Internal control questionnaires: How to see the complete picture

Businesses rely on internal controls to help ensure the accuracy and integrity of their financial statements, as well as prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Given their importance, internal controls are a key area of focus for internal and external auditors.

Many auditors use detailed internal control questionnaires to help evaluate the internal control environment — and ensure a comprehensive assessment. Although some audit teams still use paper-based questionnaires, many now prefer an electronic format. Here’s an overview of the types of questions that may be included and how the questionnaire may be used during an audit.

The basics

The contents of internal control questionnaires vary from one audit firm to the next. They also may be customized for a particular industry or business. Most include general questions pertaining to the company’s mission, control environment and compliance situation. There also may be sections dedicated to mission-critical or fraud-prone elements of the company’s operations, such as:

  • Accounts receivable,
  • Inventory,
  • Property, plant and equipment,
  • Intellectual property (such as patents, copyrights and customer lists),
  • Trade payables,
  • Related party transactions, and
  • Payroll.

Questionnaires usually don’t take long to complete, because most questions are closed-ended, requiring only yes-or-no answers. For example, a question might ask: Is a physical inventory count conducted annually? However, there also may be space for open-ended responses. For instance, a question might ask for a list of controls that limit physical access to the company’s inventory.

3 approaches

Internal control questionnaires are generally administered using one the following three approaches:

1. Completion by company personnel. Here, management completes the questionnaire independently. The audit team might request the company’s organization chart to ensure that the appropriate individuals are selected to participate. Auditors also might conduct preliminary interviews to confirm their selections before assigning the questionnaire.

2. Completion by the auditor based on inquiry. Under this approach, the auditor meets with company personnel to discuss a particular element of the internal control environment. Then the auditor completes the relevant section of the questionnaire and asks the people who were interviewed to review and validate the responses.

3. Completion by the auditor after testing. Here, the auditor completes the questionnaire after observing and testing the internal control environment. Once auditors complete the questionnaire, they typically ask management to review and validate the responses.

Enhanced understanding

The purpose of the internal control questionnaire is to help the audit team assess your company’s internal control system. Coupled with the audit team’s training, expertise and analysis, the questionnaire can help produce accurate, insightful audit reports. The insight gained from the questionnaire also can add value to your business by revealing holes in the control system that may need to be patched to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Contact us for more information.

© 2021

Financial statements: Take the time to read the entire story

A complete set of financial statements for your business contains three reports. Each serves a different purpose, but ultimately helps stakeholders — including managers, employees, investors and lenders — evaluate a company’s performance. Here’s an overview of each report and a critical question it answers.

1. Income statement: Is the company growing and profitable?

The income statement (also known as the profit and loss statement) shows revenue, expenses and earnings over a given period. A common term used when discussing income statements is “gross profit,” or the income earned after subtracting the cost of goods sold from revenue. Cost of goods sold includes the cost of labor, materials and overhead required to make a product.

Another important term is “net income.” This is the income remaining after all expenses (including taxes) have been paid.

It’s important to note that growth and profitability aren’t the only metrics that matter. For example, high-growth companies that report healthy top and bottom lines may not have enough cash on hand to pay their bills. Though it may be tempting to just review revenue and profit trends, thorough due diligence looks beyond the income statement.

2. Balance sheet: What does the company own (and owe)?

This report provides a snapshot of the company’s financial health. It tallies assets, liabilities and “net worth.”

Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), assets are reported at the lower of cost or market value. Current assets (such as accounts receivable or inventory) are reasonably expected to be converted to cash within a year, while long-term assets (such as plant and equipment) have longer lives. Similarly, current liabilities (such as accounts payable) come due within a year, while long-term liabilities are payment obligations that extend beyond the current year or operating cycle.

Intangible assets (such as patents, customer lists and goodwill) can provide significant value to a business. But internally developed intangibles aren’t reported on the balance sheet. Intangible assets are only reported when they’ve been acquired externally.

Net worth (or owners’ equity) is the extent to which the value of assets exceeds liabilities. If the book value of liabilities exceeds the book value of the assets, net worth will be negative. However, book value may not necessarily reflect market value. Some companies may provide the details of owners’ equity in a separate statement called the statement of retained earnings. It details sales or repurchases of stock, dividend payments and changes caused by reported profits or losses.

3. Cash flow statement: Where is cash coming from and going to?

This statement shows all the cash flowing in and out of your company. For example, your company may have cash inflows from selling products or services, borrowing money and selling stock. Outflows may result from paying expenses, investing in capital equipment and repaying debt.

Typically, cash flows are organized in three categories: operating, investing and financing activities. The bottom of the statement shows the net change in cash during the period. Watch your statement of cash flows closely. To remain in business, companies must continually generate cash to pay creditors, vendors and employees.

Read the fine print

Disclosures at the end of a company’s financial statements provide additional details. Together with the three quantitative reports, these qualitative descriptions can help financial statement users make well-informed business decisions. Contact us for assistance conducting due diligence and benchmarking financial performance.

© 2021

June 2021 Client Line

Casualty, Disaster and Theft Losses After Taxes – now’s a good time to understand how casualty and disaster losses impact your taxes.

Be Prepared – here are ways your business can be prepared for natural and human-made disasters

Understanding Payroll Taxes – it’s a must.

June 2021 Client Profile

Charitable Remainder Trusts for Inherited IRAs – gives you some control and options for passing along your IRAs.

Understanding Patents – there are different types of patents so work with a patent attorney.

June 2021 Questions and Answers

June 2021 Short Bits

Understanding Your Business Insurance Binder

Insurance paper on businessman desk in Office Business

Whether you’re insuring your business against liability or protecting your employees with a workers’ compensation policy, your insurance agent will provide a binder that can serve as your temporary proof of insurance before an insurance policy is issued.

ASK FOR IT BY NAME

When you apply for an insurance policy, you should always ask your agent to provide you with the binder. Sometimes your agent might call this a certificate of insurance or refer to the process as binding coverage. Having this written document gives you the chance to review your coverage and confirm it is correct.

WHAT’S INCLUDED

Your insurance binder won’t be in a physical 3-ring binder. Instead, it is usually two or three pages of legal paperwork that spells out your policy’s details. Your business insurance binder should include the following key elements:

  • The type of risk insured.
  • The liability coverage amounts.
  • The deductible amount.
  • The named insured(s).
  • The start and end date of the policy.
  • The name of the insurance company and insurance agent.

While the binder acts as a temporary policy with an expiration date, it will not cover you once it lapses. Also, it does not guarantee that a policy will be issued. You’ll still have to go through the company’s underwriting process. So it’s always good to follow up with your insurance agent to ensure that the formal policy is issued. As with all critical business documents, be sure to get a complete copy of the policy for your files.

NOT A DECLARATION

Typically the declaration page is provided with the policy after is has made its way through underwriting and been approved. A declaration page provides a summary of your insurance policy. While it will contain a lot of the same information as the binder, they aren’t the same thing.

April 2021 Client Line

Tax Benefits for Education – the IRS provides numerous tax breaks for higher education expenses.

Reminder of Special Tax Breaks – the December 2020 stimulus package provided a few noteworthy tax breaks for companies.

Understanding Interest Rates – understanding how interest rates are set and how your credit score affects the rate you receive can show you ways to potentially pay less.

April 2021 Client Profile

Kids, Money and Taxes – it’s important for parent to put personal finance on the list of things to teach their children.

Disregarded Entities – there are three types of disregarded entities.

April 2021 Questions and Answers

April 2021 Short Bits

June 2020 ClientLine Newsletter

Make Sure Your Loan is Forgiven – Update – an overview of the program.

Should You Refinance Your Mortgage – here’s what to consider before you decide to refinance your mortgage.

CARES Act Retirement Plan Change – major changes to retirement plans in the near-term.

Client Profile – repaying a 401(k) loan.

Payroll Tax Credit Eligibility – the Employee Retention Credit is an alternative to receiving a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Tax Deadline Extension – tax day has been moved to July 15, 2020.

Questions and Answers

Short Bits

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Tax relief for small businesses

Businesses across the country are being affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19). Fortunately, Congress recently passed a law that provides at least some relief. In a separate development, the IRS has issued guidance allowing taxpayers to defer any amount of federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties or interest. 

New law
On March 18, the Senate passed the House’s coronavirus bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. President Trump signed the bill that day. It includes:

  • Paid leave benefits to employees,
  • Tax credits for employers and self-employed taxpayers, and
  • FICA tax relief for employers.

Tax filing and payment extension

In Notice 2020-18, the IRS provides relief for taxpayers with a federal income tax payment due April 15, 2020. The due date for making federal income tax payments usually due April 15, 2020 is postponed to July 15, 2020.

Important: The IRS announced that the 2019 income tax filing deadline will be moved to July 15, 2020 from April 15, 2020, because of COVID-19.

Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Twitter, “we are moving Tax Day from April 15 to July 15. All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties.”

Previously, the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS had announced that taxpayers could defer making income tax payments for 2019 and estimated income tax payments for 2020 due April 15 (up to certain amounts) until July 15, 2020. Later, the federal government stated that you also don’t have to file a return by April 15.

Of course, if you’re due a tax refund, you probably want to file as soon as possible so you can receive the refund money. And you can still get an automatic filing extension, to October 15, by filing IRS Form 4868. Contact us with any questions you have about filing your return.

Any amount can be deferred

In Notice 2020-18, the IRS stated: “There is no limitation on the amount of the payment that may be postponed.” (Previously, the IRS had announced dollar limits on the tax deferrals but then made a new announcement on March 21 that taxpayers can postpone payments “regardless of the amount owed.”)

In Notice 2020-18, the due date is postponed only for federal income tax payments for 2019 normally due on April 15, 2020 and federal estimated income tax payments (including estimated payments on self-employment income) due on April 15, 2020 for the 2020 tax year.

As of this writing, the IRS hasn’t provided a payment extension for the payment or deposit of other types of federal tax (including payroll taxes and excise taxes).

Contact us

This only outlines the basics of the federal tax relief available at the time this was written. New details are coming out daily. Be aware that many states have also announced tax relief related to COVID-19. And Congress is working on more legislation that will provide additional relief, including sending checks to people under a certain income threshold and providing relief to various industries and small businesses.

We’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, contact us with any questions you have about your situation.

© 2020

Thinking About Converting from a C Corporation to an S Corporation?

The right entity choice can make a difference in the tax bill you owe for your business. Although S corporations can provide substantial tax advantages over C corporations in some circumstances, there are plenty of potentially expensive tax problems that you should assess before making the decision to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation.

Here’s a quick rundown of four issues to consider:

LIFO inventories. C corporations that use last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventories must pay tax on the benefits they derived by using LIFO if they convert to S corporations. The tax can be spread over four years. This cost must be weighed against the potential tax gains from converting to S status.

Built-in gains tax. Although S corporations generally aren’t subject to tax, those that were formerly C corporations are taxed on built-in gains (such as appreciated property) that the C corporation has when the S election becomes effective, if those gains are recognized within five years after the conversion. This is generally unfavorable, although there are situations where the S election still can produce a better tax result despite the built-in gains tax.

Passive income. S corporations that were formerly C corporations are subject to a special tax. That tax kicks in if their passive investment income (including dividends, interest, rents, royalties, and stock sale gains) exceeds 25% of their gross receipts, and the S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits carried over from its C corporation years. If that tax is owed for three consecutive years, the corporation’s election to be an S corporation terminates. You can avoid the tax by distributing the accumulated earnings and profits, which would be taxable to shareholders. Or you might want to avoid the tax by limiting the amount of passive income.

Unused losses. If your C corporation has unused net operating losses, they can’t be used to offset its income as an S corporation and can’t be passed through to shareholders. If the losses can’t be carried back to an earlier C corporation year, it will be necessary to weigh the cost of giving up the losses against the tax savings expected to be generated by the switch to S status.

Additional factors

These are only some of the factors to consider when a business switches from C to S status. For example, shareholder-employees of S corporations can’t get all of the tax-free fringe benefits that are available with a C corporation. And there may be issues for shareholders who have outstanding loans from their qualified plans. These factors have to be taken into account in order to understand the implications of converting from C to S status.

Contact us. We can explain how these factors will affect your company’s situation and come up with strategies to minimize taxes.

© 2019

Get Ready for Small Business Saturday

While Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – has become one of the biggest sales events of the year for the largest retailers, small business owners look forward to Small Business Saturday – the next day – as one of their busiest days. If you own a small business, here’s how you might position yourself for success that day.

ADVERTISE

If you depend on foot traffic, as many Main Street businesses do, advertise prominently on your storefront so that people walking by notice. Advertise sales in your community paper and especially via apps and social media. Perhaps you’ll publicize a promotion where the winners come away with merchandise as their prizes.

INCENTIVIZE

You’ll have to start by cutting prices in line with what your competitors charge. Consider providing services like free wrapping, and offering additional incentives for shoppers on your preferred and frequent customer lists. You might also give a small bonus or increased commissions to workers who serve your clients on this big day.

TRAIN

Your employees are your customers’ first and last impression. Train them to greet everyone with a smile and a comprehensive knowledge of the merchandise they’ll sell.

Hiring This Summer? You May Qualify for a Valuable Tax Credit

Is your business hiring this summer? If the employees come from certain “targeted groups,” you may be eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). This includes youth whom you bring in this summer for two or three months. The maximum credit employers can claim is $2,400 to $9,600 for each eligible employee.

10 targeted groups

An employer is generally eligible for the credit only for qualified wages paid to members of 10 targeted groups:

  • Qualified members of families receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program,
  • Qualified veterans,
  • Designated community residents who live in Empowerment Zones or rural renewal counties,
  • Qualified ex-felons,
  • Vocational rehabilitation referrals,
  • Qualified summer youth employees,
  • Qualified members of families in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,
  • Qualified Supplemental Security Income recipients,
  • Long-term family assistance recipients, and
  • Qualified individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.

For each employee, there’s also a minimum requirement that the employee have completed at least 120 hours of service for the employer, and that employment begin before January 1, 2020.

Also, the credit isn’t available for certain employees who are related to the employer or work more than 50% of the time outside of a trade or business of the employer (for example, working as a house cleaner in the employer’s home). And it generally isn’t available for employees who have previously worked for the employer.

Calculate the savings

For employees other than summer youth employees, the credit amount is calculated under the following rules. The employer can take into account up to $6,000 of first-year wages per employee ($10,000 for “long-term family assistance recipients” and/or $12,000, $14,000 or $24,000 for certain veterans). If the employee completed at least 120 hours but less than 400 hours of service for the employer, the wages taken into account are multiplied by 25%. If the employee completed 400 or more hours, all of the wages taken into account are multiplied by 40%.

Therefore, the maximum credit available for the first-year wages is $2,400 ($6,000 × 40%) per employee. It is $4,000 [$10,000 × 40%] for “long-term family assistance recipients”; $4,800, $5,600 or $9,600 [$12,000, $14,000 or $24,000 × 40%] for certain veterans. In order to claim a $9,600 credit, a veteran must be certified as being entitled to compensation for a service-connected disability and be unemployed for at least six months during the one-year period ending on the hiring date.

Additionally, for “long-term family assistance recipients,” there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages, resulting in a total maximum credit, over two years, of $9,000 [$10,000 × 40% plus $10,000 × 50%].

The “first year” described above is the year-long period which begins with the employee’s first day of work. The “second year” is the year that immediately follows.

For summer youth employees, the rules described above apply, except that you can only take into account up to $3,000 of wages, and the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. That means that, for summer youth employees, the maximum credit available is $1,200 ($3,000 × 40%) per employee. Summer youth employees are defined as those who are at least 16 years old, but under 18 on the hiring date or May 1 (whichever is later), and reside in an Empowerment Zone, enterprise community or renewal community.

We can help

The WOTC can offset the cost of hiring qualified new employees. There are some additional rules that, in limited circumstances, prohibit the credit or require an allocation of the credit. And you must fill out and submit paperwork to the government. Contact us for assistance or more information about your situation.

© 2019