Transitioning to Remote Audits


Are you comfortable communicating electronically with your auditors? If so, a logical next step might be to transition from on-site audit procedures to a more “remote” approach. Remote audits can help reduce the time and cost of preparing audited financial statements.

21st century audits

Traditionally, audit fieldwork has involved a team of auditors camping out for weeks (or even months) in one of the conference rooms at the headquarters of the company being audited. Now, thanks to technological advances — including cloud storage, smart devices and secure data-sharing platforms — many audit firms are testing the feasibility of remote auditing as a replacement for sending auditors on-site.

In addition to saving time and audit fees, allowing auditors to work remotely improves the work-life balance for auditors and in-house accounting personnel. Your employees won’t need to stay glued to their desks for the duration of the audit, because they can respond to the auditor’s inquiries and document requests remotely.

Best practices

Changing the format of an audit requires flexibility, including a willingness to embrace the technology needed to facilitate the exchange, review and analysis of relevant documents. You can facilitate the transition process by:

Being responsive to electronic requests. Auditors who are out of sight shouldn’t be out of mind. Answer all remote requests from your auditors in a timely manner. If a key employee will be on vacation or out of the office for an extended period, give the audit team the contact information for the key person’s backup.

Giving employees access to the requisite software. Sharing documents with remote auditors may require you to install specific software on employees’ computers. But your company’s policies may prohibit employees from downloading software without approval from the IT department.

Before remote auditors start “fieldwork,” ask for a list of software and platforms that will be used to interact with in-house personnel. Give the appropriate employees access and authorization to share audit-related data from your company’s systems. Work with IT specialists to address any security concerns they may have with sharing data with the remote auditors.

Tracking audit progress. With less face-to-face time with your auditors, you have fewer opportunities to receive updates on the team’s progress. Ask the engagement partner to explain how they’ll track the performance of their remote auditors, and how they plan to communicate the team’s progress to in-house accounting personnel.

Wave of the future

Like remote working arrangements with employees and contractors, remote audits are a growing trend that could potentially reduce the costs of preparing financial statements. But not every audit firm or business is ready to embrace remote auditing. Contact us to discuss ways to make next year’s audit more efficient and cost-effective.

© 2018

Close-Up on the New QBI Deduction’s Wage Limit

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides a valuable new tax break to noncorporate owners of pass-through entities: a deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI). The deduction generally applies to income from sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). It can equal as much as 20% of QBI. But once taxable income exceeds $315,000 for married couples filing jointly or $157,500 for other filers, a wage limit begins to phase in.

Full vs. partial phase-in

When the wage limit is fully phased in, at $415,000 for joint filers and $207,500 for other filers, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:

  • 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees during the tax year, or
  • The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified business property (QBP).

When the wage limit applies but isn’t yet fully phased in, the amount of the limit is reduced and the final deduction is calculated as follows:

1. The difference between taxable income and the applicable threshold is divided by $100,000 for joint filers or $50,000 for other filers.
2. The resulting percentage is multiplied by the difference between the gross deduction and the fully wage-limited deduction.
3. The result is subtracted from the gross deduction to determine the final deduction.

Some examples

Let’s say Chris and Leslie have taxable income of $600,000. This includes $300,000 of QBI from Chris’s pass-through business, which pays $100,000 in wages and has $200,000 of QBP. The gross deduction would be $60,000 (20% of $300,000), but the wage limit applies in full because the married couple’s taxable income exceeds the $415,000 top of the phase-in range for joint filers. Computing the deduction is fairly straightforward in this situation.

The first option for the wage limit calculation is $50,000 (50% of $100,000). The second option is $30,000 (25% of $100,000 + 2.5% of $200,000). So the wage limit — and the deduction — is $50,000.

What if Chris and Leslie’s taxable income falls within the phase-in range? The calculation is a bit more complicated. Let’s say their taxable income is $400,000. The full wage limit is still $50,000, but only 85% of the full limit applies:

($400,000 taxable income – $315,000 threshold)/$100,000 = 85%

To calculate the amount of their deduction, the couple must first calculate 85% of the difference between the gross deduction of $60,000 and the fully wage-limited deduction of $50,000:

($60,000 – $50,000) × 85% = $8,500

That amount is subtracted from the $60,000 gross deduction for a final deduction of $51,500.

That’s not all

Be aware that another restriction may apply: For income from “specified service businesses,” the QBI deduction is reduced if an owner’s taxable income falls within the applicable income range and eliminated if income exceeds it. Please contact us to learn whether your business is a specified service business or if you have other questions about the QBI deduction.

© 2018

Using Analytical Procedures in An Audit Provides Many Benefits

Analytical procedures can make audits more efficient and effective. First, they can help during the planning and review stages of the audit. But analytics can have an even bigger impact when used to supplement substantive testing during fieldwork.

Defining audit analytics

AICPA auditing standards define analytical procedures as “evaluations of financial information through analysis of plausible relationships among both financial and nonfinancial data.” Analytical procedures also investigate “identified fluctuations or relationships that are inconsistent with other relevant information or that differ from expected values by a significant amount.” Examples of analytical tests include trend, ratio and regression analysis.

Using analytical procedures

During fieldwork, auditors can use analytical procedures to obtain evidence, sometimes in combination with other substantive testing procedures, that identifies misstatements in account balances. Analytical procedures are often more efficient than traditional, manual audit testing procedures that typically require the business being audited to produce significant paperwork. Traditional procedures also usually require substantial time to verify account balances and transactions.

Analytical procedures generally follow these five steps:

1. Form an independent expectation about an account balance or financial relationship.
2. Identify differences between expected and reported amounts.
3. Investigate the most probable cause(s) of any discrepancies.
4. Evaluate the likelihood of material misstatement.
5. Determine the nature and extent of any additional auditing procedures needed.

When using analytical procedures, the auditor must establish a threshold that can be accepted without further investigation. This threshold is a matter of professional judgment, but it’s influenced primarily by the concept of materiality and the desired level of assurance.

For differences that are due to misstatement (rather than a plausible explanation), the auditor must decide whether the misstatement is material (individually or in the aggregate). Material misstatements typically require adjustments to the amount reported and may also necessitate additional audit procedures to determine the scope of the misstatement.

Your role in audit analytics

Done right, analytical procedures can help make your audit less time-consuming, less expensive and more effective at detecting errors and omissions. But it’s important to notify your auditor about any major changes to your operations, accounting methods or market conditions that occurred during the current accounting period.

This insight can help auditors develop more reliable expectations for analytical testing and identify plausible explanations for significant changes from the balance reported in prior periods. Moreover, now that you understand the role analytical procedures play in an audit, you can anticipate audit inquiries, prepare explanations and compile supporting documents before fieldwork starts.

© 2018

Does Your Business have To Begin Collecting Sales Tax On All Out-Of-State Online Sales?

You’ve probably heard about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing state and local governments to impose sales taxes on more out-of-state online sales. The ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. is welcome news for brick-and-mortar retailers, who felt previous rulings gave an unfair advantage to their online competitors. And state and local governments are pleased to potentially be able to collect more sales tax.

But for businesses with out-of-state online sales that haven’t had to collect sales tax from out-of-state customers in the past, the decision brings many questions and concerns.

What the requirements used to be

Even before Wayfair, a state could require an out-of-state business to collect sales tax from its residents on online sales if the business had a “substantial nexus” — or connection — with the state. The nexus requirement is part of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Previous Supreme Court rulings had found that a physical presence in a state (such as retail outlets, employees or property) was necessary to establish substantial nexus. As a result, some online retailers have already been collecting tax from out-of-state customers, while others have not had to.

What has changed

In Wayfair, South Dakota had enacted a law requiring out-of-state retailers that made at least 200 sales or sales totaling at least $100,000 in the state to collect and remit sales tax. The Supreme Court found that the physical presence rule is “unsound and incorrect,” and that the South Dakota tax satisfies the substantial nexus requirement.

The Court said that the physical presence rule puts businesses with a physical presence at a competitive disadvantage compared with remote sellers that needn’t charge customers for taxes.

In addition, the Court found that the physical presence rule treats sellers differently for arbitrary reasons. A business with a few items of inventory in a small warehouse in a state is subject to sales tax on all of its sales in the state, while a business with a pervasive online presence but no physical presence isn’t subject to the same tax for the sales of the same items.

What the decision means

Wayfair doesn’t necessarily mean that you must immediately begin collecting sales tax on online sales to all of your out-of-state customers. You’ll be required to collect such taxes only if the particular state requires it. Some states already have laws on the books similar to South Dakota’s, but many states will need to revise or enact legislation.

Also keep in mind that the substantial nexus requirement isn’t the only principle in the Commerce Clause doctrine that can invalidate a state tax. The others weren’t argued in Wayfair, but the Court observed that South Dakota’s tax system included several features that seem designed to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens on interstate commerce, such as a prohibition against retroactive application and a safe harbor for taxpayers who do only limited business in the state.

Please contact us with any questions you have about sales tax collection requirements.

© 2018

Auditing Related-Party Transactions

Business owners generally prefer to work with entities they know and trust. But related-party transactions can provide opportunities for individuals to act in a manner that’s inconsistent with the interests of shareholders. That’s why auditors take pains to identify and properly address related-party transactions.

What is a related party?

Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 850 defines a related-party transaction as one that takes place between:

  • A parent entity and its subsidiaries,
  • Subsidiaries of a common parent,
  • An entity and trusts for the benefit of its employees, such as pension and profit-sharing trusts that are managed by or under the trusteeship of the entity’s management,
  • An entity and its principal owners and managers (or members of their immediate families), and
  • Affiliated entities.

What’s the risk?

Related-party transactions sometimes involve contracts for goods or services that are priced at less (or more) favorable terms than those in similar arm’s length transactions between unrelated third parties. For example, a spinoff business might lease office space from its parent company at below-market rates. Or a closely held manufacturer might pay the owner’s son an above-market salary and various perks that aren’t available to unrelated employees.

How do auditors address these transactions?

Given the potential for double dealing with related parties, auditors spend significant time hunting for undisclosed related-party transactions. Examples of documents and data sources that can help uncover these transactions are:

  • A list of the company’s current related parties and associated transactions,
  • Minutes from board of directors’ meetings, particularly when the board discusses significant business transactions,
  • Disclosures from board members and senior executives regarding their ownership of other entities, participation on additional boards and previous employment history,
  • Bank statements, especially transactions involving intercompany wires, automated clearing house (ACH) transfers, and check payments, and
  • Press releases announcing significant business transactions with related parties.

Audit procedures that target related-party transactions include 1) testing how related-party transactions are identified and coded in the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, 2) interviewing accounting personnel responsible for reporting related-party transactions in the company’s financial statements, and 3) analyzing presentation of related-party transactions in financial statements.

Accurate, complete reporting of these transactions requires robust internal controls. A company’s vendor approval process should provide guidelines to help accounting personnel determine whether a supplier qualifies as a related party and mark it accordingly in the ERP system. Without the right mechanisms in place, a company may inadvertently omit a disclosure about a related-party transaction.

Get it right

Undisclosed related-party transactions can raise a red flag to lenders and investors — and may even require a business to restate its financial results. Our auditors are committed to finding, disclosing and reporting these transactions in a transparent manner that complies with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Contact us for help.

© 2018

A Net Operating Loss on Your 2017 Tax Return Isn’t All Bad News

When a company’s deductible expenses exceed its income, generally a net operating loss (NOL) occurs. If when filing your 2017 income tax return you found that your business had an NOL, there is an upside: tax benefits. But beware — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes some significant changes to the tax treatment of NOLs.

Pre-TCJA law

Under pre-TCJA law, when a business incurs an NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and then any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow.

The business can, however, elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is strong, this may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply.

But the TCJA has established a flat 21% tax rate for C corporation taxpayers beginning with the 2018 tax year, and the rate has no expiration date. So C corporations don’t have to worry about being pushed into a higher tax bracket unless Congress changes the corporate rates again.

Also keep in mind that the rules are more complex for pass-through entities, such as partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (if they elected partnership tax treatment). Each owner’s allocable share of the entity’s loss is passed through to the owners and reported on their personal returns. The tax benefit depends on each owner’s particular tax situation.

The TCJA changes

The changes the TCJA made to the tax treatment of NOLs generally aren’t favorable to taxpayers:

* For NOLs arising in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, a qualifying NOL can’t be carried back at all. This may be especially detrimental to start-up businesses, which tend to generate NOLs in their early years and can greatly benefit from the cash-flow boost of a carried-back NOL. (On the plus side, the TCJA allows NOLs to be carried forward indefinitely, as opposed to the previous 20-year limit.) * For NOLs arising in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, an NOL carryforward generally can’t be used to shelter more than 80% of taxable income in the carryforward year. (Under prior law, generally up to 100% could be sheltered.)

The differences between the effective dates for these changes may have been a mistake, and a technical correction might be made by Congress. Also be aware that, in the case of pass-through entities, owners’ tax benefits from the entity’s net loss might be further limited under the TCJA’s new “excess business loss” rules.

Complicated rules get more complicated

NOLs can provide valuable tax benefits. The rules, however, have always been complicated, and the TCJA has complicated them further. Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefit of an NOL.

© 2018

Why Revenue Matters In An Audit

For many companies, revenue is one of the largest financial statement accounts. It’s also highly susceptible to financial misstatement.

When it comes to revenue, auditors customarily watch for fictitious transactions and premature recognition ploys. Here’s a look at some examples of critical issues that auditors may target to prevent and detect improper revenue recognition tactics.

Contractual arrangements

Auditors aim to understand the company, its environment and its internal controls. This includes becoming familiar with key products and services and the contractual terms of the company’s sales transactions. With this knowledge, the auditor can identify key terms of standardized contracts and evaluate the effects of nonstandard terms. Such information helps the auditor determine the procedures necessary to test whether revenue was properly reported.

For example, in construction-type or production-type contracts, audit procedures may be designed to 1) test management’s estimated costs to complete projects, 2) test the progress of contracts, and 3) evaluate the reasonableness of the company’s application of the percentage-of-completion method of accounting.

Gross vs. net revenue

Auditors evaluate whether the company is the principal or agent in a given transaction. This information is needed to evaluate whether the company’s presentation of revenue on a gross basis (as a principal) vs. a net basis (as an agent) complies with applicable standards.

Revenue cutoffs

Revenue must be reported in the correct accounting period (generally the period in which it’s earned). Cutoff testing procedures should be designed to detect potential misstatements related to timing issues, as well as to obtain sufficient relevant and reliable evidence regarding whether revenue is recorded in the appropriate period.

If the risk of improper accounting cutoffs is related to overstatement or understatement of revenue, the procedures should encompass testing of revenue recorded in the period covered by the financial statements — and in the subsequent period.

A typical cutoff procedure might involve testing sales transactions by comparing sales data for a sufficient period before and after year end to sales invoices, shipping documentation or other evidence. Such comparisons help determine whether revenue recognition criteria were met and sales were recorded in the proper period.

Renewed attention

Starting in 2018 for public companies and 2019 for other entities, revenue must be reported using the new principles-based guidance found in Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. The updated guidance doesn’t affect the amount of revenue companies report over the life of a contract. Rather, it affects the timing of revenue recognition.

In light of the new revenue recognition standard, companies should expect revenue to receive renewed attention in the coming audit season. Contact us to help implement the new revenue recognition rules or to discuss how the changes will affect audit fieldwork.

© 2018

Looking For a Retirement Plan For Your Business? Here’s One SIMPLE Option

Has your small business procrastinated in setting up a retirement plan? You might want to take a look at a SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” If you decide you’re interested in a SIMPLE IRA, you must establish it by no later than October 1 of the year for which you want to make your initial deductible contribution. (If you’re a new employer and come into existence after October 1, you can establish the SIMPLE IRA as soon as administratively feasible.)

Pros and cons

Here are some of the basics of SIMPLEs:

  • They’re available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
  • They offer greater income deferral opportunities than individual retirement accounts (IRAs). However, other plans, such as SEPs and 401(k)s, may permit larger annual deductible contributions.
  • Participant loans aren’t allowed (unlike 401(k) and other plans that can offer loans).
  • As the name implies, it’s simple to set up and administer these plans. You aren’t required to file annual financial returns.
  • If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Contribution amounts

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. An employee may defer up to $12,500 in 2016. This amount is indexed for inflation each year. Employees age 50 or older can make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000 in 2016.

If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Consider your choices

A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business but it isn’t the only choice. You might also be interested in setting up a simplified employee pension plan, a 401(k) or other plan. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement alternatives for your business.

© 2016

How Auditors Assess Risk When Preparing Financial Statements

Every year, your audit firm will conduct a fresh risk assessment before the start of fieldwork. Why? Because your auditor wants to mitigate the risk of expressing an incorrect opinion regarding the accuracy and integrity of the company’s financial statements. Inadvertently signing off on financial statements that contain material misstatements can open a Pandora’s box of risks — from shareholder lawsuits to increased regulatory oversight.

3-prong assessment

Audit risk is a combination of three components:

1. Control risk. Sometimes a company’s internal controls are inadequate to prevent or detect material misstatements. Control risk increases when the company fails to deploy and enforce effective internal controls, or when employees or third parties override them without the company discovering their actions.

2. Inherent risk. This term refers to susceptibility to a material misstatement, regardless of whether the company has strong internal controls. Certain transactions and industries present greater inherent risk than others.

For example, companies operating in developing countries face a greater threat of bribery and corruption by government officials, regardless of the internal controls they put in place. Inherent risk is also greater when accounting transactions are complex or involve a high degree of judgment.

3. Detection risk. Audit procedures are designed to uncover material misstatements. Detection risk is high when there’s a high probability that substantive audit procedures will fail to detect a material misstatement. When detection risk is elevated, the auditor might, for example, test a larger sample of transactions to mitigate audit risk.

Control risk and inherent risk stem from a company’s industry and actions. Conversely, detection risk is typically managed by the audit team.

Customized audit procedures

The auditor’s role is to attest to your company’s financial statements. Specifically, your audit firm assures that your financial statements are “fairly presented in all material respects, compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and free from material misstatement.”

Unqualified (or clean) audit opinions require detailed substantive procedures, such as confirming accounts receivable balances with customers and conducting test counts of inventory in the company’s warehouse. Generally, the more rigorous the auditor’s substantive procedures, the lower the likelihood of the audit team failing to detect a material misstatement.

Collaborative effort

Audit season is coming soon for calendar year-end entities. Before the start of fieldwork, let’s discuss changes in your business operations, accounting methods and industry conditions, along with other factors, that could create audit risk. We’ll adjust our audit programs accordingly to ensure that your financial statements are prepared with the highest level of quality and efficiency.

© 2018

Tax Reform Expands Availability of Cash Accounting

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many more businesses are now eligible to use the cash method of accounting for federal tax purposes. The cash method offers greater tax-planning flexibility, allowing some businesses to defer taxable income. Newly eligible businesses should determine whether the cash method would be advantageous and, if so, consider switching methods.

What’s changed?

Previously, the cash method was unavailable to certain businesses, including:

  • C corporations — as well as partnerships (or limited liability companies taxed as partnerships) with C corporation partners — whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $5 million, and
  • Businesses required to account for inventories, whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $1 million ($10 million for certain industries).

In addition, construction companies whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $10 million were required to use the percentage-of-completion method (PCM) to account for taxable income from long-term contracts (except for certain home construction contracts). Generally, the PCM method is less favorable, from a tax perspective, than the completed-contract method.

The TCJA raised all of these thresholds to $25 million, beginning with the 2018 tax year. In other words, if your business’s average gross receipts for the previous three tax years is $25 million or less, you generally now will be eligible for the cash method, regardless of how your business is structured, your industry or whether you have inventories. And construction firms under the threshold need not use PCM for jobs expected to be completed within two years.

You’re also eligible for streamlined inventory accounting rules. And you’re exempt from the complex uniform capitalization rules, which require certain expenses to be capitalized as inventory costs.

Should you switch?

If you’re eligible to switch to the cash method, you need to determine whether it’s the right method for you. Usually, if a business’s receivables exceed its payables, the cash method will allow more income to be deferred than will the accrual method. (Note, however, that the TCJA has a provision that limits the cash method’s advantages for businesses that prepare audited financial statements or file their financial statements with certain government entities.) It’s also important to consider the costs of switching, which may include maintaining two sets of books.

The IRS has established procedures for obtaining automatic consent to such a change, beginning with the 2018 tax year, by filing Form 3115 with your tax return. Contact us to learn more.

© 2018