Higher Mileage Rate May Mean Larger Tax Deductions for Business Miles in 2019

This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business increased by 3.5 cents, to the highest level since 2008. As a result, you might be able to claim a larger deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2019 than you can for 2018.

Actual costs vs. mileage rate

Businesses can generally 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 depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.

The mileage rate comes into play when taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.

The mileage rate approach also is popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal automobiles. Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who’re expected to drive their personal vehicle extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their individual income tax returns.

But be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t, you risk having the reimbursements considered taxable wages to the employees.

The 2019 rate

Beginning on January 1, 2019, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 58 cents per mile. For 2018, the rate was 54.5 cents per mile.

The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It is 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. Occasionally, if there is a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.

More considerations

There are certain situations where you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends in part on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past or, if the vehicle is new to your business this year, whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation breaks on it.

As you can see, there are many variables to consider in determining whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. Contact us if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2019 — or claiming them on your 2018 income tax return.

© 2019

How Do Profits and Cash Flow Differ?

Business owners sometimes mistakenly equate profits with cash flow. Here’s how this can lead to surprises when managing day-to-day operations — and why many profitable companies experience cash shortages.

Working capital

Profits are closely related to taxable income. Reported at the bottom of your company’s income statement, they’re essentially the result of revenue less the cost of goods sold and other operating expenses incurred in the accounting period.

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) require companies to “match” costs and expenses to the period in which revenue is recognized. Under accrual-basis accounting, it doesn’t necessarily matter when you receive payments from customers or when you pay expenses.

For example, inventory sitting in a warehouse or retail store can’t be deducted — even though it may have been long paid for (or financed). The expense hits your income statement only when an item is sold or used. Your inventory account contains many cash outflows that are waiting to be expensed.

Other working capital accounts — such as accounts receivable, accrued expenses and trade payables — also represent a difference between the timing of cash flows. As your business grows and prepares for increasing future sales, you invest more in working capital, which temporarily depletes cash.

The reverse also may be true. That is, a mature business may be a “cash cow” that generates ample cash, despite reporting lackluster profits.

Capital expenditures, loan payments and more

Working capital tells only part of the story. Your income statement also includes depreciation and amortization, which are noncash expenses. And it excludes changes in fixed assets, bank financing and owners’ capital accounts, which affect cash that’s on hand.

To illustrate: Suppose your company uses tax depreciation schedules for book purposes. In 2018, you purchased new equipment to take advantage of the expanded Section 179 and bonus depreciation allowances. The entire purchase price of these items was deducted from profits in 2018. However, these purchases were financed with debt. So, actual cash outflows from the investments in 2018 were minimal.

In 2019, your business will make loan payments that will reduce the amount of cash in the company’s checking account. But your profits will be hit with only the interest expense (not the amount of principal that’s being repaid). Plus, there will be no “basis” left in the 2018 purchases to depreciate in 2019. These circumstances will artificially boost profits in 2019, without a proportionate increase in cash.

Look beyond profits

It’s imperative for business owners and management to understand why profits and cash flow may not sync. If your profitable business has insufficient cash on hand to pay employees, suppliers, lenders or even the IRS, contact us to discuss ways to more effectively manage the cash flow cycle.

© 2019

Is There Still Time to Pay 2018 Bonuses and Deduct Them on Your 2018 Return?

There aren’t too many things businesses can do after a year ends to reduce tax liability for that year. However, you might be able to pay employee bonuses for 2018 in 2019 and still deduct them on your 2018 tax return. In certain circumstances, businesses can deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company).

Basic requirements

First, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule. Cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned.

Second, even for accrual-basis taxpayers, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted on the tax return for the year they’re earned only if the business’s bonus liability was fixed by the end of the year.


Passing the test

For accrual-basis taxpayers, a liability (such as a bonus) is deductible when it is incurred. To determine this, the IRS applies the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is incurred when:

  • All events have occurred that establish the taxpayer’s liability,
  • The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and
  • Economic performance has occurred.

Generally, the last requirement isn’t an issue; it’s satisfied when an employee performs the services required to earn a bonus. But the first two requirements can delay your tax deduction until the year of payment, depending on how your bonus plan is designed.

For example, many bonus plans require an employee to still be an employee on the payment date to receive the bonus. Even when the amount of each employee’s bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, if employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Why? The business’s liability for bonuses isn’t fixed until then.


Diving into a bonus pool

Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement. According to the IRS, employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer.

Under such a plan, an employer satisfies the all-events test because the aggregate bonus amount is fixed at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter that amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.


When you can deduct bonuses

So does your current bonus plan allow you to take 2018 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2019? If you’re not sure, contact us. We can review your situation and determine when you can deduct your bonus payments.

If you’re an accrual taxpayer but don’t qualify to accelerate your bonus deductions this time, we can help you design a bonus plan for 2019 that will allow you to accelerate deductions when you file your 2019 return next year.

© 2019

4 Ideas for Fostering a Partnership Between Internal and External Auditors

External audits aren’t required for every business. But whether required or not, they can provide lenders and investors with assurance that your financial statements are free from material misstatement and prepared in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

How can you help facilitate efficient, timely audit fieldwork? The keys are frequent communication and coordination between a company’s internal audit department and its external audit firm throughout the year. Here are four ways to foster this partnership.

1. Encourage frequent communication

Scheduling regular meetings between members of the internal and external audit teams sets the stage for a more efficient audit process. You might discuss emerging issues, such as how the company intends to apply a new accounting standard or the status of internal control remediation efforts.

In preparation for an audit, auditors can meet to compare the internal audit department’s workplan to the external auditor’s audit plan. This comparison can help minimize duplication of effort and identify areas where the teams might work together — or at least complement each other’s efforts.

2. Provide access to internal audit reports

The external audit team can’t rely exclusively on the internal audit department’s reports to plan their audit. But sharing in-house findings provides the external audit with a bird’s-eye view of the company’s operations, including high-risk areas that deserve special attention.

Designate an individual on your internal audit team to act as liaison with external auditors. He or she should be charged with sharing reports in a timely manner. This gives external auditors adequate time to review in-house reports and avoids hasty decision making.

3. Help external auditors navigate the organization

During fieldwork, external auditors need access to employees, executives and data dispersed throughout the enterprise. Internal auditors can share key documents compiled during their audit procedures.

Examples include the company’s organization charts, copies of audit reports from previous years, and a schedule of unresolved internal control deficiencies. This information helps educate external auditors and identifies employees to interview during audit inquiries.

4. Conduct joint training sessions

Both internal and external audit teams require continuing professional education (CPE) to maintain their licenses and improve their understanding of issues they might encounter during an audit. For example, training sessions might explain new accounting standards, emerging fraud scams and technology-driven auditing methods.

Joint training sessions help auditors share best practices and forge lasting bonds with members of the other audit team. Plus, it might be more cost-effective for internal and external auditors to share the fixed costs of providing CPE courses.

Win-win situation

These four ideas are just a starting point. Let’s brainstorm additional ways to foster collaboration between your internal audit department and our external auditors. This exercise will allow both teams to improve efficiency and increase the likelihood of producing timely, accurate financial statements.

© 2019

A Refresher on Major Tax Law Changes for Small-Business Owners

The dawning of 2019 means the 2018 income tax filing season will soon be upon us. After year end, it’s generally too late to take action to reduce 2018 taxes. Business owners may, therefore, want to shift their focus to assessing whether they’ll likely owe taxes or get a refund when they file their returns this spring, so they can plan accordingly.

With the biggest tax law changes in decades — under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — generally going into effect beginning in 2018, most businesses and their owners will be significantly impacted. So, refreshing yourself on the major changes is a good idea.

Taxation of pass-through entities

These changes generally affect owners of S corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships, as well as sole proprietors:

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%
  • A new 20% qualified business income deduction for eligible owners (the Section 199A deduction)
  • Changes to many other tax breaks for individuals that will impact owners’ overall tax liability

Taxation of corporations

These changes generally affect C corporations, personal service corporations (PSCs) and LLCs treated as C corporations:

  • Replacement of graduated corporate rates ranging from 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%
  • Replacement of the flat PSC rate of 35% with a flat rate of 21%
  • Repeal of the 20% corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT)

Tax break positives

These changes generally apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:

  • Doubling of bonus depreciation to 100% and expansion of qualified assets to include used assets
  • Doubling of the Section 179 expensing limit to $1 million and an increase of the expensing phaseout threshold to $2.5 million
  • A new tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave

Tax break negatives

These changes generally also apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:

  • A new disallowance of deductions for net interest expense in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income (exceptions apply)
  • New limits on net operating loss (NOL) deductions
  • Elimination of the Section 199 deduction (not to be confused with the new Sec.199A deduction), which was for qualified domestic production activities and commonly referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction”
  • A new rule limiting like-kind exchanges to real property that is not held primarily for sale (generally no more like-kind exchanges for personal property)
  • New limitations on deductions for certain employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation

Preparing for 2018 filing

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to the rates and breaks covered here. Also, these are only some of the most significant and widely applicable TCJA changes; you and your business could be affected by other changes as well. Contact us to learn precisely how you might be affected and for help preparing for your 2018 tax return filing — and beginning to plan for 2019, too.

© 2018

Time to Celebrate! FASB Expands VIE Exception for Private Companies

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) recently gave private companies long-awaited relief from one of the most complicated aspects of financial reporting — consolidation of variable interest entities (VIEs). Here are the details.

Old rules

Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 810, Consolidation, was designed to prevent companies from hiding liabilities in off-balance sheet vehicles. It requires businesses to report on their balance sheets holdings they have in other entities when they have a controlling financial interest in those entities.

For years, the decision to consolidate was based largely on whether a business had majority voting rights in a related legal entity. In 2003, in the wake of the Enron scandal, the FASB amended the standard to beef up the guidelines on when to consolidate.

New rules

The updated standard introduced the concept of VIEs. Under the VIE guidance, a business has a controlling financial interest when it has:

  • The power to direct the activities that most significantly affect an entity’s economic performance,
  • The right to receive significant benefits from the entity, and
  • The obligation to absorb losses from the entity.

Private companies contend that some of their most common business relationships could be considered VIEs under ASC 810. These relationships are set up for tax or estate planning purposes — not to trick investors or pump up stock prices.

Private company alternative

Private companies told the FASB that the VIE model forced them to consolidate multiple affiliated and subsidiary businesses onto a parent’s balance sheet. This frustrated lenders and creditors, who wanted cleaner balance sheets. In addition, in companies where ownership is shared among close relatives, determining who holds the power may not always be clear.

In 2014, the FASB issued an updated standard that let private companies ignore the VIE guidance for certain leasing transactions. Private companies applauded this update, but problems persisted with the consolidation guidance for transactions that didn’t involve leases.

So this past October, the FASB issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-17, Consolidation (Topic 810): Targeted Improvements to Related Party Guidance for Variable Interest Entities, which expands the exception to include all private company VIEs. However, a private company that makes use of the latest amendments to Topic 810 must disclose in its financial statements its involvement with, and exposure to, the legal entity under common control.

Right for you?

The amendments in ASU No. 2018-17 are effective for private companies for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2020, and interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2021. Early adoption is permitted. Contact us to determine whether this election makes sense for your business — and, if so, when you should adopt the simplified alternative.

© 2018

Business Owners: An Exit Strategy Should Be Part of Your Tax Planning

Tax planning is a juggling act for business owners. You have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks (especially if you own a pass-through entity). But you also must look out for your own financial future.

For example, you need to develop an exit strategy so that taxes don’t trip you up when you retire or leave the business for some other reason. An exit strategy is a plan for passing on responsibility for running the company, transferring ownership and extracting your money from the business.

Buy-sell agreement

When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business when a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. Among other benefits, a well-drafted agreement:

  • Provides a ready market for the departing owner’s shares,
  • Prescribes a method for setting a price for the shares, and
  • Allows business continuity by preventing disagreements caused by new owners.

A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income.

Succession within the family

You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.

Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.

With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.

Plan ahead

If you don’t have co-owners or want to pass the business to family members, other options include a management buyout, an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a sale to an outsider. Each involves a variety of tax and nontax considerations.

Please contact us to discuss your exit strategy. To be successful, your strategy will require planning well in advance of the transition.

© 2018

Conducting an Effective Post – M&A Audit

So, you’re about to merge with another company. What’s next? The integration process typically starts with audited financial statements that reflect the results and financial position of the combined entity. This exercise requires a close partnership between the external audit team and in-house accounting personnel from both companies. Collaboration is key to a seamless transition.

Prepare the audit team

It’s important to notify your audit team about M&A plans long before a transaction takes place — even if there’s still a chance the deal might fall through. This gives the audit team time to pull specialists together who can help you generate timely, accurate postacquisition financial statements.

For example, you’ll need someone with experience applying the business combination rules under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and tax experts who know the rules for reporting different types of deal structures under today’s federal and state tax rules. Likewise, if you’re acquiring a company that uses different accounting systems, you’ll need someone who’s familiar with the acquired company’s software, especially if it’s no longer supported by the vendor.

Anticipate auditor needs

Even if your team of specialists has been assembled in advance, once you’ve merged, expect audit fieldwork to take more time than usual. The auditors will review documents associated with the merger, such as due diligence workpapers and legal documents governing the purchase. They’ll also ask to review prior financial statements and audit reports for the acquired company.

The audit partner might even ask to review board minutes discussing the acquisition, as well as minutes from meetings conducted by the team responsible for the integration of the newly acquired entity.

Documents don’t tell the full story, however. The audit team will interview key members of your team, such as accounting personnel and members of the due diligence team. To streamline the process, designate an employee to serve as the audit liaison. He or she will be the primary point of contact to gather your auditor’s requests for information and access to company employees and executives.

Contact us

M&As provide opportunities to enhance your company’s value. But it’s hard to gauge the relative success of a transaction without reliable, timely financial statements. Our auditors can help you allocate the purchase price to acquired assets and liabilities and otherwise report combined financial results in accordance with U.S. GAAP.

© 2018

How to Prepare for Year-End Physical Inventory Counts

As year end approaches, it’s time for calendar-year entities to perform physical inventory counts. This activity is more than a compliance chore. Proactive companies see it as an opportunity to improve operational efficiency.

Inventory basics

Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), inventory is recorded at the lower of cost or market value. There are three types of inventory:

  1. Raw materials,
  2. Work-in-progress, and
  3. Finished goods.

Estimating the value of inventory may involve subjective judgment calls, especially if your company converts raw materials into finished goods available for sale. The value of work-in-progress inventory can be especially hard to assess, because it includes overhead allocations and, in some cases, may require percentage-of-completion assessments.

Physical counts

A physical inventory count gives a snapshot of how much inventory your company has on hand at year end. For example, a manufacturing plant might need to count what’s on its warehouse shelves, on the shop floor and shipping dock, on consignment, at the repair shop, at remote or public warehouses, and in transit from suppliers and between company locations.

Before counting starts, you should consider:

  • Ordering or creating prenumbered tags that identify the part number and location and leave space to add the quantity and person who performed the count,
  • Conducting a dry run a few days before the count to identify any potential roadblocks and determine how many workers to schedule,
  • Assigning two-person teams to count inventory to minimize errors and fraud,
  • Carving the location into “count zones” to ensure full coverage and avoid duplication of efforts,
  • Writing off any unsalable or obsolete items, and
  • Precounting and bagging slow-moving items.

It’s essential that business operations “freeze” while the count takes place. Usually, inventory is counted during off-hours to minimize the disruption to business operations.

Auditor’s role

If your company issues audited financial statements, one or more members of your external audit team will be present during your physical inventory count. They aren’t there to help you count inventory. Instead, they’ll observe the procedures, review written inventory processes, evaluate internal controls over inventory, and perform independent counts to compare to your inventory listing and counts made by your employees.

Be ready to provide auditors with invoices and shipping/receiving reports. They review these documents to evaluate cutoff procedures for year-end deliveries and confirm the values reported on your inventory listing.

Making counts count

When it comes to physical inventory counts, our auditors have seen the best (and worst) practices over the years. For more information on how to perform an effective inventory count, contact us before year end.

© 2018

Accounting for Overheads Costs

Accurate overhead allocations are essential to understanding financial performance and making informed pricing decisions. Here’s guidance on how to estimate overhead rates to allocate these indirect costs to your products and how to adjust for variances that may occur.

What’s included in overhead?

Overhead costs are a part of every business. These accounts frequently serve as catch-alls for any expense that can’t be directly allocated to production, including:

  • Equipment maintenance and depreciation,
  • Factory and warehouse rent,
  • Building maintenance,
  • Administrative and executive salaries,
  • Taxes,
  • Insurance, and
  • Utilities.

Generally, such indirect costs of production are fixed, meaning they won’t change appreciably whether production increases or diminishes.

How are overhead rates calculated?

The challenge comes in deciding how to allocate these costs to products using an overhead rate. The rate is typically determined by dividing estimated overhead expenses by estimated totals in the allocation base (for example, direct labor hours) for a future period of time. Then you multiply the rate by the actual number of direct labor hours for each product (or batch of products) to establish the amount of overhead that should be applied.

In some organizations, the rate is applied companywide, across all products. This is particularly appropriate for organizations that make single, standard products — such as bricks — over long periods of time. If your product mix is more complex and customized, you may use multiple overhead rates to allocate costs more accurately. If one department is machine-intensive and another is labor-intensive, for example, multiple rates may be appropriate.

How do you handle variances from actual costs?

There’s one problem with accounting for overhead costs: Variances are almost certain. There are likely to be more variances if you use a simple companywide overhead rate, but even the most carefully thought-out multiple rates won’t always be 100% accurate.

The result? Large accounts that many managers don’t understand and that require constant adjustment. This situation creates opportunities for errors — and for dishonest people to commit fraud. Fortunately, you can reduce the chance of overhead anomalies with strong internal control procedures, such as:

  • Conducting independent reviews of all adjustments to overhead and inventory accounts,
  • Studying significant overhead adjustments over different periods of time to spot anomalies,
  • Discussing complaints about high product costs with nonaccounting managers, and
  • Evaluating your existing overhead allocation and making adjustments as necessary.

Allocating costs more accurately won’t guarantee that you make a profit. To do that, you have to make prudent pricing decisions — based on the production costs and market conditions — and then sell what you produce.

Need help?

Cost accounting can be complex, and indirect overhead costs can be difficult to trace. We can help you understand how to minimize the guesswork in accounting for overhead and identify when it’s time to adjust your allocation rates. Our accounting pros can also suggest ways to monitor cost allocations to prevent errors and mismanagement.

© 2018