What are the responsibilities of an audit committee?

Before you jump headfirst into the year-end financial reporting process, review the role independent audit committees play in providing investors and markets with high-quality, reliable financial information.

Recent SEC statement

Under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations, all public companies must have an independent audit committee or have the full board of directors act as the audit committee. Likewise, many not-for-profit entities and large private companies have assembled audit committees to oversee the financial reporting process and help reduce the risk of financial misstatement.

SEC leadership recently issued a joint statement. It highlights the following key areas of focus for audit committees:

Tone at the top. Audit committees set the tone for the company’s financial reporting and the relationship with the independent auditor. The SEC statement encourages audit committees to proactively communicate with auditors and understand how they resolve issues.

Auditor independence. This is a shared responsibility of the audit firm, the issuer and its audit committee. The SEC statement suggests that audit committees consider corporate changes or other events that could affect independence.

U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The audit committee is charged with helping management comply with existing GAAP. The SEC statement reminds audit committees to consider major new accounting standards that have been adopted in recent years, including the new revenue recognition, lease and credit loss rules.

Internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR). Audit committees are responsible for overseeing ICFR. The SEC statement stresses the importance of following up on the remediation of any material weaknesses.

Communications with independent auditors. Audit committees must openly communicate with external auditors throughout the audit reporting process. The SEC statement recommends discussing such issues as accounting policies and practices, estimates and significant unusual transactions.

Non-GAAP measures. These metrics, when used appropriately in combination with GAAP measures, can provide decision-useful information to investors. The SEC statement suggests that audit committees learn how management uses these metrics to evaluate performance — and whether they’re consistently prepared and presented from period to period.

Reference rate reform. Discontinuation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) may present a material risk for companies with contracts that reference LIBOR. The SEC statement encourages audit committees to understand management’s plan to address the risks associated with reference rate reform.

Critical audit matters (CAMs). These are material accounts or disclosures communicated to the audit committee that require the auditor to make a subjective decision or use complex judgment. Beginning in 2019, auditors are required to include CAMs for certain public companies in the auditor’s report. The SEC statement reminds audit committees to understand the nature of each CAM, including the auditor’s basis for determining it and how it will be described in the auditor’s report.

Let’s work together

Collaboration between the audit committee and external auditors is critical, regardless of whether a company is publicly traded or privately held. Contact us with any questions you have regarding the financial reporting process.

© 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

New law provides a variety of tax breaks to businesses and employers

While you were celebrating the holidays, you may not have noticed that Congress passed a law with a grab bag of provisions that provide tax relief to businesses and employers. The “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020” was signed into law on December 20, 2019. It makes many changes to the tax code, including an extension (generally through 2020) of more than 30 provisions that were set to expire or already expired.

Two other laws were passed as part of the law (The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019 and the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act).

Here are five highlights.

Long-term part-timers can participate in 401(k)s.

Under current law, employers generally can exclude part-time employees (those who work less than 1,000 hours per year) when providing a 401(k) plan to their employees. A qualified retirement plan can generally delay participation in the plan based on an employee attaining a certain age or completing a certain number of years of service but not beyond the later of completion of one year of service (that is, a 12-month period with at least 1,000 hours of service) or reaching age 21.

Qualified retirement plans are subject to various other requirements involving who can participate.

For plan years beginning after December 31, 2020, the new law requires a 401(k) plan to allow an employee to make elective deferrals if the employee has worked with the employer for at least 500 hours per year for at least three consecutive years and has met the age-21 requirement by the end of the three-consecutive-year period. There are a number of other rules involved that will determine whether a part-time employee qualifies to participate in a 401(k) plan.

The employer tax credit for paid family and medical leave is extended.

Tax law provides an employer credit for paid family and medical leave. It permits eligible employers to claim an elective general business credit based on eligible wages paid to qualifying employees with respect to family and medical leave. The credit is equal to 12.5% of eligible wages if the rate of payment is 50% of such wages and is increased by 0.25 percentage points (but not above 25%) for each percentage point that the rate of payment exceeds 50%. The maximum leave amount that can be taken into account for a qualifying employee is 12 weeks per year.

The credit was set to expire on December 31, 2019. The new law extends it through 2020.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is extended.

Under the WOTC, an elective general business credit is provided to employers hiring individuals who are members of one or more of 10 targeted groups. The new law extends this credit through 2020.

The medical device excise tax is repealed.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contained a provision that required that the sale of a taxable medical device by the manufacturer, producer or importer is subject to a tax equal to 2.3% of the price for which it is sold. This medical device excise tax originally applied to sales of taxable medical devices after December 31, 2012.

The new law repeals the excise tax for sales occurring after December 31, 2019.

The high-cost, employer-sponsored health coverage tax is repealed.

The ACA also added a nondeductible excise tax on insurers when the aggregate value of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage for an employee, former employee, surviving spouse or other primary insured individual exceeded a threshold amount. This tax is commonly referred to as the tax on “Cadillac” plans.

The new law repeals the Cadillac tax for tax years beginning after December 31, 2019.

Stay tuned

These are only some of the provisions of the new law. We will be covering them in the coming weeks. If you have questions about your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.

© 2019

Employee benefit plans: Do you need a Form 5500 audit?

Some benefit plans are required to include an opinion from an independent qualified public accountant (IQPA) when filing Form 5500 each year. The IQPA examines the plan’s financial statements and schedules to ensure they’re presented fairly and in conformity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The financial statements and IQPA opinion are often referred to collectively as the “audit report.”

100 participant rule

Generally, employee benefit plans with 100 or more participants — including eligible, but not participating, as well as separated employees with account balances — must include an audit report with Form 5500, “Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan.” An audit report filed for a plan that covered 100 or more participants at the beginning of the plan year should use the “large plan” requirements.

A return/report filed for a pension benefit plan or welfare benefit plan that covered fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year should follow the “small plan” requirements. If your total participant count as of the first day of the plan year is less than 100, you generally don’t need to include an audit report with your Form 5500.

For the plan to be exempt from this requirement, at least 95% of the plan assets must be “qualifying” plan assets. And any person who handles plan assets that don’t constitute qualifying plan assets must be bonded in accordance with ERISA. The amount of the bond may not be less than the value of the qualifying plan assets.

A slight variation in the general rule exists within what is commonly referred to as the “80-120 participant rule.” If the number of participants is between 80 and 120, and a Form 5500 was filed for the previous plan year, you may elect to complete the return/report in the same category (large or small plan) that you filed for the previous return/report.

Large-plan exceptions

Generally, if a plan chooses to report as a large plan, the IRS requires the plan sponsor to file an audit report. But there are some limited exceptions to this requirement.

For example, employee welfare benefit plans that are unfunded, fully insured, or a combination of unfunded and insured don’t have to file an audit report. And neither do employee pension benefit plans that provide benefits exclusively through allocated insurance contracts or policies fully guaranteeing the payment of benefits.

Certain welfare benefit plans aren’t required to include an IQPA opinion if:

  • Benefits are paid solely from the employer’s general assets,
  • The plan provides benefits exclusively through insurance contracts or through a qualified health maintenance organization (HMO), the premiums of which are paid directly by the employer from its general assets or partly from its general assets and partly from employee contributions, or
  • The plan provides benefits partly from the sponsor’s general assets and partly through insurance contracts or a qualified HMO.

In addition, if one plan year is seven or fewer months, the IRS will defer the audit requirement for the first of two consecutive plan years. But you must still provide the financial statement, and your audit report for the second year must include an IQPA opinion on both the previous short year and the second year.

Know the rules

Failing to include a required audit report could result in the plan facing a civil suit. But you don’t want to pay for an IQPA if you don’t need to. Contact us to determine the appropriate course of action.

© 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

Nonprofits: Are you ready for the new contribution guidance?

When the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) updated its rules for recognizing revenue from contracts in 2014, it only added to the confusion that nonprofits already had about accounting for grants and similar contracts.

Fortunately, last year, the FASB provided some much-needed clarification with Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-08, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Clarifying the Scope and the Accounting Guidance for Contributions Received and Contributions Made. Calendar-year nonprofits must follow this guidance when preparing their 2019 year-end financial statements.

Complicated rules

Nonprofits traditionally have taken varying approaches when they:

  • Characterize grants and similar contracts as exchange transactions (also known as reciprocal transactions) or contributions (nonreciprocal transactions), and
  • Distinguish between conditional and unconditional contributions.

The FASB’s updated revenue recognition guidance — ASU 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers — eliminated some of the previous guidance for nonprofits and imposed extensive disclosure requirements that didn’t seem relevant to contributions. ASU 2018-08 clarifies matters by laying out rules that will help nonprofits determine whether a grant or similar contract is indeed a contribution — and, if so, when they should recognize the revenue associated with it.

Exchange vs. contribution

To determine how to treat a grant or similar contract, you must assess whether the “provider” receives commensurate value for the assets it’s transferring. If it does, you should treat the grant or contract as an exchange transaction. ASU 2018-08 stresses that the provider (the grantor or other party) in a transaction isn’t synonymous with the general public. So, indirect benefit to the public doesn’t represent commensurate value received. Execution of the provider’s mission or positive sentiment received from donating also doesn’t constitute commensurate value received.

What if the provider doesn’t receive commensurate value? You then must determine if the asset transfer is a payment from a third-party payer for an existing transaction between you and an identified customer (for example, payments made under Medicare or a Pell Grant). If it is such a payment, the transaction won’t be considered a contribution under the ASU, and other accounting guidance would apply. If it isn’t such a payment, the transaction is accounted for as a contribution.

Conditional terms

According to ASU 2018-08, a conditional contribution includes:

  • A barrier the nonprofit must overcome to receive the contribution, and
  • Either a right of return of assets transferred or a right of release of the promisor’s obligation to transfer assets.

Unconditional contributions are recognized when received. However, conditional contributions aren’t recognized until you overcome the barriers to entitlement.

Is there a barrier to overcome before your organization can receive a contribution? Consider the inclusion of a measurable performance-related barrier, limits on your nonprofit’s discretion over how to conduct an activity or a stipulation that relates to the purpose of the agreement (not including administrative tasks and trivial stipulations such as production of an annual report). Some indicators might prove more important than others, depending on circumstances. And no single indicator is determinative.

Net effect

As a result of the updated guidance, nonprofits will likely account for more grants and similar contracts as contributions than they did under the previous rules. Check with your CPA to determine what that means for your financial statements, loan covenants and other matters.

© 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

The Art and Science of Goodwill Impairment Testing

Goodwill shows up on a company’s balance sheet when the company has been acquired in a business combination. It represents what’s left over after the purchase price in a merger or acquisition is allocated to the company’s tangible assets, identifiable intangible assets and liabilities. Periodically, companies must test goodwill for “impairment” — that is, whether the carrying value on the balance sheet has fallen below its fair value. This assessment can be complicated.

Reporting recap

Under current U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), public companies that report goodwill on their balance sheet must test goodwill at least annually for impairment. In lieu of annual impairment testing, private companies may elect to amortize acquired goodwill over a useful life of up to 10 years.

All companies — regardless of whether they’re publicly traded or privately held — must test goodwill for impairment when a triggering event happens. Examples of triggering events that could lower the fair value of goodwill include:

  • The loss of a key customer or key person,
  • Adverse regulatory actions,
  • Unanticipated competition, and
  • Negative cash flows from operations.

Impairment may also occur if, after an acquisition has been completed, there’s an economic downturn that causes the parent company or the acquired business to lose value. Impairment write-downs reduce the carrying value of goodwill on the balance sheet. They also lower profits reported on the income statement, which may raise a red flag to lenders and investors.

Quantifying impairment

Calculating goodwill impairment was originally a two-step process: First, businesses must figure out whether an impairment exists, and then they must put a dollar figure on it. The second step includes determining the implied fair value of goodwill and comparing it with the carrying amount of goodwill on the balance sheet.

The rules for testing goodwill impairment were simplified in Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2017-04, Intangibles — Goodwill and Other, Simplifying the Test for Goodwill Impairment. The changes go live for fiscal periods starting after:

  • December 15, 2019, for public companies that file with the Securities and Exchange Commission,
  • December 15, 2020, for other public companies,
  • December 15, 2021, for privately held businesses.

Early adoption is permitted for testing dates after January 1, 2017. The updated guidance nixes the second step of the impairment test. Instead, a business will perform the impairment test by comparing the fair value of a reporting unit that includes goodwill with its carrying amount.

Who can help?

Few companies employ internal accounting staff with the requisite training and time to handle impairment testing. And most auditors won’t perform valuation services for their audit clients for fear of violating their independence standards. Instead, valuation specialists are often called in to handle these complex assignments. Contact us for more information.

© 2019

Manage Your Working Capital More Efficiently

Working capital is the difference between a company’s current assets and current liabilities. For a business to thrive, its working capital must be greater than zero. A positive balance enables the company to meet its short-term cash flow needs and grow.

But too much working capital can be a sign of inefficient management. In general, you want to generate as much income as possible from the money that’s tied up in receivables, inventory, payables and other working capital accounts. Here’s how to find the sweet spot between too little and too much working capital.

Benchmarking performance

Current assets are those that can be easily converted into cash within a 12-month period. Conversely, current liabilities include any obligations due within 12 months, including accounts payable, accrued expenses and notes payable.

In addition to calculating the difference between these two amounts, management may calculate the current ratio (current assets ÷ current liabilities) and the acid-test ratio (cash, receivables and investments ÷ current liabilities). A company’s working capital ratios can be compared over time or against competitors to help gauge performance.

You can also compute turnover ratios for receivables, inventory and payables. For example, the days-in-receivables ratio equals the average accounts receivable balance divided by annual sales times 365 days. This tells you, on average, how long it takes the company to collect customer invoices.

Staying positive

There are three main goals of working capital management:

  1. To ensure the company has enough cash to cover expenses and debt,
  2. To minimize the cost of money spent on funding working capital, and
  3. To maximize investors’ returns on assets and investments.

Maintaining a positive working capital balance requires identifying patterns of activity related to line items within the current asset and liability sections.

Digging deeper

Suppose your company’s current ratio has fallen from 1.5 to 1.2. Is this good or bad? That depends on your circumstances. You’ll need to identify the reasons it’s fallen to determine whether the decline is a sign of an impending cash flow shortage. Often the answer lies in three working capital accounts: 1) accounts receivable, 2) inventory, and 3) accounts payable.

For example, when it comes to collecting from customers, how much time elapses between the recognition of an accounts receivable and its collection? Are certain customers habitually slower to pay than others?

Inventory has significant carrying costs, including storage, insurance, interest, pilferage, and the potential for damage and obsolescence. Has your company established target inventory levels? If so, who within the organization monitors compliance? To avoid running out of materials, companies often hold too much inventory. And it’s often financed through trade debt, which can prove costly over the long term.

With respect to the payment of accounts payable, does your company pay according to the credit terms offered by the vendor? Are there penalties for paying past those terms? It might be time for your company to renegotiate its payment terms.

We can help

Working capital management is as much art as it is science. Contact us to help determine the optimal level of working capital based on the nature of your business. We can help you brainstorm ways to fortify your financial position and operate more efficiently.

© 2019