Employers: Be Aware (or Beware) of a Harsh Payroll Tax Penalty

If federal income tax and employment taxes (including Social Security) are withheld from employees’ paychecks and not handed over to the IRS, a harsh penalty can be imposed. To make matters worse, the penalty can be assessed personally against a “responsible individual.”

If a business makes payroll tax payments late, there are escalating penalties. And if an employer fails to make them, the IRS will crack down hard. With the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty,” also known as the “100% Penalty,” the IRS can assess the entire unpaid amount against a responsible person who willfully fails to comply with the law.

Some business owners and executives facing a cash flow crunch may be tempted to dip into the payroll taxes withheld from employees. They may think, “I’ll send the money in later when it comes in from another source.” Bad idea!

No corporate protection

The corporate veil won’t shield corporate officers in these cases. Unlike some other liability protections that a corporation or limited liability company may have, business owners and executives can’t escape personal liability for payroll tax debts.

Once the IRS asserts the penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against a responsible individual’s personal assets.

Who’s responsible?

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:

  • Be responsible for collecting, accounting for, and paying over withheld federal taxes, and
  • Willfully fail to pay over those taxes. That means intentionally, deliberately, voluntarily and knowingly disregarding the requirements of the law.

The easiest way out of a delinquent payroll tax mess is to avoid getting into one in the first place. If you’re involved in a small or medium-size business, make sure the federal taxes that have been withheld from employees’ paychecks are paid over to the government on time. Don’t ever allow “borrowing” from withheld amounts.

Consider hiring an outside service to handle payroll duties. A good payroll service provider relieves you of the burden of paying employees, making the deductions, taking care of the tax payments and handling recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.

© 2019

Measuring “Fair Value” for Financial Reporting Purposes

The standard for valuing certain assets and liabilities under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) is “fair value.” This differs from other valuation standards that may apply when valuing a security or business interest in a litigation or mergers and acquisitions (M&A) setting.

FASB guidance

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 820, Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures , in 2006. It defines fair value as “the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.”

The statement unified approximately 60 existing accounting pronouncements that used this term. Among the items currently reported at fair value (rather than historic cost) are asset retirement obligations, derivatives and intangible assets acquired in a business combination.

Valuation hierarchy

The statement also establishes a “fair value hierarchy” that emphasizes market-based valuation methods. In order of decreasing relevance, the following factors should be considered when measuring fair value:

  1. Quoted prices in active markets for identical assets or liabilities,
  2. Quoted prices in active markets for similar assets or liabilities, or other “observable” inputs, and
  3. Unobservable inputs, such as the reporting entity’s own data.

When the recession hit in 2008, the FASB advised companies to use internal assumptions, such as expected cash flows and appropriately risk-adjusted discount rates, to value securities when relevant market data is unavailable. FASB guidance said that, in times of “market dislocation,” market prices may not always be determinative of fair value. Rather, valuations “may require the use of significant judgment about whether individual transactions are forced liquidations or distressed sales.”

Different purposes, different standards

Though it may be tempting to “recycle” valuations prepared for litigation or M&A purposes for use in financial reporting (or vice versa), the values may not be equivalent. That’s because different standards sometimes apply, depending on the purpose of the valuation.

For example, “fair value” in an oppressed shareholder or divorce case may be statutorily defined and based on relevant case law. Likewise, “strategic value,” which is commonly used in M&As, may include buyer-specific synergies and, therefore, warrant a premium above the price others in the marketplace would pay.

In addition, the FASB specifically avoided using the term “fair market value” in ASC 820. This term applies to valuations prepared for federal tax purposes. The rationale was that the FASB wanted to separate its guidance from the extensive body of IRS guidance and Tax Court precedent. The term “fair value” has less baggage tied to it and allowed the FASB to start with a clean slate.

Use valuation experts

Estimating fair value, like any valuation assignment, generally requires the use of specialists who are independent of your audit team. Contact us for more information about fair value measurements.

© 2019

Tax-Smart Domestic Travel: Combining Business with Pleasure

Summer is just around the corner, so you might be thinking about getting some vacation time. If you’re self-employed or a business owner, you have a golden opportunity to combine a business trip with a few extra days of vacation and offset some of the cost with a tax deduction. But be careful, or you might not qualify for the write-offs you’re expecting.

Basic rules

Business travel expenses can potentially be deducted if the travel is within the United States and the expenses are:

  • “Ordinary and necessary” and
  • Directly related to the business.

Note: The tax rules for foreign business travel are different from those for domestic travel.

Business owners and the self-employed are generally eligible to deduct business travel expenses if they meet the tests described above. However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct such expenses. The potential deductions discussed in this article assume that you’re a business owner or self-employed.

A business-vacation trip

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity may be 100% deductible if the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. But if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, generally no transportation costs are deductible. These costs include plane or train tickets, the cost of getting to and from the airport, luggage handling tips and car expenses if you drive. Costs for driving your personal car are also eligible.

The key factor in determining whether the primary reason for domestic travel is business is the number of days you spend conducting business vs. enjoying vacation days. Any day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours counts as a business day. In addition:

  • Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays — if they fall between days devoted to business and it wouldn’t be practical to return home.
  • Standby days (days when your physical presence might be required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t ultimately called upon to work on those days.

Bottom line: If your business days exceed your personal days, you should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip and deduct your transportation costs.

What else can you deduct?

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Examples of these expenses include lodging, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days aren’t deductible.

Keep in mind that only expenses for yourself are deductible. You can’t deduct expenses for family members traveling with you, including your spouse — unless they’re employees of your business and traveling for a bona fide business purpose.

Keep good records

Be sure to retain proof of the business nature of your trip. You must properly substantiate all of the expenses you’re deducting. If you get audited, the IRS will want to see records during travel you claim was for business. Good records are your best defense. Additional rules and limits apply to travel expense deductions. Please contact us if you have questions.

© 2019

Predicting Future Performance

CPAs typically report historical financial performance. But sometimes they’re hired to predict how a company will perform in the future.

Prospective reporting options

There are three types of reports to choose from when predicting future performance:

  1. Forecasts. These prospective statements present an entity’s expected financial position, results of operations and cash flows. They’re based on assumptions about expected conditions and courses of action.
  2. Projections. These statements are based on assumptions about conditions expected to exist and the course of action expected to be taken, given one or more hypothetical assumptions. Financial projections may test investment proposals or demonstrate a best-case scenario.
  3. Budgets. Operating budgets are prepared in-house for internal purposes. They allocate money — usually revenues and expenses — for particular purposes over specified periods.

Though these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are important distinctions under the attestation standards set forth by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

Factors to consider

Historical financial statements are often used to generate forecasts, projections and budgets. But accurate predictions usually require more work than simply multiplying last year’s operating results by a projected growth rate — especially over the long term.

For example, a high-growth business may be growing 20% annually, but that rate is likely unsustainable over time. Plus, the business’s facilities and fixed assets may lack sufficient capacity to handle growth expectations. If so, management may need to add assets or fixed expenses to take the company to the next level.

Similarly, it may not make sense to assume that annual depreciation expense will reasonably approximate the need for future capital expenditures. Consider a tax-basis entity that aggressively took advantage of the expanded Section 179 and bonus depreciation deductions in 2018, which permitted immediate expensing in the year qualifying fixed assets were purchased. Because depreciation is so boosted by these tax incentives, this assumption may overstate depreciation and capital expenditures going forward.

Various external factors, such as changes in competition, product obsolescence and economic conditions, can affect future operations. So can events within a company. For example, new or divested product lines, recent asset purchases, in-process research and development, and outstanding litigation could all materially affect future financial results.

Objective expertise

Some companies create prospective financial reports as part of their annual planning process. Others use these reports to apply for loans or to value the business for corporate litigation, buying out a retiring owner or a merger or acquisition. Whatever the reason for creating prospective financial statements, it’s important that the underlying assumptions be realistic and well thought out. Contact us for objective insights that are based on industry and market trends, rather than simplistic formulas and gut instinct.

© 2019

Hire Your Children This Summer: Everyone Wins

If you’re a business owner and you hire your children (or grandchildren) this summer, you can obtain tax breaks and other nontax benefits. The kids can gain on-the-job experience, save for college and learn how to manage money. And you may be able to:

  • Shift your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income,
  • Realize payroll tax savings (depending on the child’s age and how your business is organized), and
  • Enable retirement plan contributions for the children.

It must be a real job

When you hire your child, you get a business tax deduction for employee wage expenses. In turn, the deduction reduces your federal income tax bill, your self-employment tax bill (if applicable), and your state income tax bill (if applicable). However, in order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work performed by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.

For example, let’s say a business owner operates as a sole proprietor and is in the 37% tax bracket. He hires his 16-year-old son to help with office work on a full-time basis during the summer and part-time into the fall. The son earns $10,000 during 2019 and doesn’t have any other earnings.

The business owner saves $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to his son, who can use his 2019 $12,200 standard deduction to completely shelter his earnings.

The family’s taxes are cut even if the son’s earnings exceed his or her standard deduction. The reason is that the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the son beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at his father’s higher rate.

How payroll taxes might be saved

If your business isn’t incorporated, your child’s wages are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and FUTA taxes if certain conditions are met. Your child must be under age 18 for this to apply (or under age 21 in the case of the FUTA tax exemption). Contact us for how this works.

Be aware that there’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners.

Start saving for retirement early

Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement benefits, depending on the type of plan you have and how it defines qualifying employees. And because your child has earnings from his or her job, he can contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. For the 2018 tax year, a working child can contribute the lesser of his or her earned income, or $6,000 to an IRA or a Roth.

Raising tax-smart children

As you can see, hiring your child can be a tax-smart idea. Be sure to keep the same records as you would for other employees to substantiate the hours worked and duties performed (such as timesheets and job descriptions). Issue your child a Form W-2. If you have any questions about how these rules apply to your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.

© 2019

Close-Up on Financial Statements

There are three types of financial statements under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Each one reveals different, but equally important, information about your company’s financial performance. And, together, they can be analyzed to help owners, management, lenders and investors make informed business decisions.

Profit or loss

The income statement shows revenue and expenses over the accounting period. A commonly used term when discussing income statements is “net income,“ which is the income remaining after all expenses (including taxes) have been paid.

It’s also important to check out the company’s “gross profit.“ This is the income earned after subtracting the cost of goods sold from revenue. Cost of goods sold includes the cost of direct labor and materials, as well as any manufacturing overhead costs required to make a product.

The income statement also lists sales, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses. They reflect functions, such as marketing and payroll, that support a company’s production of products or services. Often, SG&A costs are relatively fixed, no matter how well your business is doing. Compute the ratio of SG&A costs to revenue. If the percentage increases over time, business may be slowing down.

Financial position

The balance sheet tallies your company’s assets, liabilities and net worth to create a snapshot of its financial health on the financial statement date. Assets are customarily listed in order of liquidity. Current assets (such as accounts receivable) are expected to be converted into cash within a year, while long-term assets (such as plant and equipment) will be used to generate revenue beyond the next 12 months.

Similarly, liabilities are listed in order of maturity. Current liabilities (such as accounts payable) come due within a year, while long-term liabilities are payment obligations that extend beyond the current year.

Because the balance sheet must balance, assets must equal liabilities plus net worth. So, net worth is the extent to which assets exceed liabilities. It may signal financial distress if your net worth is negative. Other red flags include:

  • Current assets that grow faster than sales, and
  • A deteriorating ratio of current assets to current liabilities.

These trends could indicate that management is managing working capital less efficiently than in prior periods.

Cash inflows and outflows

The statement of cash flows shows all the cash flowing in and out of your company during the accounting period. For example, your company may have cash inflows from selling products, borrowing, and selling stock. Outflows may result from paying expenses, investing in capital equipment and repaying debt.

The statement of cash flows is organized into three sections: cash flows from operating, financing and investing activities. Ideally, a company will generate enough cash from operations to cover its expenses. If not, it may need to borrow money or sell stock to survive.

Ratios and trends

The most successful businesses continually monitor ratios and trends revealed in their financial statements. Contact us if you need help interpreting your financial results.

© 2019

Consider a Roth 401(k) Plan – And Make Sure Employees Use It

Roth 401(k) accounts have been around for 13 years now. Studies show that more employers are offering them each year. A recent study by the Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) found that Roth 401(k)s are now available at 70% of employer plans, up from 55.6% of plans in 2016.

However, despite the prevalence of employers offering Roth 401(k)s, most employees aren’t choosing to contribute to them. The PSCA found that only 20% of participants who have access to a Roth 401(k) made contributions to one in 2017. Perhaps it’s because they don’t understand them.

If you offer a Roth 401(k) or you’re considering one, educate your employees about the accounts to boost participation.

A 401(k) with a twist

As the name implies, these plans are a hybrid — taking some characteristics from Roth IRAs and some from employer-sponsored 401(k)s.

An employer with a 401(k), 403(b) or governmental 457(b) plan can offer designated Roth 401(k) accounts.

As with traditional 401(k)s, eligible employees can elect to defer part of their salaries to Roth 401(k)s, subject to annual limits. The employer may choose to provide matching contributions. For 2019, a participating employee can contribute up to $19,000 ($25,000 if he or she is age 50 or older) to a Roth 401(k). The most you can contribute to a Roth IRA for 2019 is $6,000 ($7,000 for those age 50 or older).

Note: The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is phased out for upper-income taxpayers, but there’s no such restriction for a Roth 401(k).

The pros and cons

Unlike with traditional 401(k)s, contributions to employees’ accounts are made with after-tax dollars, instead of pretax dollars. Therefore, employees forfeit a key 401(k) tax benefit. On the plus side, after an initial period of five years, “qualified distributions” are 100% exempt from federal income tax, just like qualified distributions from a Roth IRA. In contrast, regular 401(k) distributions are taxed at ordinary-income rates, which are currently up to 37%.

In general, qualified distributions are those:

  • Made after a participant reaches age 59½, or
  • Made due to death or disability.

Therefore, you can take qualified Roth 401(k) distributions in retirement after age 59½ and pay no tax, as opposed to the hefty tax bill that may be due from traditional 401(k) payouts. And unlike traditional 401(k)s, which currently require retirees to begin taking required minimum distributions after age 70½, Roth 401(k)s have no mandate to take withdrawals.

Not for everyone

A Roth 401(k) is more beneficial than a traditional 401(k) for some participants, but not all. For example, it may be valuable for employees who expect to be in higher federal and state tax brackets in retirement. Contact us if you have questions about adding a Roth 401(k) to your benefits lineup.

© 2019

Comparing Internal and External Audits

Businesses use two types of audits to gauge financial results: internal and external. Here’s a closer look at how they measure up.

Focus

Internal auditors go beyond traditional financial reporting. They focus on a company’s internal controls, accounting processes and ability to mitigate risk. Internal auditors also evaluate whether the company’s activities comply with its strategy, and they may consult on a variety of financial issues as they arise within the company.

In contrast, external auditors focus solely on the financial statements. Specifically, external auditors evaluate the statements’ accuracy and completeness, whether they comply with applicable accounting standards and practices, and whether they present a true and accurate presentation of the company’s financial performance. Accounting rules prohibit external audit firms from providing their audit clients with ancillary services that extend beyond the scope of the audit.

The audit “client”

Internal auditors are employees of the company they audit. They report to the chief audit executive and issue reports for management to use internally.

External auditors work for an independent accounting firm. The company’s shareholders or board of directors hires a third-party auditing firm to serve as its external auditor. The external audit team delivers reports directly to the company’s shareholders or audit committee, not to management

Qualifications

Internal auditors don’t need to be certified public accountants (CPAs), although many have earned this qualification. Often, internal auditors earn a certified internal auditor (CIA) qualification, which requires them to follow standards issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

Conversely, the partner directing an external audit must be a CPA. Most midlevel and senior auditors earn their CPA license at some point in their career. External auditors must follow U.S. Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS), which are issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

Reporting format

Internal auditors issue reports throughout the year. The format may vary depending on the preferences of management or the internal audit team.

External auditors issue financial statements quarterly for most public companies and at least annually for private ones. In general, external audit reports must conform to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or another basis of accounting (such as tax or cash basis reporting). If needed, external auditing procedures may be performed more frequently. For example, a lender may require a private company that fails to meet its loan covenants at year end to undergo a midyear audit by an external audit firm.

Common ground

Sometimes the work of internal and external auditors overlaps. Though internal auditors have a broader focus, both teams have the same goal: to help the company report financial data that people can count on. So, it makes sense for internal and external auditors to meet frequently to understand the other team’s focus and avoid duplication of effort. Contact us to map out an auditing strategy that fits the needs of your company.

© 2019

What Type of Expenses Can’t Be Written Off By Your Business?

If you read the Internal Revenue Code (and you probably don’t want to!), you may be surprised to find that most business deductions aren’t specifically listed. It doesn’t explicitly state that you can deduct office supplies and certain other expenses.

Some expenses are detailed in the tax code, but the general rule is contained in the first sentence of Section 162, which states you can write off “all the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.”

Basic definitions

In general, an expense is ordinary if it’s considered common or customary in the particular trade or business. For example, insurance premiums to protect a store would be an ordinary business expense in the retail industry.

A necessary expense is defined as one that’s helpful or appropriate. For example, let’s say a car dealership purchases an automatic defibrillator. It may not be necessary for the operation of the business, but it might be helpful and appropriate if an employee or customer suffers a heart attack.

It’s possible for an ordinary expense to be unnecessary — but, in order to be deductible, an expense must be ordinary and necessary.

In addition, a deductible amount must be reasonable in relation to the benefit expected. For example, if you’re attempting to land a $3,000 deal, a $65 lunch with a potential client should be OK with the IRS. (Keep in mind that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated most deductions for entertainment expenses but retains the 50% deduction for business meals.)

Examples of not ordinary and unnecessary

Not surprisingly, the IRS and courts don’t always agree with taxpayers about what qualifies as ordinary and necessary expenditures.

In one case, a man engaged in a business with his brother was denied deductions for his private airplane expenses. The U.S. Tax Court noted that the taxpayer had failed to prove the expenses were ordinary and necessary to the business. In addition, only one brother used the plane and the flights were to places that the taxpayer could have driven to or flown to on a commercial airline. And, in any event, the stated expenses including depreciation expenses, weren’t adequately substantiated, the court added. (TC Memo 2018-108)

In another case, the Tax Court ruled that a business owner wasn’t entitled to deduct legal and professional fees he’d incurred in divorce proceedings defending his ex-wife’s claims to his interest in, or portion of, distributions he received from his LLC. The IRS and the court ruled the divorce legal fees were nondeductible personal expenses and weren’t ordinary and necessary. (TC Memo 2018-80)

Proceed with caution

The deductibility of some expenses is clear. But for other expenses, it can get more complicated. Generally, if an expense seems like it’s not normal in your industry — or if it could be considered fun, personal or extravagant in nature — you should proceed with caution. And keep records to substantiate the expenses you’re deducting. Consult with us for guidance.

© 2019

Lean Manufacturers: Reap the Benefits of Lean Accounting

Standard cost accounting doesn’t necessarily work for lean operations. Instead, lean accounting offers a simplified reporting alternative that generates more timely, relevant financial data. But it’s not right for every situation.

What’s lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturers strive for continuous improvement and elimination of non-value-added activities. Rather than scheduling workflow from one functional department to another, these manufacturers organize their facilities into cross-functional work groups or cells.

Lean manufacturing is a “pull-demand” system, where customer orders jumpstart the production process. Lean companies view inventory not as an asset but as a waste of cash flow and storage space.

Why won’t traditional accounting methods work?

From a benchmarking standpoint, liquidity and profitability ratios tend to decline when traditional cost accounting methods are applied to newly improved operations. For example, to minimize inventory, companies transitioning from mass production to lean production must initially deplete in-stock inventories before producing more units. They also must write off obsolete items. As they implement lean principles, many companies learn that their inventories were overvalued due to obsolete items and inaccurate overhead allocation rates (traditionally based on direct labor hours).

During the transition phase, several costs — such as deferred compensation and overhead expense — transition from the balance sheet to the income statement. Accordingly, lean manufacturers may initially report higher costs and, therefore, reduced profits on their income statements. In addition, their balance sheets initially show lower inventory.

Alone, these financial statement trends will likely raise a red flag among investors and lenders — and possibly lead to erroneous business decisions.

How does lean accounting work?

Standard cost accounting is time consuming and transaction-driven. To estimate cost of goods sold, standard cost accounting uses complex variance accounts, such as purchase price variances, labor efficiency variances and overhead spending variances.

In contrast, lean accounting is relatively simple and flexible. Rather than lumping costs into overhead, lean accounting methods trace costs directly to the manufacturer’s cost of goods sold, typically dividing them into four value stream categories:

  1. Materials costs,
  2. Procurement costs,
  3. Conversion costs, such as factory wages and benefits, equipment depreciation and repairs, supplies, and scrap, and
  4. Occupancy costs.

These are easier to understand and evaluate than the variances used in standard cost accounting. In addition, box score reports are often used in lean accounting to supplement profit and loss statements. These reports list performance measures that traditional financial statements neglect, such as scrap rates, inventory turns, on-time delivery rates, customer satisfaction scores and sales per employee.

Should your company abandon standard cost accounting?

Most companies are required to use standard cost accounting methods for formal reporting purposes to comply with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). But lean manufacturers may benefit from comparing traditional and lean financial statements. Such comparisons may even highlight areas to target with future lean improvement initiatives. Contact us for more information.

© 2019