Data visualization: A picture is worth 1,000 words

Graphs, performance dashboards and other visual aids can help managers, investors and lenders digest complex financial information. Likewise, auditors also use visual aids during a financial statement audit to quickly identify trends and anomalies that warrant attention.

Powerful tool

Your auditor uses many tools and techniques to validate the accuracy and integrity of your company’s financial records. Data visualization — using a picture to show a relationship between two accounts or how a metric has changed over time — can help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your audit.

Microsoft Excel and other dedicated data visualization software solutions can be used to generate various graphs and charts that facilitate audit planning. These tools can also help managers and executives understand the nature of the auditor’s testing and inquiry procedures — and provide insight into potential threats and opportunities.

4 Examples

Here are four examples of how auditors might use visualization to leverage your company’s data:

1. Employee activity in the accounting department. Line graphs and pie charts can help auditors analyze the number, timing and value of journal entries completed by each employee in your accounting department. Such analysis may uncover an unfair allocation of work in the department — or employee involvement in adjusting entries outside of their assigned area of responsibility. Managers can then use these tools to reassign work in the accounting department, pursue a fraud investigation or improve internal controls.

2. Activity in accounts prone to fraud and abuse. Auditors closely monitor certain high-risk accounts for fraud and errors. For example, data visualization can shine a spotlight on the timing and magnitude of refunds and discounts, highlight employees involved in each transaction and potentially uncover anomalies for additional scrutiny.

3. Journal entries prior to the end of the accounting period. Auditors analyze and confirm the timing and magnitude of your journal entries leading up to a month-end or year-end close. Timeline charts and other data visualization tools can help auditors understand trends in your company’s activity during a month, quarter or year.

4. Forecast vs. actual. Line graphs and bar charts can show how your company’s actual performance compares to budgets and forecasts. This can help confirm that you’re on track to meet your goals for the period. Conversely, these tools can also uncover significant deviations that require further analysis to determine whether the cause is internal (for instance, fraud or inefficiency) or external (for instance, cost increases or deteriorating market conditions). In some cases, management will need to revise budgets based on the findings of this analysis — and potentially take corrective measures.

Show and tell

Data visualization allows your data to talk. Auditors use these tools to better understand your operations and guide their risk assessment, inquiries and testing procedures. They also use visual aids to explain complex matters and highlight trends and anomalies to management during the audit process. Some graphs and charts can even be added to financial statement disclosures to communicate more effectively with stakeholders. Contact us for more information about using data visualization in your audit and beyond.

© 2021

Would you like to establish a Health Savings Account for your small business?

With the increasing cost of employee health care benefits, your business may be interested in providing some of these benefits through an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account (HSA). For eligible individuals, an HSA offers a tax-advantaged way to set aside funds (or have their employers do so) to meet future medical needs. Here are the important tax benefits:

  • Contributions that participants make to an HSA are deductible, within limits.
  • Contributions that employers make aren’t taxed to participants.
  • Earnings on the funds in an HSA aren’t taxed, so the money can accumulate tax free year after year.
  • Distributions from HSAs to cover qualified medical expenses aren’t taxed.
  • Employers don’t have to pay payroll taxes on HSA contributions made by employees through payroll deductions.

Eligibility rules

To be eligible for an HSA, an individual must be covered by a “high deductible health plan.” For 2021, a “high deductible health plan” is one with an annual deductible of at least $1,400 for self-only coverage, or at least $2,800 for family coverage. (These amounts will remain the same for 2022.) For self-only coverage, the 2021 limit on deductible contributions is $3,600 (increasing to $3,650 for 2022). For family coverage, the 2021 limit on deductible contributions is $7,200 (increasing to $7,300 for 2022). Additionally, annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits for 2021 cannot exceed $7,000 for self-only coverage or $14,000 for family coverage (increasing to $7,050 and $14,100, respectively, for 2022).

An individual (and the individual’s covered spouse, as well) who has reached age 55 before the close of the tax year (and is an eligible HSA contributor) may make additional “catch-up” contributions for 2021 and 2022 of up to $1,000.

Contributions from an employer

If an employer contributes to the HSA of an eligible individual, the employer’s contribution is treated as employer-provided coverage for medical expenses under an accident or health plan. It’s also excludable from an employee’s gross income up to the deduction limitation. Funds can be built up for years because there’s no “use-it-or-lose-it” provision. An employer that decides to make contributions on its employees’ behalf must generally make comparable contributions to the HSAs of all comparable participating employees for that calendar year. If the employer doesn’t make comparable contributions, the employer is subject to a 35% tax on the aggregate amount contributed by the employer to HSAs for that period.

Taking distributions

HSA distributions can be made to pay for qualified medical expenses, which generally means expenses that would qualify for the medical expense itemized deduction. Among these expenses are doctors’ visits, prescriptions, chiropractic care and premiums for long-term care insurance.

If funds are withdrawn from the HSA for other reasons, the withdrawal is taxable. Additionally, an extra 20% tax will apply to the withdrawal, unless it’s made after reaching age 65, or in the event of death or disability.

HSAs offer a flexible option for providing health care coverage and they may be an attractive benefit for your business. But the rules are somewhat complex. Contact us if you’d like to discuss offering HSAs to your employees.

© 2021

FASB offers practical expedient for private companies that issue share-based awards

On October 25, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued a simpler accounting option that will enable private companies to more easily measure certain types of shares they provide to both employees and nonemployees as part of compensation awards. Here are the details.

Complex rules

Many companies award stock options and other forms of share-based payments to workers to promote exceptional performance and reduce cash outflows from employee compensation. But accounting for these payments can be confusing and time-consuming, especially for private companies.

To measure the fair value of stock options under existing U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), companies generally use an option-pricing model that factors in the following six variables:

  1. The option’s exercise price,
  2. The expected term (the time until the option expires),
  3. The risk-free rate (usually based on Treasury bonds),
  4. Expected dividends,
  5. Expected stock price volatility, and
  6. The value of the company’s stock on the grant date.

The first four inputs are fairly straightforward. Private companies may estimate expected stock price volatility using a comparable market-pricing index. But the value of a private company’s stock typically requires an outside appraisal. Whereas public stock prices are usually readily available, private company equity shares typically aren’t actively traded, so observable market prices for those shares or similar shares don’t exist.

To complicate matters further, employee stock options are also subject to Internal Revenue Code Section 409A, which deals with nonqualified deferred compensation. The use of two different pricing methods usually gives rise to deferred tax items on the balance sheet.

Simplification measures

Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2021-07, Compensation-Stock Compensation (Topic 718): Determining the Current Price of An Underlying Share for Equity-Classified Share-Based Awards, applies to all equity classified awards under Accounting Standards Codification Topic 718, Stock Compensation.

The updated guidance allows private companies to determine the current price input in accordance with the federal tax rules, thereby aligning the methodology used for book and federal income tax purposes. Sec. 409A is referenced as an example, but the rules also include facts and circumstances identified in Sec. 409A to consider for reasonable valuations. The practical expedient will allow private companies to save on costs, because they’ll no longer have to obtain two independent valuations separately for GAAP and for tax purposes.

Right for your company?

Private companies that take advantage of the practical expedient will need to apply it prospectively for all qualifying awards granted or modified during fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2021, and interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2022. Early application, including application in an interim period, is permitted for financial statements that haven’t yet been issued or made available for issuance as of October 25, 2021. Contact your CPA for more information.

© 2021

Many factors are involved when choosing a business entity

Are you planning to launch a business or thinking about changing your business entity? If so, you need to determine which entity will work best for you — a C corporation or a pass-through entity such as a sole-proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or S corporation. There are many factors to consider and proposed federal tax law changes being considered by Congress may affect your decision.

The corporate federal income tax is currently imposed at a flat 21% rate, while the current individual federal income tax rates begin at 10% and go up to 37%. The difference in rates can be mitigated by the qualified business income (QBI) deduction that’s available to eligible pass-through entity owners that are individuals, estates and trusts.

Note that noncorporate taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income above certain levels are subject to an additional 3.8% tax on net investment income.

Organizing a business as a C corporation instead of as a pass-through entity can reduce the current federal income tax on the business’s income. The corporation can still pay reasonable compensation to the shareholders and pay interest on loans from the shareholders. That income will be taxed at higher individual rates, but the overall rate on the corporation’s income can be lower than if the business was operated as a pass-through entity.

Other considerations

Other tax-related factors should also be considered. For example:

  • If substantially all the business profits will be distributed to the owners, it may be preferable that the business be operated as a pass-through entity rather than as a C corporation, since the shareholders will be taxed on dividend distributions from the corporation (double taxation). In contrast, owners of a pass-through entity will only be taxed once, at the personal level, on business income. However, the impact of double taxation must be evaluated based on projected income levels for both the business and its owners.
  • If the value of the business’s assets is likely to appreciate, it’s generally preferable to conduct it as a pass-through entity to avoid a corporate tax if the assets are sold or the business is liquidated. Although corporate level tax will be avoided if the corporation’s shares, rather than its assets, are sold, the buyer may insist on a lower price because the tax basis of appreciated business assets cannot be stepped up to reflect the purchase price. That can result in much lower post-purchase depreciation and amortization deductions for the buyer.
  • If the entity is a pass-through entity, the owners’ bases in their interests in the entity are stepped-up by the entity income that’s allocated to them. That can result in less taxable gain for the owners when their interests in the entity are sold.
  • If the business is expected to incur tax losses for a while, consideration should be given to structuring it as a pass-through entity so the owners can deduct the losses against their other income. Conversely, if the owners of the business have insufficient other income or the losses aren’t usable (for example, because they’re limited by the passive loss rules), it may be preferable for the business to be a C corporation, since it’ll be able to offset future income with the losses.
  • If the owners of the business are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), it may be preferable to organize as a C corporation, since corporations aren’t subject to the AMT. Affected individuals are subject to the AMT at 26% or 28% rates. 

These are only some of the many factors involved in operating a business as a certain type of legal entity. For details about how to proceed in your situation, consult with us.

© 2021

How to assess fraud risks today

Auditing standards require external auditors to consider potential fraud risks by watching out for conditions that provide the opportunity to commit fraud. Unfortunately, conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic may have increased your company’s fraud risks. For example, more employees may be working remotely than ever before. And some workers may be experiencing personal financial distress — due to reduced hours, decreased buying power or the loss of a spouse’s income — that could cause them to engage in dishonest behaviors.

Financial statement auditors must maintain professional skepticism regarding the possibility that a material misstatement due to fraud may be present throughout the audit process. Specifically, Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 99, Consideration of Fraud in a Financial Statement Audit, requires auditors to consider potential fraud risks before and during the information-gathering process. Business owners and managers may find it helpful to understand how this process works — even if their financial statements aren’t audited.

Doubling down on fraud risks

During planning procedures, auditors must conduct brainstorming sessions about fraud risks. In a financial reporting context, auditors are primarily concerned with two types of fraud:

1. Asset misappropriation. Employees may steal tangible assets, such as cash or inventory, for personal use. The risk of theft may be heightened if internal controls have been relaxed during the pandemic. For example, some companies have waived the requirement for two signatures on checks, and others have reduced oversight during physical inventory counts.

2. Financial misstatement. Intentional misstatements, including omissions of amounts or disclosures in financial statements, may be used to deceive people who rely on your company’s financial statements. For example, managers who are unable to meet their financial goals may be tempted to book fictitious revenue to preserve their year-end bonuses. Or a CFO may alter fair value estimates to avoid reporting impairment of goodwill and other intangibles and triggering a loan covenant violation.

Identifying risk factors

Auditors must obtain an understanding of the entity and its environment, including internal controls, in order to identify the risks of material misstatement due to fraud. They must presume that, if given the opportunity, companies will improperly recognize revenue and management will attempt to override internal controls.

Examples of fraud risk factors that auditors consider include:

  • Large amounts of cash or other valuable inventory items on hand, without adequate security measures in place,
  • Employees with conflicts of interest, such as relationships with other employees and financial interests in vendors or customers,
  • Unrealistic goals and performance-based compensation that tempt workers to artificially boost revenue and profits, and
  • Weak internal controls.

Auditors also watch for questionable journal entries that dishonest employees could use to hide their impropriety. These entries might, for example, be made to intracompany accounts, on the last day of the accounting period or with limited descriptions. Once fraud risks have been assessed, audit procedures must be planned and performed to obtain reasonable assurance that the financial statements are free from misstatement.

Following up

Auditors generally aren’t required to investigate fraud. But they are required to communicate fraud risk findings to the appropriate level of management, who can then take actions to prevent fraud in their organizations. If conditions exist that make it impractical to plan an audit in a way that will adequately address fraud risks, an auditor may even decide to withdraw from the engagement.

Contact us to discuss your concerns about heightened fraud risks during the pandemic and ways we can adapt our audit procedures for emerging or increased fraud risk factors.

© 2021

Form 1099 for Individuals

From selling a home to earning interest on a bank account, most taxpayers receive a Form 1099 at some time. Common 1099s individuals receive include:

1099-DIV – When you own a stock or other security and receive a distribution of more than $10.

1099-INT – When you receive more than $10 in interest from a financial institution.

1099-G – When you receive unemployment compensation, a state or local income tax refund, certain agricultural payments or taxable governmental grants.

1099-R – When you withdraw at least $10 from retirement plans, IRAs or certain insurance contracts.

1099-S – When you make at least $600 from the sale or exchange of real estate.

1099-SA – When you make payments or distributions from your health or medical savings account.

SSA-1099 – When you receive benefits from the Social Security Administration.

November 2021 Short Bits


Have you had trouble reaching a live person when you call the IRS? That’s partly because of an historic number of callers during the 2021 filing season. The IRS received 85.1 million calls on its toll-free 1040 phone line. Compare this figure with 7.3 million and 12.1 million calls for the 2019 and 2020 filing seasons. In 2021, only about 3% of callers reached a live customer service representative.


Over half (54%) of small business owners say they have personally had to work more hours or take on more roles to make up for staffing shortages, according to a survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Nearly half of small businesses are struggling to find candidates with the right mix of skills and experience. And about three-quarters plan to do something different, like increase pay or offer flexible working arrangements, to attract new talent.


According to The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), in 2020, it referred 970 fraud and insider trading cases to the SEC and other federal and state law enforcement agencies for prosecution. It completed over 5,600 exams and reviews of registered broker-dealers and assessed $57 million in fines while securing $25.2 million in restitution to harmed investors. It suspended 375 brokers for violations or misconduct and barred 246 from continuing practice.


The costs of making US coins in 2020 decreased from 2019. The US Mint reported that it costs $0.0176 to produce and distribute a penny in 2020, down from $0.0199 in 2019. It costs $0.0742 to make a nickel and $0.0373 to make a dime. Quarters have the highest price tag at $0.0862 each. It cost $0.0901 to make a quarter in 2019.

November 2021 Questions and Answers


What is Direct Primary Care (DPC) and how does it work?


DPC has been around since the mid-2000s, and it’s a financial arrangement directly between a patient and healthcare provider. It cuts out the insurance providers. Instead of paying monthly insurance premiums, you pay your doctor a monthly fee that will generally cover typical primary care services like check-ups, preventative care and basic lab tests. But it won’t cover costs for catastrophic events, so it also makes sense to have a high deductible health plan to prevent financial devastation due to a medical emergency or serious health problem. Consider owning a Health Savings Account (HSA), which has triple tax benefits.


Do I need workers’ compensation insurance for my company?


Workers’ comp insurance provides financial benefits to employees who have been injured on the job, and laws governing its requirement vary from state to state. Several states require employers to have it in place when the first employee is hired. Others have head-count thresholds. For example, Florida mandates workers’ comp when you have four or more workers and aren’t in the construction industry. And typically, business owners can elect to be exempt from coverage. If you use subcontractors, make sure they have their own coverage. If they get injured at your location you may be responsible for paying for their workers’ comp benefits.

Social Media For Your Small Business

Keep these tips in mind when promoting your business online.


Define the demographics of your audience (age, income, education, interests, etc.) and the type of content that will motivate them to want more information about your products or services. Various platforms describe their users online so you can make a good match. Start slow and set goals for followers or the number of posts before you consider adding more networks.


Choose a name that communicates what your business does. Because social media has been around for a while, you might find that your name is already taken, so get creative by adding a city or state to your name.


All platforms give you a small space to provide information about your company. This is a perfect place to provide prospective customers with a link to your website and a benefit-oriented statement about what you do. Keep it simple and don’t overthink it.


Remember to add a professional profile photo and professionally designed logo. Don’t skimp on this step because you need a professional image for your brand.

Nuts and Bolts of Exchange-Traded Funds

An exchange-traded fund (ETF) can add diversity to your investment portfolio.


An ETF is created to track the value of an underlying asset (like gold) or index (like the S&P 500). It purchases and bundles together the appropriate stocks, bonds, commodities or currencies and then sells shares of this package to investors.


Unlike mutual funds, which are bought and sold at the end of the day, ETFs can be traded throughout the day. And while actively managed mutual funds can see more turnover of the underlying assets, creating capital gains, ETFs are generally passively managed. They don’t incur much buying and selling. Also, ETFs usually have lower fees than mutual funds and lower investment minimums.


When you buy stock, you’re investing in one company. But with an ETF, you’re investing in a basket of securities providing greater diversification. And because ETFs are professionally managed, you can spend less time researching and selecting individual investments.

Consult your financial professional to discuss whether ETFs are suitable for your portfolio.