Category Archives: Accounting

Cost management: A budget’s best friend

If your company comes up over budget year after year, you may want to consider cost management. This is a formalized, systematic review of operations and resources with the stated goal of reducing costs at every level and controlling them going forward. As part of this effort, you’ll answer questions such as:

Are we operating efficiently? Cost management can help you clearly differentiate activities that are running smoothly and staying within budget from the ones that are constantly breaking down and consuming extra dollars.

Depending on your industry, there are likely various metrics you can calculate and track to determine which aspects of your operations are inefficient. Sometimes improving efficiency is simply a matter of better scheduling. If you’re constantly missing deadlines or taking too long to fulfill customers’ needs, you’re also probably losing money playing catch-up and placating disappointed buyers.

Can we really see our supply chain? Maybe you’ve bought the same types of materials from the same vendors for many years. Are you really getting the most for your money? A cost management review can help you look for better bargains on the goods and services that make your business run.

A big problem for many businesses is lack of practical data. Without the right information, you may not be fully aware of the key details of your supply chain. There’s a term for this: supply chain visibility. When you can’t “see” everything about the vendors that service your company, you’re much more vulnerable to hidden costs and overspending.

Is technology getting the better of us? At this point, just about every business process has been automated one way or another. But are you managing this technology or is it managing you? Some companies overspend unnecessarily while others miss out on ways to better automate activities. Cost management can help you decide whether to simplify or upgrade.

For example, many businesses have historically taken an ad hoc approach to procuring technology. Different departments or individuals have obtained various software over the years. Some of this technology may still be in regular use but, in many cases, an expensive application sits dormant while the company still pays for licensing or tech support.

Conversely, a paid-for but out-of-date application could be slowing operational or supply chain efficiency. You may have to spend money to save money by getting something that’s up-to-date and fully functional.

The term “cost management” is often applied to specific projects. But you can also apply it to your business, either as an emergency step if your budget is really out of whack or as a regular activity for keeping the numbers in line. Our firm can help you conduct this review and decide what to do about the insights gained.

© 2020

5 ways to strengthen your business for the new year

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is a great opportunity for reflection and planning. You have 12 months to look back on and another 12 ahead to look forward to. Here are five ways to strengthen your business for the new year by doing a little of both:

1. Compare 2019 financial performance to budget. Did you meet the financial goals you set at the beginning of the year? If not, why? Analyze variances between budget and actual results. Then, evaluate what changes you could make to get closer to achieving your objectives in 2020. And if you did meet your goals, identify precisely what you did right and build on those strategies.

2. Create a multiyear capital budget. Look around your offices or facilities at your equipment, software and people. What investments will you need to make to grow your business? Such investments can be both tangible (new equipment and technology) and intangible (employees’ technical and soft skills).

Equipment, software, furniture, vehicles and other types of assets inevitably wear out or become obsolete. You’ll need to regularly maintain, update and replace them. Lay out a long-term plan for doing so; this way, you won’t be caught off guard by a big expense.

3. Assess the competition. Identify your biggest rivals over the past year. Discuss with your partners, managers and advisors what those competitors did to make your life so “interesting.” Also, honestly appraise the quality of what your business sells versus what competitors offer. Are you doing everything you can to meet — or, better yet, exceed — customer expectations? Devise some responsive competitive strategies for the next 12 months.

4. Review insurance coverage. It’s important to stay on top of your property, casualty and liability coverage. Property values or risks may change — or you may add new assets or retire old ones — requiring you to increase or decrease your level of coverage. A fire, natural disaster, accident or out-of-the-blue lawsuit that you’re not fully protected against could devastate your business. Look at the policies you have in place and determine whether you’re adequately protected.

5. Analyze market trends. Recognize the major events and trends in your industry over the past year. Consider areas such as economic drivers or detractors, technology, the regulatory environment and customer demographics. In what direction is your industry heading over the next five or ten years? Anticipating and quickly reacting to trends are the keys to a company’s long-term success.

These are just a few ideas for looking back and ahead to set a successful course forward. We can help you review the past year’s tax, accounting and financial strategies, and implement savvy moves toward a secure and profitable 2020 for your business.

© 2019

Does your team know the profitability game plan?

Autumn brings falling leaves and … the gridiron. Football teams — from high school to pro — are trying to put as many wins on the board as possible to make this season a special one.

For business owners, sports can highlight important lessons about profitability. One in particular is that you and your coaches must learn from your mistakes and adjust your game plan accordingly to have a winning year.

Spot the fumbles

More specifically, your business needs to identify the profit fumbles that are hurting your ability to score bottom-line touchdowns and, in response, execute earnings plays that improve the score. Doing so is always important but takes on added significance as the year winds down and you want to finish strong.

Your company’s earnings game plan should be based partly on strong strategic planning for the year and partly from uncovering and working to eliminate such profit fumbles as:

  • Employees interacting with customers poorly, giving a bad impression or providing inaccurate information,
  • Pricing strategies that turn off customers or bring in inadequate revenue, and
  • Supply chain issues that slow productivity.

Ask employees at all levels whether and where they see such fumbles. Then assign a negative dollar value to each fumble that keeps your organization from reaching its full profit potential.

Once you start putting a value on profit fumbles, you can add them to your income statement for a clearer picture of how they affect net profit. Historically, unidentified and unmeasured profit fumbles are buried in lower sales and inflated costs of sales and overhead.

Fortify your position

After you’ve identified one or more profit blunders, act to fortify your offensive line as you drive downfield. To do so:

Define (or redefine) the game plan. Work with your coaches (management, key employees) to devise specific profit-building initiatives. Calculate how much each initiative could add to the bottom line. To arrive at these values, you’ll need to estimate the potential income of each initiative — but only after you’ve projected the costs as well.

Appoint team leaders. Each profit initiative must have a single person assigned to champion it. When profit-building strategies become everyone’s job, they tend to become no one’s job. All players on the field must know their jobs and where to look for leadership.

Communicating clearly and building consensus. Explain each initiative to employees and outline the steps you’ll need to achieve them. If the wide receiver doesn’t know his route, he won’t be in the right place when the quarterback throws the ball. Most important, that wide receiver must believe in the play.

Win the game

With a strong profit game plan in place, everyone wins. Your company’s bottom line is strong, employees are motivated by the business’s success and, oh yes, customers are satisfied. Touchdown! We can help you perform the financial analyses to identity your profit fumbles and come up with budget-smart initiatives likely to build your bottom line.

© 2019

Employers can truncate SSNs on employees’ W-2s

 

The IRS recently issued final regulations that permit employers to voluntarily truncate employee Social Security Numbers (SSNs) on copies of Forms W-2 furnished to employees. The purpose of the regs is to aid employers’ efforts in protecting workers from identity theft.

Proposals and comments

On September 20, 2017, the IRS issued proposed regs on the truncation concept. A truncated taxpayer identification number (TTIN) displays only the last four digits of a taxpayer identifying number and uses asterisks or “Xs” for the first five digits.

Seventeen comments were submitted on the notice of proposed rulemaking and many recommended adopting the rules. Some disagreed and noted concerns of employees not being able to verify whether the SSN filed with the Social Security Administration and IRS is correct. Other comments indicated concerns that it would be more difficult for tax return preparers to verify the employee has provided the correct SSN.

But the IRS and U.S. Department of the Treasury determined that the benefit of allowing truncation outweighs the risk that unintended consequences could occur. Moreover, the agencies believed problems could be mitigated. For example, tax return preparers can use Forms W-2 containing truncated SSNs to verify employee information by using the last four digits of the SSN and the employee’s name and address.

Other considerations

Another objection noted an increased administrative burden on employers with employees who work in multiple states because the employer will have to determine the requirements for each state. (Some state and local governments may not allow truncation.) This, too, was rejected by the IRS and Department of the Treasury. The agencies explained that the rules accommodate potential burdens on employers by making truncation optional.

It was also suggested that a better way to protect employees’ identities is to require employers to furnish the employee copy of Form W-2 electronically. But this was outside the scope of the rule and, under existing rules, employers are permitted to furnish Form W-2 electronically if the employee consents.

Final regs

The final regulations amend existing regs to permit employers to voluntarily truncate employees’ SSNs on copies of Forms W-2 that are furnished to employees so that the truncated SSNs appear in the form of IRS TTINs. The final regs also:

  • Amend the regulations under Internal Revenue Code Section 6109 (supplying of identifying numbers) to clarify the application of the truncation rules to Form W-2,
  • Add an example illustrating the application of these rules, and
  • Delete obsolete provisions and update cross references in the regs under Sec. 6051 (receipts for employees) and Sec. 6052 (returns regarding payment of wages in the form of group term life insurance).

The final regulations took effect on the date of publication in the Federal Register: July 3, 2019.

Important role

Employers play an important role in the fight against identity theft. Consider whether truncation of employees’ SSNs on W-2s is a feasible step for you. Contact us for further information and assistance.

© 2019

Avoid excess benefit transactions and keep your exempt status

One of the worst things that can happen to a not-for-profit organization is to have its tax-exempt status revoked. Among other consequences, the nonprofit may lose credibility with supporters and the public, and donors will no longer be able to make tax-exempt contributions.

Although loss of exempt status isn’t common, certain activities can increase your risk significantly. These include ignoring the IRS’s private benefit and private inurement provisions. Here’s what you need to know to avoid reaping an excess benefit from your organization’s transactions.

Understand private inurement

A private benefit is any payment or transfer of assets made, directly or indirectly, by your nonprofit that’s:

  1. Beyond reasonable compensation for the services provided or the goods sold to your organization, or
  2. For services or products that don’t further your tax-exempt purpose.

If any of your nonprofit’s net earnings inure to the benefit of an individual, the IRS won’t view your nonprofit as operating primarily to further its tax-exempt purpose.

The private inurement rules extend the private benefit prohibition to your organization’s “insiders.” The term “insider” or “disqualified person” generally refers to any officer, director, individual or organization (as well as their family members and organizations they control) who’s in a position to exert significant influence over your nonprofit’s activities and finances. A violation occurs when a transaction that ultimately benefits the insider is approved.

Make reasonable payments

Of course, the rules don’t prohibit all payments, such as salaries and wages, to an insider. You simply need to make sure that any payment is reasonable relative to the services or goods provided. In other words, the payment must be made with your nonprofit’s tax-exempt purpose in mind.

To ensure you can later prove that any transaction was reasonable and made for a valid exempt purpose, formally document all payments made to insiders. Also ensure that board members understand their duty of care. This refers to a board member’s responsibility to act in good faith, in your organization’s best interest, and with such care that proper inquiry, skill and diligence has been exercised in the performance of duties.

Avoid negative consequences

To ensure your nonprofit doesn’t participate in an excess benefit transaction, educate staffers and board members about the types of activities and transactions they must avoid. Stress that individuals involved could face significant excise tax penalties. For more information, please contact us.

© 2019

When nonprofits need to register in multiple states

Many not-for-profit organizations use fundraising methods that cross state boundaries. If your nonprofit is one of them, it may need to register in multiple jurisdictions. But keep in mind that registration requirements vary — sometimes dramatically — from state to state. So be sure to determine your obligations before you invest time and money in registering.

The critical activity

How do you know if your nonprofit needs to register in other states? The critical activity is soliciting donations, not receiving them. So if your charity receives occasional contributions from out-of-state donors, you may not need to register in those states if you never asked for the contributions. However, email and text blasts and social media appeals are likely to be considered multistate solicitations.

Even so, a handful of state don’t require certain nonprofits to register. For example, they may exempt houses of worship as well as nonprofits with total annual income under certain thresholds. Other states may require charities to register but exempt them annual filing. All of the states have varying rules, income thresholds, exceptions, registration fees and fines for violations. Even the agencies that regulate charities differ by state.

No easy way

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple way to register with every state. Most states require you to complete a general information form and submit it with:

  • Your last financial statement,
  • A list of officers and directors,
  • A copy of your originating document, and
  • Your IRS-issued tax-exempt determination letter.

 

Registration fees range from $0 to $2,000.

First-time registrants can use a Unified Registration Statement in most states. However, even those states mandate that annual renewals and reports be submitted using individual state forms.

Possible consequences

If your nonprofit fails to register in states where it raises funds, the consequences can be severe.Your organization, officers and board members could face civil and criminal penalties. Your charity might lose its ability to solicit funds in certain states or even lose its tax-exempt status with the IRS. Nonprofits must also list the states where they’re registered on their Form 990s.

For some nonprofits — particularly smaller organizations — cross-state registration requirements and potential penalties may lead them to limit fundraising to their own states. Contact us for help determining your registration obligations.

IRS raises valuation limit for employer-provided vehicles

One of the most popular fringe benefits for employees at many organizations isn’t an insurance plan or a health club membership; it’s shiny chrome and steel — a vehicle. Providing a car, van or truck that an employee can use for both work and personal purposes can attract better job candidates or just make sense practically. If your organization offers such a fringe benefit, you should know that the IRS recently updated its valuation limit for employer-provided vehicles.

Read the Notice

Generally, you must include the value of an employer-provided vehicle that’s available for personal use in an employee’s income and wages. The personal use may be valued using the cents-per-mile or fleet-average valuation rules for the 2019 calendar year.

Because of tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the maximum dollar limitations on the depreciation deductions for passenger automobiles significantly increased and the way inflation increases are calculated changed. In Notice 2019-8, issued early this year, the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department noted their intention to amend regulations to incorporate a higher base value of $50,000 to be adjusted annually.

Sure enough, in May the IRS issued Notice 2019-34. It provides that, for 2019, the maximum fair market value of a vehicle (including cars, vans and trucks) for use with the vehicle cents-per-mile and fleet-average valuation rules is $50,400.

Expect revisions

Because current regulations haven’t yet been updated to reflect the changes under the TCJA, the IRS provides relief to taxpayers in the form of interim guidance for 2019 in the notice. The agency (along with the Treasury Department) intends to revise the rules for the 2018 and 2019 tax years.

One example of the intended revisions addresses what an employer should do if it didn’t qualify to adopt the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule on the first day on which a vehicle was used by an employee for personal use because, under the rules in effect before 2018, the vehicle had an FMV more than the maximum permitted. In such cases, the employer will be allowed to first adopt the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule for the 2018 or 2019 tax year based on the maximum FMV of a vehicle for purposes of the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule.

Another intended revision noted in Notice 2019-34 will permit an employer to adopt the fleet-average valuation rule for the 2018 or 2019 tax year if the employer didn’t qualify to use the fleet-average valuation rule before January 1, 2019, because the maximum value limitation before 2018 couldn’t be met.

Rely on the guidance

Until revised final regulations are published, taxpayers may rely on the interim guidance provided in Notice 2019-34. Our firm can help you fully understand both the interim guidance and any future revisions to the rules for employer-provided vehicles. Contact us today with any questions you may have!

© 2019

Buy vs. lease: Business equipment edition

Life presents us with many choices: paper or plastic, chocolate or vanilla, regular or decaf. For businesses, a common conundrum is buy or lease. You’ve probably faced this decision when considering office space or a location for your company’s production facilities. But the buy vs. lease quandary also comes into play with equipment.

Pride of ownership

Some business owners approach buying equipment like purchasing a car: “It’s mine; I’m committed to it and I’m going to do everything I can to familiarize myself with this asset and keep it in tip-top shape.” Yes, pride of ownership is still a thing.

If this is your philosophy, work to pass along that pride to employees. When you get staff members to buy in to the idea that this is your equipment and the success of the company depends on using and maintaining each asset properly, the business can obtain a great deal of long-term value from assets that are bought and paid for.

Of course, no “buy vs. lease” discussion is complete without mentioning taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act dramatically enhanced Section 179 expensing and first-year bonus depreciation for asset purchases. In fact, many businesses may be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it’s purchased. On the downside, you’ll take a cash flow hit when buying an asset, and the tax benefits may be mitigated somewhat if you finance.

Fine things about flexibility

Many businesses lease their equipment for one simple reason: flexibility. From a cash flow perspective, you’re not laying down a major purchase amount or even a substantial down payment in most cases. And you’re not committed to an asset for an indefinite period — if you don’t like it, at least there’s an end date in sight.

Leasing also may be the better option if your company uses technologically advanced equipment that will get outdated relatively quickly. Think about the future of your business, too. If you’re planning to explore an expansion, merger or business transformation, you may be better off leasing equipment so you’ll have the flexibility to adapt it to your changing circumstances.

Last, leasing does have some tax breaks. Lease payments generally are tax deductible as “ordinary and necessary” business expenses, though annual deduction limits may apply.

Pros and cons

On a parting note, if you do lease assets this year and your company follows Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), new accounting rules for leases take effect in 2020 for calendar-year private companies. Contact us for further information, as well as for any assistance you might need in weighing the pros and cons of buying vs. leasing business equipment.

© 2019

Writing a winning grant proposal

Competition is as fierce as it has ever been for private and public grants to not-for-profits. If your funding model depends on receiving adequate grant money, you can’t afford to submit sloppy, unprofessional grant proposals. Here are some tips on writing a winner.

Do your research

Just as you’d research potential employers before applying for a job, you should get to know grant-making organizations before asking for their support. Familiarize yourself with the grant-maker’s primary goals and objectives, the types of projects it has funded in the past, and its grant-making processes and procedures.

Performing research enables you to determine whether your programs are a good fit with the grant-maker’s mission. If they aren’t, you’ll save yourself time and effort in preparing a proposal. If they are, you’ll be better able to tailor your proposal to your audience.

Support your request

Every grant proposal has several essential elements, starting with a single-page executive summary. Your summary should be succinct, using only the number of words necessary to define your organization and its needs. You also should include a short statement of need that provides an overview of the program you’re seeking to fund and explains why you need the money for your program. Other pieces include a detailed project description and budget, an explanation of your organization’s unique ability to run this program, and a conclusion that briefly restates your case.

Support your proposal with facts and figures but don’t forget to include a human touch by telling the story behind the numbers. Augment statistics with a glimpse of the population you serve, including descriptions of typical clients or community testimonials.

Follow the rules

Review the grant-maker’s guidelines as soon as you receive them so that if you have any questions you can contact the organization in advance of the submission deadline. Then, be sure to follow application instructions to the letter. This includes submitting all required documentation on time and error-free. Double-check your proposal for common mistakes such as:

  • Excessive length,
  • Math errors,
  • Overuse of industry jargon, and
  • Missing signatures.

Take the time

To produce a winning proposal, you need to give yourself a generous time budget. Researching the grant-maker, collecting current facts and statistics about your organization, composing a compelling story about your work and proofreading your proposal all take more time than you probably think they do. Above all, don’t leave grant proposal writing to the last minute. Contact Langdon & Company LLP if you have any questions!

© 2019

How to convince donors to remove “restricted” from their gifts

Restricted gifts — or donations with conditions attached — can be difficult for not-for-profits to manage. Unlike unrestricted gifts, these donations can’t be poured into your general operating fund and be used where they’re most needed. Instead, restricted gifts generally are designated to fund a specific program or initiative, such as a building or scholarship fund.

It’s not only unethical, but dangerous, not to comply with a donor’s restrictions. If donors learn you’ve ignored their wishes, they can demand the money back and sue your organization. And your reputation will almost certainly take a hit. Rather than take that risk, try to encourage your donors to give with no strings attached.

Personal touch

Some donors simply don’t realize how restricted gifts can prevent their favorite charity from achieving its objectives. So when speaking with potential donors about their giving plans, praise the benefits of unrestricted gifts. Explain how donations are used at your organization, offering hard numbers and examples where needed. Be as upfront as possible and give them as much information as you can about your organization.

To make unrestricted giving as easy as possible, give donors (and their advisors) sample bequest clauses that refer to the general mission and purpose of your organization. Also encourage them to include wording that shows “suggestions” or “preferences” for their donations, as opposed to binding restrictions. Prepare documents that give wording samples for these cases.

Words of intent

Unless you’re holding a fundraiser to benefit a specific program, include general giving statements in your fundraising materials. For example, you might say: “All gifts will be used to further the organization’s general charitable purposes,” or “Your donations to this year’s fundraiser will be used toward the continued goal of fulfilling our organization’s mission.”

Reinforce this message in your donor thank-you letters. They should state your nonprofit’s understanding of how the gift is intended to be used. For example, if a donor stipulated no restrictions, explain that the money will be used for general operating purposes.

Gentle persuasion

Obviously, you’ll need to be respectful if a donor is determined to attach strings to a gift. (Before accepting it, just make certain you’ll be able to carry out the donor’s wishes.) But if you can persuade contributors that their gifts will be used in a responsible and mission-enhancing way, many are likely to remove restrictions.

Contact us for more information on using restricted and unrestricted funds.

© 2019