Footnote disclosures: The story behind the numbers

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.

© 2021

The cents-per-mile rate for business miles decreases again for 2021

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.

© 2021

The new Form 1099-NEC and the revised 1099-MISC are due to recipients soon

There’s a new IRS form for business taxpayers that pay or receive certain types of nonemployee compensation and it must be furnished to most recipients by February 1, 2021. After sending the forms to recipients, taxpayers must file the forms with the IRS by March 1 (March 31 if filing electronically).

The requirement begins with forms for tax year 2020. Payers must complete Form 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation,” to report any payment of $600 or more to a recipient. February 1 is also the deadline for furnishing Form 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to report certain other payments to recipients.

If your business is using Form 1099-MISC to report amounts in box 8, “substitute payments in lieu of dividends or interest,” or box 10, “gross proceeds paid to an attorney,” there’s an exception to the regular due date. Those forms are due to recipients by February 16, 2021.

1099-MISC changes

Before the 2020 tax year, Form 1099-MISC was filed to report payments totaling at least $600 in a calendar year for services performed in a trade or business by someone who isn’t treated as an employee (in other words, an independent contractor). These payments are referred to as nonemployee compensation (NEC) and the payment amount was reported in box 7.

Form 1099-NEC was introduced to alleviate the confusion caused by separate deadlines for Form 1099-MISC that reported NEC in box 7 and all other Form 1099-MISC for paper filers and electronic filers.

Payers of nonemployee compensation now use Form 1099-NEC to report those payments.

Generally, payers must file Form 1099-NEC by January 31. But for 2020 tax returns, the due date is February 1, 2021, because January 31, 2021, is on a Sunday. There’s no automatic 30-day extension to file Form 1099-NEC. However, an extension to file may be available under certain hardship conditions. 

When to file 1099-NEC

If the following four conditions are met, you must generally report payments as nonemployee compensation:

  • You made a payment to someone who isn’t your employee,
  • You made a payment for services in the course of your trade or business,
  • You made a payment to an individual, partnership, estate, or, in some cases, a corporation, and
  • You made payments to a recipient of at least $600 during the year.

We can help

If you have questions about filing Form 1099-NEC, Form 1099-MISC or any tax forms, contact us. We can assist you in staying in compliance with all rules.

© 2021

Cutoffs: What counts in 2020 vs. 2021

As year end approaches, it’s a good idea for calendar-year entities to review the guidelines for recognizing revenue and expenses. There are specific rules regarding accounting cutoffs under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Strict observance of these rules is generally the safest game plan.

The basics

Companies that follow GAAP must use the accrual method of accounting, not the cash method. That means revenues and expenses must be matched to the periods in which they were earned or incurred. The end of the period serves as a “cutoff” for recognizing revenue and expenses. For a calendar-year business, the cutoff is December 31.

However, some companies may be tempted to play timing games to lower taxes or boost financial results. The temptation might be especially high in 2020, as many companies struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now or later

Test your understanding of the cutoff rules with these two hypothetical situations:

  1. As of December 31, a calendar-year, accrual-basis auto dealership has verbally negotiated a deal on an SUV. But the customer hasn’t yet signed all the paperwork. Should the sale be reported in 2020 or 2021?
  2. On December 30, a calendar-year, accrual-basis retailer pays its rent bill for January. Rent is due on the first day of the month. Can the store deduct the extra month’s rent in 2020 to help lower its tax bill?

In both examples, the transactions should be reported in 2021, not 2020. In the first example, even if the customer takes the car home for the weekend, it doesn’t matter; there’s still the possibility the customer could back out of the deal. The dealership can’t report the transaction in 2020 revenue until the customer has signed the paperwork and paid for the vehicle with cash or financing.

Audit procedures

If your financial statements are audited, your CPA will enforce strict cutoff rules — and likely reverse any items that were reported inaccurately. Audit procedures may include reviewing customer contracts and returns reported near year end. Auditors also may compare expenses as a percentage of revenues from period to period to identify timing errors. And they may vouch expenses to invoices and contracts for accuracy.

It never reflects favorably — in the eyes of investor or lenders — when auditors adjust year-end financial statements for inaccurate observation of cutoffs. Don’t give cause for others to wonder about your operations.

Timing is critical

Contact us if you need help understanding the rules on when to record revenue or expenses. We can help you comply with the rules and minimize financial statement adjustments during your audit.

© 2020

February 2021 Questions and Answers


I’m working on my Master’s degree online. Can I write off any of my tuition on my tax return?


You can deduct up to $4,000 in tuition expenses in 2020 but the deduction begins to phase out for single taxpayers with income of $65,000. This deduction is completely eliminated for 2021 and beyond.

However, you may prefer to take the Lifetime Learning Credit. It provides a credit of up to $2,000 on your tax bill and has similar phase out thresholds as the deduction. The phase out thresholds will increase in 2021, due to the elimination of the tuition expense deduction. As an extra bonus, there is no limit to the number of years you can claim the credit. The credit may be a better option because tax credits are generally more valuable than tax deductions since a tax credit directly offsets the tax you owe. Tax deductions only lower the amount of income on which you are taxed.


My business sells goods online and my customers live all over the world. Do I have to pay taxes on income earned from other countries?


Most countries will require you to pay taxes only if you have a meaningful presence in their country. This could mean maintaining an office or warehousing inventory in their country. If your business has no connection to a foreign country other than sales to its citizens, generally you won’t have to worry about paying taxes there. But international tax is complicated. Consult with your tax professional if you have specific questions.

Is Your Hobby a Business or Is Your Business a Hobby?

Everyone has hobbies and sometimes those hobbies provide some income. But when does your hobby become a business? Getting the right classification determines how this income is taxed.


Generally, if you engage in your hobby with the intent to generate profit, then it’s a business, not a hobby. And if your hobby is strictly for recreation or personal entertainment, it’s not a business. But many other criteria should be considered, including whether you rely on the income for your livelihood and how much time and effort you put in.


You must report all your hobby income on your tax return. However, following the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, hobby expenses were eliminated and are no longer deductible on Schedule A as a miscellaneous itemized deduction.


However, unlike your hobby, if you’re operating a business, you can deduct all your business expenses even if it creates a taxable loss. And the upside is that if you generate a loss, it can usually be used to offset other income from things like wages or investment income.

How Business Losses Affect Your Tax Return

Many businesses may have incurred a loss in 2020 due to the pandemic-induced economic slowdown. When expenses exceed revenue, a loss is generated. How these losses affect your business tax return depends on many factors.


Under the CARES Act, businesses that incurred a loss for 2020 can carryback that loss five years. That means an amended tax return would need to be filed. Carrying back the loss could result in a refund of taxes paid in prior years.

However, if carrying back the loss won’t benefit you, because your business already had a loss, then you can carry the loss forward indefinitely to offset income in future years.

Note that carrying back losses will not be an option for 2021 as the rules return to pre-CARES Act standards, which do not allow carry backs. Any loss for 2021 can only be carried forward. And there are limits to the amount of the loss that can be used in future years.


Business losses are not limited to operating losses. Businesses that incur extraordinary losses can also claim these on tax returns. Losses for things like fires and natural disasters can generate a loss for your business. Any insurance proceeds received from a loss will reduce your deduction.

Tax implications for business losses can be tricky. Speak with your tax professional to ensure your loss is calculated correctly.

February 2021 Client Profile

Elizabeth gave her brother $10,000 for a down payment on a house and is considering giving him another $10,000 to help with renovations. Will either of them owe gift tax on these amounts?

The IRS considers this a gift and the general rule is any gift is taxable. However, the IRS has carved out several exceptions that make some gifts non-taxable.

The one that applies to Elizabeth is the annual exclusion. For 2021, a taxpayer can gift $15,000 per year to an individual. If the total gift is $15,000 or less, it is non-taxable to both the donor and the recipient.

Currently, the $10,000 Elizabeth gave her brother wouldn’t be taxable since it falls below the annual exclusion amount. If she chooses to gift him another $10,000 this year, then she will have to file Form 709 to report the gift and determine if any gift tax is owed.

However, if Elizabeth has a spouse, the spouse could gift the additional $10,000 to her brother. Since both Elizabeth and her spouse have each gifted less than $15,000 to her brother, there is no gift tax.

Client Profile is based on a hypothetical situation. The solutions we discuss may or may not be appropriate for you.

The Cost of New Hires

Hiring employees is fundamental to business. Whether looking to hire your first employee or expand your team, be sure to understand the total cost of hiring help.


Employee recruitment can start with anything from the help wanted ad you place on job search boards to hiring a recruiter to handle the legwork. While the help wanted ad may cost you only a few hundred dollars, the professional recruiter will likely charge a percentage of the employee’s annual salary. But the recruiter will handle everything from placing the advertisement, pre-screening applicants, and checking references.


Once you’ve offered the job to an applicant, you may choose to complete some pre-employment screening. The cost of criminal background checks, credit history, motor vehicle records, and drug testing can add up quickly.


Another big cost will be for benefits you provide. If you contribute to the cost of medical insurance, provide a retirement plan and other benefits for employees, fact in these costs.


Many states require employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance for employees. The requirements and rates vary by state. Some states require you to carry this insurance even if you have only one employee.


Your new employee may need equipment to do their work. You may need to provide a computer, phone or uniforms. Besides physical supplies, there may be additional costs to add employees to software programs for time tracking or project manangement.


In addition to salary, you’ll have to pay payroll taxes. FICA tax is 7.65% of your employee’s earnings.* The federal unemployment tax rate is 6% of the first $7,000 earned and you’ll have to pay state unemployment tax, too. Rates vary based upon state, industry and an employer’s history of unemployment claims.

*FICA tax includes 6.2% Social Security tax on the first $142,800 of wages and 1.45% for Medicare.