and the ARPA extension, this means an employer can potentially have up to $40,000 in qualified wages per employee through 2021.
Employer-Provided Dependent Care Assistance. In general, an eligible employee’s gross income doesn’t include amounts paid or incurred by an employer for dependent care assistance provided to the employee under a qualified dependent care assistance program (DCAP).
Previously, the amount that could be excluded from an employee’s gross income under a DCAP during a tax year wasn’t more than $5,000 ($2,500 for married individuals filing separately), subject to certain limitations. However, any contribution made by an employer to a DCAP can’t exceed the employee’s earned income or, if married, the lesser of employee’s or spouse’s earned income.
Under the ARPA, for 2021 only, the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance is increased from $5,000 to $10,500 (from $2,500 to $5,250 for married individuals filing separately).
This provision is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020.
Paid Sick and Family Leave Credits. Changes under the ARPA apply to amounts paid with respect to calendar quarters beginning after March 31, 2021. Among other changes, the law extends the paid sick time and paid family leave credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act from March 31, 2021, through September 30, 2021. It also provides that paid sick and paid family leave credits may each be increased by the employer’s share of Social Security tax (6.2%) and employer’s share of Medicare tax (1.45%) on qualified leave wages.
Grants to restaurants. Under the ARPA, eligible restaurants, food trucks, and similar businesses that provide food and drinks may receive restaurant revitalization grants from the Small Business Administration. For tax purposes, amounts received as restaurant revitalization grants aren’t included in the gross income of the person who receives the money.
These are only some of the provisions in the ARPA. There are many others that may be beneficial to your business. Contact us for more information about your situation.
Many businesses have experienced severe cash flow problems during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, some may have delayed or missed loan payments. Instead of filing for bankruptcy in court, delinquent debtors may reach out to lenders about restructuring their loans.
Restructuring vs. Chapter 11
Out-of-court debt restructuring is a process by which a public or private company informally renegotiates outstanding debt obligations with its creditors. The resulting agreement is legally binding, and can enable the distressed company to reduce its debt, extend maturities, alter payment terms or consolidate loans.
Debt restructuring is a far less extreme and burdensome (not to mention less expensive) alternative to filing for Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy protection. And lenders often are more receptive to a restructuring than they are with taking their chances in bankruptcy court.
Types of restructuring
There are two basic types of out-of-court debt restructuring:
1. General. This type of negotiation buys the distressed company the time needed to regain its financial footing by extending loan maturities, lowering interest rates and consolidating debt. Creditors typically prefer a general restructuring because it means they’ll receive the full amount owed, even if it’s over a longer time period.
General restructuring suits companies facing a temporary crisis — such as the sudden loss of a large customer or the departure of a key management team member — but have overall financials that are still strong. Debt structure changes can be permanent or temporary. If they’re permanent, creditors are likely to push for higher equity stakes or increased loan payments as compensation.
2. Troubled. A troubled debt restructuring requires creditors to write off a portion of the distressed company’s outstanding debt and permanently accept those losses. Typically, the creditor and debtor reach a settlement in lieu of bankruptcy.
This solution is appropriate when a company simply can’t pay its current debts at current interest rates and the only alternative is bankruptcy. Creditors may receive some compensation, however, with increased equity shares in the business or, if it’s acquired, in the merged company.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has received many questions about how to apply the accounting guidance on debt restructurings. So, it recently published an educational staff paper to help financially distressed borrowers work through the details.
Thinking about debt restructuring?
We are on top of the latest developments in this nuanced accounting topic. Contact us to help report restructured loans in your company’s financial statements.
A number of tax-related limits that affect businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have increased for 2021. Some stayed the same due to low inflation. And the deduction for business meals has doubled for this year after a new law was enacted at the end of 2020. Here’s a rundown of those that may be important to you and your business.
Social Security tax
The amount of employees’ earnings that are subject to Social Security tax is capped for 2021 at $142,800 (up from $137,700 for 2020).
Deduction for eligible business-related food and beverage expenses provided by a restaurant: 100% (up from 50%)
Other employee benefits
These are only some of the tax limits that may affect your business and additional rules may apply. If you have questions, please contact us.
Does your business need a loan? Before contacting your bank, it’s important to gather all relevant financial information to prove your business is creditworthy. By anticipating information requests, you can expedite the application process and improve your chances of approval.
Lenders love GAAP
U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) is a collection of specific accounting rules and principles that’s regularly updated by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. Lenders generally prefer GAAP financial statements over those prepared under special purpose frameworks, such as cash- or tax-basis financial statements, because GAAP financials tend to be more transparent and consistent from one business (or reporting period) to the next.
Businesses that follow GAAP use accrual-basis reporting. That is, they record sales as earned and expenses when incurred. Under GAAP, the balance sheet also includes receivables, payables, prepaid assets and accrued expenses. These accounts generally are created only when a business uses accrual accounting.
Dig deeper with financial benchmarks
During the loan application process, lenders may also compute various financial ratios and then compare them over time or against competitors. Common benchmarks used in the underwriting process include:
Beyond the numbers
Your lenders also may want to evaluate the operations of your business. This meeting provides opportunities to perform the following due diligence procedures:
Also be prepared to explain how you intend to use the loan proceeds for future business operations. For example, you might want to expand your facilities, hire more employees or buy equipment. Or maybe you want a cushion to fund occasional working capital shortfalls.
Ready, set, apply
Need help securing a commercial loan for your business? We can be a valuable resource during the application process.
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.