New per diem business travel rates became effective on October 1

Are employees at your business traveling again after months of virtual meetings? In Notice 2021-52, the IRS announced the fiscal 2022 “per diem” rates that became effective October 1, 2021. Taxpayers can use these rates to substantiate the amount of expenses for lodging, meals and incidental expenses when traveling away from home. (Taxpayers in the transportation industry can use a special transportation industry rate.)

Background information

A simplified alternative to tracking actual business travel expenses is to use the high-low per diem method. This method provides fixed travel per diems. The amounts are based on rates set by the IRS that vary from locality to locality.

Under the high-low method, the IRS establishes an annual flat rate for certain areas with higher costs of living. All locations within the continental United States that aren’t listed as “high-cost” are automatically considered “low-cost.” The high-low method may be used in lieu of the specific per diem rates for business destinations. Examples of high-cost areas include Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

Under some circumstances — for example, if an employer provides lodging or pays the hotel directly — employees may receive a per diem reimbursement only for their meals and incidental expenses. There’s also a $5 incidental-expenses-only rate for employees who don’t pay or incur meal expenses for a calendar day (or partial day) of travel.

Less recordkeeping

If your company uses per diem rates, employees don’t have to meet the usual recordkeeping rules required by the IRS. Receipts of expenses generally aren’t required under the per diem method. But employees still must substantiate the time, place and business purpose of the travel. Per diem reimbursements generally aren’t subject to income or payroll tax withholding or reported on an employee’s Form W-2.

The FY2022 rates

For travel after September 30, 2021, the per diem rate for all high-cost areas within the continental United States is $296. This consists of $222 for lodging and $74 for meals and incidental expenses. For all other areas within the continental United States, the per diem rate is $202 for travel after September 30, 2021 ($138 for lodging and $64 for meals and incidental expenses). Compared to the FY2021 per diems, both the high and low-cost area per diems increased $4.

Important: This method is subject to various rules and restrictions. For example, companies that use the high-low method for an employee must continue using it for all reimbursement of business travel expenses within the continental United States during the calendar year. However, the company may use any permissible method to reimburse that employee for any travel outside the continental United States.

For travel during the last three months of a calendar year, employers must continue to use the same method (per diem or high-low method) for an employee as they used during the first nine months of the calendar year. Also, note that per diem rates can’t be paid to individuals who own 10% or more of the business.

If your employees are traveling, it may be a good time to review the rates and consider switching to the high-low method. It can reduce the time and frustration associated with traditional travel reimbursement. Contact us for more information.

© 2021

10 financial statement areas to watch for COVID-related effects

The COVID-19 pandemic is still adversely affecting many businesses and not-for-profit organizations, but the effects vary, depending on the nature of operations and geographic location. Has your organization factored the effects of the pandemic into its financial statements? You might not have considered this question since last year if your organization prepares statements that comply with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles only at year end.

As we head into audit season for 2021, it’s time to evaluate whether your financial situation has gotten better — or worse — this year. Here are 10 financial statement areas to home in on:

1. Revenue recognition. Assess how changes in customer preferences, contract modifications, discounts, refund concessions, and changes in credit policies or payment terms impact the top line of the income statement. Also consider related collectability of accounts receivable.

2. Government grants. You may account for these grants as revenue or donor-restricted contributions. Government funding programs may have eligibility, documentation, expense tracking and other requirements (such as government audits) that you may need to address.

3. Estimates and fair values. These items are typically based on budgeting and forecasting of revenue, costs and cash flows. Uncertainty may increase the discount rates used in making estimates and decrease the fair values of certain balance sheet items.

4. Investments. Market changes caused by the pandemic may negatively affect the fair values of investments and financial instruments that qualify for hedge accounting.

5. Inventory. It’s possible that certain market conditions — including inflation, reductions in production and supply chain disruptions — may affect the value of raw materials, work-in-progress and finished goods inventory. Consider the need for write-offs due to obsolescence.

In addition, travel and work restrictions may delay, restrict or prevent year-end physical inventory counts. Your external auditors may have to observe counts remotely, which, in turn, may require additional testing procedures during audit fieldwork.

6. Property, plant and equipment. Evaluate changes in useful lives and related deprecation due to changes in business plans. There may also be potential impairment of long-lived assets and leased assets.

7. Goodwill and other intangible assets. Because of COVID-19 triggering events, these items may require impairment testing and write-offs may be needed.

8. Deferred tax assets. Consider the realizability of these assets in light of current year losses and uncertainty about future events, including the impact of possible federal tax law changes.

9. Accrued liabilities. You may need to book additional liabilities this year for employee terminations, changes in benefits and payroll tax payment deferrals. Also consider whether existing contingency accruals are still adequate.

10. Long-term debt. You may have debt classification issues for existing loans if your organization fails to meet its debt covenants. Financial difficulties may result in debt modification or extinguishment. Also evaluate the compliance requirements of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and the probability of forgiveness.

This list is a useful starting point for discussions about how the pandemic has affected financial results in 2021. If you have questions about how to report the effects, contact us for guidance. Your preparedness will help facilitate audit fieldwork and minimize adjustments to your in-house financial reports.

© 2021

Employers: The Social Security wage base is increasing in 2022

The Social Security Administration recently announced that the wage base for computing Social Security tax will increase to $147,000 for 2022 (up from $142,800 for 2021). Wages and self-employment income above this threshold aren’t subject to Social Security tax.

Background information

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) imposes two taxes on employers, employees and self-employed workers — one for Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance, which is commonly known as the Social Security tax, and the other for Hospital Insurance, which is commonly known as the Medicare tax.

There’s a maximum amount of compensation subject to the Social Security tax, but no maximum for Medicare tax. For 2022, the FICA tax rate for employers is 7.65% — 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare (the same as in 2021).

2022 updates

For 2022, an employee will pay:

  • 6.2% Social Security tax on the first $147,000 of wages (6.2% of $147,000 makes the maximum tax $9,114), plus
  • 1.45% Medicare tax on the first $200,000 of wages ($250,000 for joint returns; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing a separate return), plus
  • 2.35% Medicare tax (regular 1.45% Medicare tax plus 0.9% additional Medicare tax) on all wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint returns; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing a separate return).

For 2022, the self-employment tax imposed on self-employed people is:

  • 12.4% OASDI on the first $147,000 of self-employment income, for a maximum tax of $18,228 (12.4% of $147,000); plus
  • 2.90% Medicare tax on the first $200,000 of self-employment income ($250,000 of combined self-employment income on a joint return, $125,000 on a return of a married individual filing separately), plus
  • 3.8% (2.90% regular Medicare tax plus 0.9% additional Medicare tax) on all self-employment income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 of combined self-employment income on a joint return, $125,000 for married taxpayers filing a separate return).

More than one employer

What happens if an employee works for your business and has a second job? That employee would have taxes withheld from two different employers. Can the employee ask you to stop withholding Social Security tax once he or she reaches the wage base threshold? Unfortunately, no. Each employer must withhold Social Security taxes from the individual’s wages, even if the combined withholding exceeds the maximum amount that can be imposed for the year. Fortunately, the employee will get a credit on his or her tax return for any excess withheld.

We can help 

Contact us if you have questions about payroll tax filing or payments. We can help ensure you stay in compliance.

© 2021

Data visualization: A picture is worth 1,000 words


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

Powerful tool

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

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

4 Examples

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

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

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

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

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

Show and tell

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

© 2021

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

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

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

Eligibility rules

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

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

Contributions from an employer

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

Taking distributions

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

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

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

© 2021

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

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

Complex rules

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

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

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

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

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

Simplification measures

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

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

Right for your company?

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

© 2021

Many factors are involved when choosing a business entity

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

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

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

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

Other considerations

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

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

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

© 2021

How to assess fraud risks today

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

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

Doubling down on fraud risks

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

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

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

Identifying risk factors

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

Examples of fraud risk factors that auditors consider include:

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

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

Following up

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

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

© 2021

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

October 2021 Questions and Answers

QUESTION:

Our company was targeted by payroll scammers that resulted in data theft of employee W-2 information. What should we do?

ANSWER:

Time is of the essence in this situation. Quickly, but thoroughly summarize all the information that was compromised. Next, email the IRS at dataloss@irs.gov, and put “W2 Data Loss” in the subject line. Don’t include any of the personal information that was compromised. Instead, provide your company name and contact phone number so someone at the IRS can call you.

Don’t forget to reach out to your state taxing authorities to report the data breach and let affected employees know so they can immediately take steps to limit its impact.

QUESTION:

I received a monetary settlement from a malpractice claim. Is the money I received taxable?

ANSWER:

Generally, successful litigants in a legal malpractice case are taxed on their gross settlement or award amount. Before the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), attorney’s fees you incurred to litigate your case would have been deductible as non-business-related legal fees on Schedule A as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. But the TCJA eliminated this class of write-off, making the entire compensation amount taxable.

Monetary settlements for other types of malpractice claims (e.g., medical) generally aren’t taxable if they compensate you for economic losses from medical expenses or lost wages.