Promoting and reporting diversity

Increasing diversity is a key initiative at many companies in 2020. This movement goes beyond social responsibility — it can lead to better-informed decision-making, improved productivity and enhanced value. Congress has also jumped on the diversity-and-inclusion bandwagon: Legislation is in the works that would require public companies to expand their disclosures about diversity.

Good for business

Even though it’s not reported on the balance sheet, an assembled workforce is one of your most valuable business assets. From the boardroom to the production line, people are essential to converting hard assets into revenue. However, the tone of any organization starts at the top, where key decisions are made.

Academic research has found that boards with diverse members have better financial reporting quality and are more likely to hold management accountable for poor financial performance. This concept also extends to private companies: Management teams with people from diverse backgrounds and functional areas expand the business’s abilities to respond to growth opportunities and potential threats.

Bills to expand disclosures

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) currently requires limited disclosures on boardroom diversity. Under current SEC rules, a public company must disclose whether and how it considers diversity in identifying board of director nominees. However, the rules don’t provide a definition of diversity.

In recent years, the SEC rules have been criticized for failing to provide useful information to investors. Critics want broader rules that provide more information about corporate board diversity.

In response, Congress is currently considering legislation to expand the SEC disclosure requirements. In November 2019, the House passed the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act. It would require public companies’ proxy materials to disclose additional diversity information on directors and board nominees.

The Senate introduced a similar bill in March 2020. In addition to expanding proxy statement disclosures, the Senate’s Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act would set up a diversity advisory group within the SEC to recommend ways to increase “gender, racial and ethnic diversity” on public company boards. The group would be tasked with studying strategies to improve diversity on boards of directors and would be required within nine months of its creation to report its findings and recommendations to the SEC, the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee.

In late July, a coalition of industry groups that included the American Bankers Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the Senate Banking Committee to pass the bill. “Our associations and members support efforts to increase gender, racial, and ethnic diversity on corporate boards of directors, as diversity has become increasingly important to institutional investors, pension funds, and other stakeholders,” the groups said.

Be a leader, not a follower

For now, Congressional legislation on diversity matters appears to have taken a backseat to more pressing matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, many companies are planning to voluntarily expand their disclosures for 2020. We can help assess your level of boardroom or management team diversity — and provide cutting-edge disclosures that showcase your commitment to race, gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace.

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File cash transaction reports for your business — on paper or electronically

Does your business receive large amounts of cash or cash equivalents? You may be required to submit forms to the IRS to report these transactions.

Filing requirements

Each person engaged in a trade or business who, in the course of operating, receives more than $10,000 in cash in one transaction, or in two or more related transactions, must file Form 8300. Any transactions conducted in a 24-hour period are considered related transactions. Transactions are also considered related even if they occur over a period of more than 24 hours if the recipient knows, or has reason to know, that each transaction is one of a series of connected transactions.

To complete a Form 8300, you will need personal information about the person making the cash payment, including a Social Security or taxpayer identification number.

You should keep a copy of each Form 8300 for five years from the date you file it, according to the IRS.

Reasons for the reporting

Although many cash transactions are legitimate, the IRS explains that “information reported on (Form 8300) can help stop those who evade taxes, profit from the drug trade, engage in terrorist financing and conduct other criminal activities. The government can often trace money from these illegal activities through the payments reported on Form 8300 and other cash reporting forms.”

What’s considered “cash”

For Form 8300 reporting, cash includes U.S. currency and coins, as well as foreign money. It also includes cash equivalents such as cashier’s checks (sometimes called bank checks), bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders.

Money orders and cashier’s checks under $10,000, when used in combination with other forms of cash for a single transaction that exceeds $10,000, are defined as cash for Form 8300 reporting purposes.

Note: Under a separate reporting requirement, banks and other financial institutions report cash purchases of cashier’s checks, treasurer’s checks and/or bank checks, bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders with a face value of more than $10,000 by filing currency transaction reports.

E-filing and batch filing

Businesses required to file reports of large cash transactions on Form 8300 should know that in addition to filing on paper, e-filing is an option. The form is due 15 days after a transaction and there’s no charge for the e-file option. Businesses that file electronically get an automatic acknowledgment of receipt when they file.

The IRS also reminds businesses that they can “batch file” their reports, which is especially helpful to those required to file many forms.

Setting up an account

To file Form 8300 electronically, a business must set up an account with FinCEN’s BSA E-Filing System. For more information, interested businesses can also call the BSA E-Filing Help Desk at 866-346-9478 (Monday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm EST) or email them at BSAEFilingHelp@fincen.gov. Contact us with any questions or for assistance.

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Forecasting Financial Results For A Start-Up Business

There’s a bright side to today’s unprecedented market conditions: Agile people may discover opportunities to start new business ventures. Start-ups need a comprehensive business plan, including detailed financial forecasts, to drum up capital from investors and lenders. Entrepreneurs may also use forecasts as yardsticks for evaluating and improving performance over time.

However, forecasting can be challenging for a business with no track record, especially during today’s unprecedented conditions. Here’s an objective approach to developing forecasts based on realistic, market-based assumptions.

Starting point

Revenue is a critical line item in the forecast, because it drives many other accounts, such as direct costs, accounts receivable and inventory. To create a credible estimate of your start-up’s revenue-generating potential, consider the following questions:

  • What’s the size of the potential market?
  • How many competitors are vying for market share? What positioning strategies will the start-up use to compete?
  • How will the start-up price its products and services? Will its prices fall below, match or surpass those of competitors?
  • How will the start-up distribute products or services?
  • How many customers can the start-up support with its existing infrastructure? How will the start-up scale its operations to meet forecasted increases in demand?

It’s generally a good idea to develop multiple revenue scenarios — best, worst and most likely case. Then weight each scenario based on how likely it is to happen.

Costs and investments

Next, the costs directly attributable to producing revenue, such as materials, utilities and labor, need to be identified and quantified. These variable costs are typically stated as a percentage of forecasted revenue.

Some expenses — such as rent, insurance and administrative salaries — are fixed. That is, they remain constant over the short run, though they often have limited capacity. For example, you might need to add office space and headcount once a start-up grows beyond a certain level.

Besides expenses that are recorded on the income statement, start-ups may need working capital to ramp up operations. They may also need to invest in fixed assets, such as equipment, furniture and software. These expenditures are typically capitalized (reported) on the balance sheet and gradually depreciated their useful lives.

Finally, it’s time to focus on the missing puzzle piece: financing. You may need an initial round of capital to acquire (or produce) inventory, purchase essential assets and generate buzz about your new offering. Plus, start-ups often need ongoing access to capital — such as a revolving line of credit — to help fund the cash conversion cycle as the business grows.

Don’t let a competitor beat you to the punch!

Time is of the essence if you want to capitalize on emerging opportunities. So that you can focus on starting the business, we can help create an objective, defensible financial forecast for your start-up and benchmark your forecasted results against other successful businesses. This diligence will help impress prospective investors and lenders — and build value over the long run.

© 2020

Adjusting your financial statements for COVID-19 tax relief measures

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, contains several tax-related provisions for businesses hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Those provisions will also have an impact on financial reporting.

Companies that issue financial statements under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are required to follow Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 740, Income Taxes. This complicated guidance requires companies to report the effects of new tax laws in the period they’re enacted. As a result, companies — especially those that issue quarterly financial statements or that have fiscal year ends in the coming months — are scrambling to interpret the business tax relief measures under the new law.

Overview of business tax law changes

The CARES Act suspends several revenue-generating provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). These changes aim to help improve operating cash flow for businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. Specifically, the new law temporarily scales back TCJA deduction limitations on:

  • Net operating losses (NOL),
  • Business tax losses sustained by individuals,
  • Business interest expense, and
  • Charitable contributions for corporations.

The CARES Act also accelerates the recovery of credits for prior-year corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And it fixes a TCJA drafting error for real estate qualified improvement property (QIP). The fix retroactively allows a 15-year depreciation period for QIP, making it eligible for first-year bonus depreciation in tax years after the TCJA took effect. The correction allows businesses to choose between first-year bonus depreciation for QIP expenditures and 15-year depreciation.

These changes are subject to numerous rules and restrictions. So, it’s not always clear whether a business will benefit from a particular change. In some cases, businesses may need to file amended federal income tax returns to take advantage of retroactive changes in the law. In addition, a company’s tax obligations may be impacted by relief measures provided in the states and countries where it operates.

Impact on financial reporting

Under ASC 740, companies must adjust deferred tax assets and liabilities for the effect of a change in tax laws or tax rates. On the income statement side, the adjustment is included in income from continuing operations.

If your business follows U.S. GAAP, you’ll need to account for the effect of the CARES Act on deferred tax assets and liabilities for interim and annual reporting periods that include March 27, 2020 (the date the law was signed by President Trump). Also, certain provisions, such as the modified NOL and business interest deduction rules, may impact a company’s current taxes payable. Unfortunately, some companies may have difficulty accurately forecasting income or loss in the current period due to the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Stay tuned

In the coming months, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) plans to focus on supporting businesses as they navigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and providing guidance to clarify financial reporting issues as they arise. We are atop the latest developments and can help guide you through your tax and financial reporting challenges.

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Relief from not making employment tax deposits due to COVID-19 tax credits

The IRS has issued guidance providing relief from failure to make employment tax deposits for employers that are entitled to the refundable tax credits provided under two laws passed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The two laws are the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed on March 18, 2020, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, which was signed on March 27, 2020.

Employment tax penalty basics

The tax code imposes a penalty for any failure to deposit amounts as required on the date prescribed, unless such failure is due to reasonable cause rather than willful neglect.

An employer’s failure to deposit certain federal employment taxes, including deposits of withheld income taxes and taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is generally subject to a penalty.

COVID-19 relief credits

Employers paying qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages required by the Families First Act, as well as qualified health plan expenses allocable to qualified leave wages, are eligible for refundable tax credits under the Families First Act.

Specifically, provisions of the Families First Act provide a refundable tax credit against an employer’s share of the Social Security portion of FICA tax for each calendar quarter, in an amount equal to 100% of qualified leave wages paid by the employer (plus qualified health plan expenses with respect to that calendar quarter).

Additionally, under the CARES Act, certain employers are also allowed a refundable tax credit under the CARES Act of up to 50% of the qualified wages, including allocable qualified health expenses if they are experiencing:

  • A full or partial business suspension due to orders from governmental authorities due to COVID-19, or
  • A specified decline in business.

This credit is limited to $10,000 per employee over all calendar quarters combined.

An employer paying qualified leave wages or qualified retention wages can seek an advance payment of the related tax credits by filing Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.

Available relief

The Families First Act and the CARES Act waive the penalty for failure to deposit the employer share of Social Security tax in anticipation of the allowance of the refundable tax credits allowed under the two laws.

IRS Notice 2020-22 provides that an employer won’t be subject to a penalty for failing to deposit employment taxes related to qualified leave wages or qualified retention wages in a calendar quarter if certain requirements are met. Contact us for more information about whether you can take advantage of this relief.

More breaking newsBe aware the IRS also just extended more federal tax deadlines. The extension, detailed in Notice 2020-23, involves a variety of tax form filings and payment obligations due between April 1 and July 15. It includes estimated tax payments due June 15 and the deadline to claim refunds from 2016. The extended deadlines cover individuals, estates, corporations and others. In addition, the guidance suspends associated interest, additions to tax, and penalties for late filing or late payments until July 15, 2020. Previously, the IRS postponed the due dates for certain federal income tax payments. The new guidance expands on the filing and payment relief. Contact us if you have questions.

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Benchmarking financial performance

You already may have reviewed a preliminary draft of your company’s year-end financial statements. But without a frame of reference, they don’t mean much. That’s why it’s important to compare your company’s performance over time and against competitors.

Conduct a well-rounded evaluation

A comprehensive benchmarking study requires calculating ratios that gauge the following five elements:

1. Growth. Business size is usually stated in terms of annual revenue, total assets or market share. Is your company expanding or contracting? An example of a ratio that targets changes in your company’s size would be its year-over-year increase in market share. Companies generally want to grow, but there may be strategic reasons to downsize and refocus on core operations.

2. Liquidity. Working capital ratios help assess how easily assets can be converted into cash and whether current assets are sufficient to cover current liabilities. For example, the acid-test ratio compares the most liquid current assets (cash and receivables) to current obligations (such as payables, accrued expenses, short-term loans and current portions of long-term debt).

3. Profitability. This evaluates whether the business is making money from operations — before considering changes in working capital accounts, investments in capital expenditures and financing activities. Public companies tend to focus on earnings per share. But smaller ones tend to be more interested in ratios that evaluate earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. EBITDA ratios allow for comparisons between companies with different capital structures, tax strategies and business types.

4. Turnover. Such ratios as total asset turnover (revenue divided by total assets) or inventory turnover (cost of sales divided by inventory) show how well the company manages its assets. These ratios also can be stated in terms of average days outstanding.

5. Leverage. Identify how the company finances its operations — through debt or equity. There are pros and cons of both. For example, within limits, debt financing is generally less expensive and interest on debt may be tax deductible. Equity financing, however, can help preserve cash flow for growing the business because equity investors often don’t require an annual return on investment.

Seek input from the pros

Most companies use an outside accounting firm to compile, review or audit their preliminary year-end financial results. This is a prime opportunity to conduct a comprehensive benchmarking study. We can help take your historical financial statements to the next level by identifying comparable companies, providing access to industry benchmarking data and recommending ways to improve performance in 2020 and beyond.

© 2020

New law helps businesses make their employees’ retirement secure

A significant law was recently passed that adds tax breaks and makes changes to employer-provided retirement plans. If your small business has a current plan for employees or if you’re thinking about adding one, you should familiarize yourself with the new rules.

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) was signed into law on December 20, 2019 as part of a larger spending bill. Here are three provisions of interest to small businesses.

  1. Employers that are unrelated will be able to join together to create one retirement plan. Beginning in 2021, new rules will make it easier to create and maintain a multiple employer plan (MEP). A MEP is a single plan operated by two or more unrelated employers. But there were barriers that made it difficult to setting up and running these plans. Soon, there will be increased opportunities for small employers to join together to receive better investment results, while allowing for less expensive and more efficient management services.
  2. There’s an increased tax credit for small employer retirement plan startup costs. If you want to set up a retirement plan, but haven’t gotten around to it yet, new rules increase the tax credit for retirement plan start-up costs to make it more affordable for small businesses to set them up. Starting in 2020, the credit is increased by changing the calculation of the flat dollar amount limit to: The greater of $500, or the lesser of: a) $250 multiplied by the number of non-highly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan, or b) $5,000.
  3. There’s a new small employer automatic plan enrollment tax credit. Not surprisingly, when employers automatically enroll employees in retirement plans, there is more participation and higher retirement savings. Beginning in 2020, there’s a new tax credit of up to $500 per year to employers to defray start-up costs for new 401(k) plans and SIMPLE IRA plans that include automatic enrollment. This credit is on top of an existing plan start-up credit described above and is available for three years. It is also available to employers who convert an existing plan to a plan with automatic enrollment.

These are only some of the retirement plan provisions in the SECURE Act. There have also been changes to the auto enrollment safe harbor cap, nondiscrimination rules, new rules that allow certain part-timers to participate in 401(k) plans, increased penalties for failing to file retirement plan returns and more. Contact us to learn more about your situation.

© 2019

Wayfair revisited — It’s time to review your sales tax obligations

In its 2018 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld South Dakota’s “economic nexus” statute, expanding the power of states to collect sales tax from remote sellers. Today, nearly every state with a sales tax has enacted a similar law, so if your company does business across state lines, it’s a good idea to reexamine your sales tax obligations.

What’s nexus?

A state is constitutionally prohibited from taxing business activities unless those activities have a substantial “nexus,” or connection, with the state. Before Wayfair, simply selling to customers in a state wasn’t enough to establish nexus. The business also had to have a physical presence in the state, such as offices, retail stores, manufacturing or distribution facilities, or sales reps.

In Wayfair, the Supreme Court ruled that a business could establish nexus through economic or virtual contacts with a state, even if it didn’t have a physical presence. The Court didn’t create a bright-line test for determining whether contacts are “substantial,” but found that the thresholds established by South Dakota’s law are sufficient: Out-of-state businesses must collect and remit South Dakota sales taxes if, in the current or previous calendar year, they have 1) more than $100,000 in gross sales of products or services delivered into the state, or 2) 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the state.

Nexus steps

The vast majority of states now have economic nexus laws, although the specifics vary:Many states adopted the same sales and transaction thresholds accepted in Wayfair, but a number of states apply different thresholds. And some chose not to impose transaction thresholds, which many view as unfair to smaller sellers (an example of a threshold might be 200 sales of $5 each would create nexus).

If your business makes online, telephone or mail-order sales in states where it lacks a physical presence, it’s critical to find out whether those states have economic nexus laws and determine whether your activities are sufficient to trigger them. If you have nexus with a state, you’ll need to register with the state and collect state and applicable local taxes on your taxable sales there. Even if some or all of your sales are tax-exempt, you’ll need to secure exemption certifications for each jurisdiction where you do business. Alternatively, you might decide to reduce or eliminate your activities in a state if the benefits don’t justify the compliance costs.

Need help?

Note: If you make sales through a “marketplace facilitator,” such as Amazon or Ebay, be aware that an increasing number of states have passed laws that require such providers to collect taxes on sales they facilitate for vendors using their platforms.

If you need assistance in setting up processes to collect sales tax or you have questions about your responsibilities, contact us.

© 2019

FAQs about prepaid expenses

The concept of “matching” is one of the basic principles of accrual-basis accounting. It requires companies to match expenses (efforts) with revenues (accomplishments) whenever it’s reasonable or practical to do so. This concept applies when companies make advance payments for expenses that will benefit more than one accounting period. Here are some questions small business owners and managers frequently ask about prepaying expenses.

When do prepaid expenses hit the income statement?

It’s common for companies to prepay such expenses as legal fees, advertising costs, insurance premiums, office supplies and rent. Rather than immediately report the full amount of an advance payment as an expense on the income statement, companies that use accrual-basis accounting methods must recognize a prepaid asset on the balance sheet.

A prepaid expense is a current asset that represents an expense the company won’t have to fund in the future. The remaining balance is gradually written off with the passage of time or as it’s consumed. The company then recognizes the reduction as an expense on the income statement.

Why can’t prepaid expenses be deducted immediately?

Immediate expensing of an item that has long-term benefits violates the matching principle under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Deducting prepaid assets in the period they’re paid makes your company look less profitable to lenders and investors, because you’re expensing the costs related to generating revenues that haven’t been earned yet. Immediate expensing of prepaid expenses also causes profits to fluctuate from period to period, making benchmarking performance over time or against competitors nearly impossible.

Does prepaying an expense make sense?

Some service providers — like your insurance carrier or an attorney in a major lawsuit — might require you to pay in advance. However, in many circumstances, prepaying expenses is optional.

There are pros and cons to prepaying. A major downside is that it takes cash away from other potential uses. Put another way, it gives vendors or suppliers interest-free use of your business’s funds. Plus, there’s a risk that the party you prepay won’t deliver what you’ve paid for.

For example, a landlord might terminate a lease — or they might file for bankruptcy, which could require a lengthy process to get your prepayment refunded, and you might not get a refund at all. Banks also might not count prepaids when computing working capital ratios. And since reporting prepaid expenses under GAAP differs slightly from reporting them for federal tax purposes, excessive prepaid activity may create complex differences to reconcile.

With that said, your company might receive a discount for prepaying. And companies without an established credit history, that have poor credit or that contract services with foreign providers, may need to prepay expenses to get favorable terms with their supply chain partners.

For more information

Start-ups and small businesses that are accustomed to using cash-basis accounting may not understand the requirement to capitalize business expenses on the balance sheet. But matching revenues and expenses is a critical part of accrual-basis accounting. Contact us with any questions you may have about reporting and managing prepaid assets.

© 2019

Risk Assessment: A Critical Part of the Audit Process

Audit season is right around the corner for calendar-year entities. Here’s what your auditor is doing behind the scenes to prepare — and how you can help facilitate the audit planning process.

The big picture

Every audit starts with assessing “audit risk.” This refers to the likelihood that the auditor will issue an adverse opinion when the financial statements are actually in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or (more likely) an unqualified opinion when the opinion should be either modified or adverse.

Auditors can’t test every single transaction, recalculate every estimate or examine every external document. Instead, they tailor their audit procedures and assign audit personnel to keep audit risk as low as possible.

Inherent risk vs. control risk

Auditors evaluate two types of risk:

1. Inherent risk. This is the risk that material departures could occur in the financial statements. Examples of inherent-risk factors include complexity, volume of transactions, competence of the accounting personnel, company size and use of estimates.

2. Control risk. This is the risk that the entity’s internal controls won’t prevent or correct material misstatements in the financial statements.

Separate risk assessments are done at the financial statement level and then for each major account — such as cash, receivables, inventory, fixed assets, other assets, payables, accrued expenses, long-term debt, equity, and revenue and expenses. A high-risk account (say, inventory) might warrant more extensive audit procedures and be assigned to more experienced audit team members than one with lower risk (say, equity).

How auditors assess risk

New risk assessments must be done each year, even if the company has had the same auditor for many years. That’s because internal and external factors may change over time. For example, new government or accounting regulations may be implemented, and company personnel or accounting software may change, causing the company’s risk assessment to change. As a result, audit procedures may vary from year to year or from one audit firm to the next.

The risk assessment process starts with an auditing checklist and, for existing audit clients, last year’s workpapers. But auditors must dig deeper to determine current risk levels. In addition to researching public sources of information, including your company’s website, your auditor may call you with a list of open-ended questions (inquiries) and request a walk-through to evaluate whether your internal controls are operating as designed. Timely responses can help auditors plan their procedures to minimize audit risk.

Your role

Audit fieldwork is only as effective as the risk assessment. Evidence obtained from further audit procedures may be ineffective if it’s not properly linked to the assessed risks. So, it’s important for you to help the audit team understand the risks your business is currently facing and the challenges you’ve experienced reporting financial performance, especially as companies implement updated accounting rules in the coming years.

© 2019