Hidden Liabilities: What’s Excluded From the Balance Sheet?

Financial statements help investors and lenders monitor a company’s performance. However, financial statements may not provide a full picture of financial health. What’s undisclosed could be just as significant as the disclosures. Here’s how a CPA can help stakeholders identify unrecorded items either through external auditing procedures or by conducting agreed upon procedures (AUPs) that target specific accounts.

Start with assets

Revealing undisclosed liabilities and risks begins with assets. For each asset, it’s important to evaluate what could cause the account to diminish. For example, accounts receivable may include bad debts, or inventory may include damaged goods. In addition, some fixed assets may be broken or in desperate need of repairs and maintenance. These items may signal financial distress and affect financial ratios just as much as unreported liabilities do.

Some of these problems may be uncovered by touring the company’s facilities or reviewing asset schedules for slow-moving items. Benchmarking can also help. For example, if receivables are growing much faster than sales, it could be a sign of aging, uncollectible accounts.

Evaluate liabilities

Next, external accountants can assess liabilities to determine whether the amount reported for each item seems accurate and complete. For example, a company may forget to accrue liabilities for salary or vacation time.

Alternatively, management might underreport payables by holding checks for weeks (or months) to make the company appear healthier than it really is. This ploy preserves the checking account while giving the impression that supplier invoices are being paid. It also mismatches revenues and expenses, understates liabilities and artificially enhances profits. Delayed payments can hurt the company’s reputation and cause suppliers to restrict their credit terms.

Identify unrecorded items

Finally, CPAs can investigate what isn’t showing on the balance sheet. Examples include warranties, pending lawsuits, IRS investigations and an underfunded pension. Such risks appear on the balance sheet only when they’re “reasonably estimable” and “more than likely” to be incurred.

These are subjective standards. In-house accounting personnel may claim that liabilities are too unpredictable or remote to warrant disclosure. Footnotes, when available, may shed additional light on the nature and extent of these contingent liabilities.

Need help?

An external audit is your best line of defense against hidden risks and potential liabilities. Or, if funds are limited, an AUP engagement can target specific high-risk accounts or transactions. Contact our experienced CPAs to gain a clearer picture of your company’s financial well-being.

© 2018

Keep it SIMPLE: A Tax-Advantaged Retirement Plan Solution For Small Businesses

If your small business doesn’t offer its employees a retirement plan, you may want to consider a SIMPLE IRA. Offering a retirement plan can provide your business with valuable tax deductions and help you attract and retain employees. For a variety of reasons, a SIMPLE IRA can be a particularly appealing option for small businesses. The deadline for setting one up for this year is October 1, 2018.

The basics

SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” As the name implies, these plans are simple to set up and administer. Unlike 401(k) plans, SIMPLE IRAs don’t require annual filings or discrimination testing.

SIMPLE IRAs are available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Employers must contribute and employees have the option to contribute. The contributions are pretax, and accounts can grow tax-deferred like a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, with distributions taxed when taken in retirement.

As the employer, you can choose from two contribution options:

1. Make a “nonelective” contribution equal to 2% of compensation for all eligible employees. You must make the contribution regardless of whether the employee contributes. This applies to compensation up to the annual limit of $275,000 for 2018 (annually adjusted for inflation).

2. Match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. Here, you contribute only if the employee contributes. This isn’t subject to the annual compensation limit.

Employees are immediately 100% vested in all SIMPLE IRA contributions.

Employee contribution limits

Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE IRA.

SIMPLE IRAs offer greater income deferral opportunities than ordinary IRAs, but lower limits than 401(k)s. An employee may contribute up to $12,500 to a SIMPLE IRA in 2018. Employees age 50 or older can also make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000. This compares to $5,500 and $1,000, respectively, for ordinary IRAs, and to $18,500 and $6,000 for 401(k)s. (Some or all of these limits may increase for 2019 under annual cost-of-living adjustments.)

You’ve got options

A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business, but it isn’t the only option. The more-complex 401(k) plan we’ve already mentioned is one alternative. Some others are a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and a defined-benefit pension plan. These two plans don’t allow employee contributions and have other pluses and minuses. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement plan alternatives for your business.

© 2018

Is It Time to Adopt the New Hedge Accounting Principles?

Implementing changes in accounting rules can be a real drag. But the new hedge accounting standard may be an exception to this generality. Many companies welcome this update and may even want to adopt it early, because the new rules are more flexible and attempt to make hedging strategies easier to report on financial statements.

Hedging strategies today

Hedging strategies protect earnings from unexpected price jumps in raw materials, changes in interest rates or fluctuations in foreign currencies. How? A business purchases futures, options or swaps and then designates these derivative instruments to a hedged item. Gains and losses from both items are then recognized in the same period, which, in turn, stabilizes earnings.

The existing rules require hedging transactions to be documented at inception and to be “highly effective.” After purchasing hedging instruments, businesses must periodically assess the transactions for their effectiveness.

The existing guidance on hedging is one of the most complex areas of U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). So, companies have historically shied away from applying these rules to avoid errors and restatements.

In turn, investors complain that, when a business opts not to use the hedge accounting rules, it prevents stakeholders from truly understanding how the business operates. The new standard tries to address these potential shortcomings.

Future of hedge accounting

Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2017-12, Derivatives and Hedging (Topic 815): Targeted Improvements to Accounting for Hedging Activities, expands the strategies that are eligible for hedge accounting to include 1) hedges of the benchmark rate component of the contractual coupon cash flows of fixed-rate assets or liabilities, 2) hedges of the portion of a closed portfolio of prepayable assets not expected to prepay, and 3) partial-term hedges of fixed-rate assets or liabilities.

In addition, the updated standard:

  • Allows for hedging of nonfinancial components, such as corrugated material in a cardboard box or rubber in a tire,
  • Eliminates an onerous penalty in the “shortcut” method of hedge accounting for interest rate swaps that meet specific criteria,
  • Eliminates the concept of recording hedge “ineffectiveness,”
  • Adds the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) Municipal Swap Rate to a list of acceptable benchmark interest rates for hedges of fixed-interest-rate items, and
  • Revises the presentation and disclosure requirements for hedging to be more user-friendly.

ASU 2017-12 also provides practical expedients to make it easier for private businesses to apply the hedge accounting guidance.

Early adoption

The update will be effective for public companies for reporting periods starting after December 15, 2018. Private companies and other organizations will have an extra year to comply with the changes. But many companies are expected to adopt the amended standard for hedge accounting ahead of the effective date.

If you use hedging strategies, contact us to discuss how to report these complex transactions — and whether it makes sense to adopt the updated rules sooner rather than later. While many companies expect to adopt the amendments early, the transition process calls for more work than just picking up a calculator and applying the new guidance.

© 2018

Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction?

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer claim the home office deduction. If, however, you run a business from your home or are otherwise self-employed and use part of your home for business purposes, the home office deduction may still be available to you.

Home-related expenses

Homeowners know that they can claim itemized deductions for property tax and mortgage interest on their principal residences, subject to certain limits. Most other home-related expenses, such as utilities, insurance and repairs, aren’t deductible.

But if you use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of these expenses, as well as depreciation. Or you might be able to claim the simplified home office deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).

Regular and exclusive use

You might qualify for the home office deduction if part of your home is used as your principal place of business “regularly and exclusively,” defined as follows:

1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use is not regular use.

2. Exclusive use. You use the specific area of your home only for business. It’s not necessary for the space to be physically partitioned off. But, you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used both for business and personal purposes, such as a home office that also serves as a guest bedroom.

Regular and exclusive business use of the space aren’t, however, the only criteria.

Principal place of business

Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you 1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business, and 2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.

Examples of activities that are administrative or managerial in nature include:

  • Billing customers, clients or patients,
  • Keeping books and records,
  • Ordering supplies,
  • Setting up appointments, and
  • Forwarding orders or writing reports.

Meetings or storage

If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.

Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business.

Valuable tax-savings

The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. If you’re not sure whether you qualify or if you have other questions, please contact us.

© 2018

Which Intangibles Should Private Firms Report Following a Merger?

2018 is expected to be a hot year for mergers and acquisitions. But accounting for these transactions under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) can be complicated, especially if the deal involves intangible assets. Fortunately, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) offers a reporting alternative for private companies that simplifies accounting for new business combinations, avoiding a lot of red tape.

Private performance metrics

Companies that merge with or acquire another business must identify and recognize — separately from goodwill — the fair value of intangible assets that are separable or arise from contractual or other legal rights. Valuing intangibles can be costly, subjective and complex, often requiring the use of third-party appraisers and increasing audit costs.

When it comes to private business combinations, however, investors, lenders and other stakeholders question whether the benefits of reporting the values of all of these intangibles outweigh the costs. Private company stakeholders are primarily interested in tangible assets, cash flows, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Such metrics are unrelated to how companies report intangible assets in M&As.

Moreover, buyers in private business combinations generally evaluate a for-sale business based on its expected earnings and cash flows. They don’t customarily assign specific values to all of the seller’s intangible assets, especially not those that can’t be sold or licensed independently.

Exception to the rules

Since 2015, the FASB has allowed private companies to elect an accounting alternative that exempts noncompetes and certain customer-related intangibles from being identified and reported separately on the balance sheet after a business combination. This guidance requires no new disclosures for companies that elect this alternative accounting treatment.

Private companies that elect this alternative report fewer intangible assets in business combinations, thereby simplifying accounting for intangibles on the acquisition date and amortization in future periods. But the alternative doesn’t eliminate the requirement under GAAP to recognize and separately value other intangible assets acquired in business combinations, such as trade names and patents.

In addition, private companies with noncompetes and other customer-related intangibles that were acquired before the adoption of the alternative must continue to amortize those intangibles over the expected life that was set when the business combination occurred.
Although the reporting alternative simplifies matters, private companies will in most cases continue to need third-party appraisals for other separable and contract-based intangibles. Outside appraisals can be costly, but auditors typically won’t rely on fair value estimates made by management for these items.

Get it right

Accounting for business combinations can be complicated. And mistakes can lead to restatements and write-offs in future periods that may alarm stakeholders. We can help take the guesswork out of postacquisition accounting, including deciding whether to elect private company reporting alternatives and allocating the purchase price among acquired assets and liabilities. Contact us for more information.

© 2018

How to Avoid Getting Hit With Payroll Tax Penalties

For small businesses, managing payroll can be one of the most arduous tasks. Adding to the burden earlier this year was adjusting income tax withholding based on the new tables issued by the IRS. (Those tables account for changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.) But it’s crucial not only to withhold the appropriate taxes — including both income tax and employment taxes — but also to remit them on time to the federal government.

If you don’t, you, personally, could face harsh penalties. This is true even if your business is an entity that normally shields owners from personal liability, such as a corporation or limited liability company.

The 100% penalty

Employers must withhold federal income and employment taxes (such as Social Security) as well as applicable state and local taxes on wages paid to their employees. The federal taxes must then be remitted to the federal government according to a deposit schedule.

If a business makes payments late, there are escalating penalties. And if it fails to make them, the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty could apply. Under this penalty, also known as the 100% penalty, the IRS can assess the entire unpaid amount against a “responsible person.”

The corporate veil won’t shield corporate owners in this instance. The liability protections that owners of corporations — and limited liability companies — typically have don’t apply to payroll tax debts.

When the IRS assesses the 100% penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against personal assets of a responsible person.

“Responsible person,” defined

The penalty can be assessed against a shareholder, owner, director, officer or employee. In some cases, it can be assessed against a third party. The IRS can also go after more than one person. To be liable, an individual or party must:

1. Be responsible for collecting, accounting for and remitting withheld federal taxes, and

2. Willfully fail to remit those taxes. That means intentionally, deliberately, voluntarily and knowingly disregarding the requirements of the law.

Prevention is the best medicine

When it comes to the 100% penalty, prevention is the best medicine. So make sure that federal taxes are being properly withheld from employees’ paychecks and are being timely remitted to the federal government. (It’s a good idea to also check state and local requirements and potential penalties.)

If you aren’t already using a payroll service, consider hiring one. A good payroll service provider relieves you of the burden of withholding the proper amounts, taking care of the tax payments and handling recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.

© 2018

A Fresh Look at Percentage of Completion Accounting

How do you report revenue and expenses from long-term contracts? Some companies that were required to use the percentage of completion method (PCM) under prior tax law may qualify for an exception that was expanded by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). This could, in turn, have spillover effects on some companies’ financial statements.

Applying the PCM

Certain businesses — such as homebuilders, real estate developers, engineering firms and creative agencies — routinely enter into contracts that last for more than one calendar year. In general, under accrual-basis accounting, long-term contracts can be reported using either 1) the completed contract method, which records revenues and expenses upon completion of the contract terms, or 2) the PCM, which ties revenue recognition to the incurrence of job costs.

The latter method is generally prescribed by U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), as long as you can make estimates that are “sufficiently dependable.” Under the PCM, the actual costs incurred are compared to expected total costs to estimate percentage complete. Alternatively, the percentage complete may be estimated using an annual completion factor. The application of the PCM is further complicated by job cost allocation policies, change orders and changes in estimates.

In addition to reporting income earlier under the PCM than under the completed contract method, the PCM can affect your balance sheet. If you underbill customers based on the percentage of costs incurred, you’ll report an asset for costs in excess of billings. Conversely, if you overbill based on the costs incurred, you’ll report a liability for billings in excess of costs.

Syncing financial statements and tax records

Starting in 2018, the TCJA modifies Section 451 of the Internal Revenue Code so that a business recognizes revenue for tax purposes no later than when it’s recognized for financial reporting purposes. Under Sec. 451(b), taxpayers that use the accrual method of accounting will meet the “all events test” no later than the taxable year in which the item is taken into account as revenue in a taxpayer’s “applicable financial statement.”

So, if your business uses the PCM for financial reporting purposes, you’ll generally need to follow suit for tax purposes (and vice versa).

In general, for federal income tax purposes, taxable income from long-term contracts is determined under the PCM. However, there’s an exception for smaller companies that enter into contracts to construct or improve real property.

Under the TCJA, for tax years beginning in 2017 and beyond, construction firms with average annual gross receipts of $25 million or less won’t be required to use the PCM for contracts expected to be completed within two years. Before the TCJA, the gross receipts test limit for the small construction contract exception was $10 million.

Got contracts?

Compared to the completed contract method, the PCM is significantly more complicated. But it can provide more current insight into financial performance on long-term contracts, if your estimates are reliable. We can help determine the appropriate method for reporting revenue and expenses, based on the nature of your operations and your company’s size.

© 2018

2 Tax Law Changes That May Affect Your Business’s 401(k) Plan

When you think about recent tax law changes and your business, you’re probably thinking about the new 20% pass-through deduction for qualified business income or the enhancements to depreciation-related breaks. Or you may be contemplating the reduction or elimination of certain business expense deductions. But there are also a couple of recent tax law changes that you need to be aware of if your business sponsors a 401(k) plan.

1. Plan loan repayment extension

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) gives a break to 401(k) plan participants with outstanding loan balances when they leave their employers. While plan sponsors aren’t required to allow loans, many do.

Before 2018, if an employee with an outstanding plan loan left the company sponsoring the plan, he or she would have to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or his or her new employer’s plan) within 60 days to avoid having the loan balance deemed a taxable distribution (and be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if the employee was under age 59-1/2).

Under the TCJA, beginning in 2018, former employees in this situation have until their tax return filing due date — including extensions — to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or qualified retirement plan) and avoid taxes and penalties.

2. Hardship withdrawal limit increase

Beginning in 2019, the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) eases restrictions on employee 401(k) hardship withdrawals. Most 401(k) plans permit hardship withdrawals, though plan sponsors aren’t required to allow them. Hardship withdrawals are subject to income tax and the 10% early distribution tax penalty.

Currently, hardship withdrawals are limited to the funds employees contributed to the accounts. (Such withdrawals are allowed only if the employee has first taken a loan from the same account.)

Under the BBA, the withdrawal limit will also include accumulated employer matching contributions plus earnings on contributions. If an employee has been participating in your 401(k) for several years, this modification could add substantially to the amount of funds available for withdrawal.

Nest egg harm

These changes might sound beneficial to employees, but in the long run they could actually hurt those who take advantage of them. Most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, and taking longer to pay back a plan loan (and thus missing out on potential tax-deferred growth during that time) or taking larger hardship withdrawals can result in a smaller, perhaps much smaller, nest egg at retirement.

So consider educating your employees on the importance of letting their 401(k) accounts grow undisturbed and the potential negative tax consequences of loans and early withdrawals. Please contact us if you have questions.

© 2018

Assessing the Effectiveness of Internal Controls

Strong internal controls can help prevent and detect fraud. That’s why Section 404(a) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) requires a public company’s management to annually assess the effectiveness of internal controls over financial reporting. And Sec. 404(b) requires the company’s independent auditors to provide an attestation report on management’s assessment of internal controls. Some smaller entities may be exempt from the latter requirement — but not the former one.

Burdensome for smaller entities

When the SEC published the regulations, smaller public companies told the SEC that the costs of complying with Sec. 404(b) would outweigh the benefits for investors. While the SEC explored ways to ease the compliance burden, the compliance deadline for Sec. 404(b) was repeatedly delayed for nonaccelerated filers — companies with a public float of less than $75 million on the last business day of their most recent second fiscal quarter.

In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act instructed the SEC to permanently exempt nonaccelerated filers from SOX Sec. 404(b). Absent this exemption, nonaccelerated filers would have been required to comply with Sec. 404(b) beginning with fiscal years ending on or after June 15, 2010.

New definition provides no new Sec. 404(b) relief

Earlier this year, the SEC expanded its definition of “smaller reporting companies” from companies with a public float of less than $75 million to those with a public float of less than $250 million. This change will allow nearly 1,000 more companies to qualify for a lighter set of disclosure rules available to smaller reporting companies. However, the SEC did not raise the public float thresholds for when a company qualifies as an accelerated filer. This means the $75 million threshold still applies in relation to the Sec. 404(b) exemption.

SEC Commissioners Michael Piwowar and Hester Peirce favored raising the accelerated filer threshold to $250 million to expand the number of companies that would be exempt from Sec. 404(b). But, based on feedback from auditors and investor advocate groups, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton decided to keep the current threshold at $75 million — at least for now.

It’s also important to note that not all companies with a public float of less than $75 million are considered nonaccelerated filers. If a company’s public float drops below $75 million, it continues to be an accelerated filer until it drops below $50 million, and thereby “exits” accelerated status.

Still on the hook

Even if your company is exempt from Sec.404(b), you’re still responsible for assessing the effectiveness of internal controls over financial reporting pursuant to Sec. 404(a). Contact us for any questions about complying with the SOX rules or for information regarding best practices in internal controls.

© 2018

Auditing Royalty Agreements

Companies often grant licenses to others allowing them to use intellectual property — such as a patent or proprietary computer code — in exchange for royalties. Licensors can hire an external audit firm to ensure the licensee pays the correct royalty rate and amount. Here’s how the audit process works.

The agreement

The parties’ attorneys usually create a royalty agreement that governs the use of the intellectual property. This legal contract between the licensor and licensee details the terms of the arrangement. It spells out how the licensee may use the asset, the duration of the license and how much the licensee agrees to pay the licensor in royalties for the right to use the asset.

Unfortunately, royalty payments sometimes fall short of the agreed-upon amount. This may be due to a clerical error, confusion regarding the agreement’s terms — or even fraud. To detect and deter shortfalls, most contracts include a “right-to-audit” clause, meaning that the licensor retains the legal right to hire an outside firm to audit the licensee’s payments to confirm compliance with the terms detailed in the agreement.

The auditor’s role

When auditing royalty agreements, CPAs typically perform the following six steps:

1. Review the agreement to understand its scope, including the asset under license, the duration of the contract, prohibited uses and the royalty rate.

2. Analyze sales data used to derive royalty payments to date. Depending on the type of asset under license, the audit team may request production and inventory records.

3. Perform a detailed walk-through of the process the licensee follows to identify, track and report sales subject to a royalty payment.

4. Conduct random sampling of sales data to ensure the licensee applies the correct rate to generate the royalty payment.

5. Review sales and royalty payment trends to confirm that the licensee’s sales align with the royalty payments.

6. Gather individual invoices from key customers to locate and confirm that sales transactions subject to royalties actually generated a royalty payment.

Usually, the licensor assumes the cost of the royalty audit. However, some agreements include a clause that requires the licensee to assume responsibility for the cost of the audit if the audit uncovers underpayment of royalties by a certain margin.

Keep licensees on their toes

Most licensing arrangements function without a hitch. But a minor error or oversight could result in a significant shortfall in royalty payments. Periodic royalty audits can prevent small, but honest, mistakes from spiraling out of control — and help reduce the temptation for dishonest licensees to commit fraud. Contact us to discuss the benefits of auditing your royalty agreements.

© 2018