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Plan now to reimburse staffers, board members and volunteers

Even if your not-for-profit organization rarely needs to reimburse staffers, board members or volunteers, reimbursement requests almost certainly will occasionally appear. At that point, will you know how to pay stakeholders back for expenses related to your nonprofit’s operations? If you have a formal reimbursement policy, you will. Plus, you’ll be able to direct individuals with reimbursement questions to your formal document and minimize the risk of disagreements.


2 categories
In the eyes of the IRS, expense reimbursement plans generally fall into two main categories:

1. Accountable plans. Reimbursements under these plans generally aren’t taxable income for the employee, board member or volunteer. To secure this favorable tax treatment, accountable plans must satisfy three requirements: 1) Expenses must have a connection to your organization’s purpose; 2) claimants must adequately substantiate expenses within 60 days after they were paid or incurred; and 3) claimants must return any excess reimbursement or allowance within 120 days after expenses were paid or incurred.

Arrangements where you advance money to an employee or volunteer meet the third requirement only if the advance is reasonably calculated not to exceed the amount of anticipated expenses. You must make the advance within 30 days of the time the recipient pays or incurs the expense.


2. Nonaccountable plans. These don’t fulfill the above requirements. Reimbursements made under nonaccountable plans are treated as taxable wages.


Policy items
Your reimbursement policy should make it clear which types of expenses are reimbursable and which aren’t. Be sure to include any restrictions. For example, you might set a limit on the nightly cost for lodging or exclude alcoholic beverages from reimbursable meals.

Also be sure to require substantiation of travel, mileage and other reimbursable expenses within 60 days. The documentation should include items such as a statement of expenses, receipts (showing the date, vendor, and items or services purchased), and account book or calendar. Note that the IRS does allow some limited exceptions to its documentation requirements. Specifically, no receipts are necessary for:
  • A per diem allowance for out-of-town travel,
  • Non-lodging expenses less than $75, or
  • Transportation expenses for which a receipt isn’t readily available.
Your policy should require the timely (within 120 days) return of any amounts you pay that are more than the substantiated expenses.


Standard rate vs. actual costs
Finally, address mileage reimbursement, including the method you’ll use. You can reimburse employees for vehicle use at the federal standard mileage rate of 67 cents per mile for 2024, and volunteers at the charity rate of 14 cents per mile. Unlike employees, however, volunteers can be reimbursed for commuting mileage.

Alternatively, you can reimburse employees and volunteers for the actual costs of using their vehicles for your nonprofit’s purposes. For employees, you might reimburse gas, lease payments or depreciation, repairs, insurance, and registration fees. For volunteers, the only allowable actual expenses are gas and oil.


What makes sense
You don’t need to craft a reimbursement policy on your own. We can help ensure you include the elements that make sense given your nonprofit’s size, mission and activities and update it as your organization grows and evolves.
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Is it time to upgrade your business’s accounting software?

By now, just about every company uses some kind of accounting software to track, manage and report its financial transactions. Many businesses end up using several different types of software to handle different accounting-related functions. Others either immediately or eventually opt for a comprehensive solution that addresses all their needs.
Although there’s some truth to the old expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” companies often soldier on for years with inefficient or outdated accounting software. How do you know when it’s time to upgrade? Look for certain telltale signs..


It’s slowing us down

Accounting software is intended to make your and your employees’ lives easier. Among its primary purposes are to automate repetitive tasks, save time and provide quicker access to financial insights. If you or your staff are spending an inordinate amount of time wrestling with your current software to garner such benefits, an upgrade may be in order.
There’s also the issue of whether and how your business has grown recently. While some software developers market their products as “scalable” — that is, able to expand functionality right along with users’ needs — your mileage may vary. Keep a running list of the accounting functions your company needs and use it to assess the viability of your software.
Some lack of functionality can be relatively obvious. For example, many employees today need mobile access to accounting data, whether because they’re working remotely or traveling for the business. If your software makes this difficult — or, more dangerously, lacks trustworthy cybersecurity — it may be time to upgrade.

In addition, think about integration. As mentioned, some companies wind up using several different kinds of accounting-related software, and these various products may not “play well” together. In such cases, upgrading to a broader solution is worth considering.
There are various products specifically designed for small businesses. Growing midsize companies might be ready for enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which integrates accounting with other functions such as inventory, sales and marketing, and human resources.


It’s getting us in trouble

The accounting software needs of most businesses tend to gradually evolve over time, making it tough to decide when to invest in an upgrade. However, there are some glaring red flags that can make the decision much easier — though they can also pressure companies into making a rushed purchase of new technology.
For instance, though privately owned companies aren’t required to follow the same accounting standards as publicly held ones, they still need sound financial reporting for tax purposes and possibly to comply with state or local regulations. If you’ve run into trouble with tax authorities or other agencies because of accounting mistakes or inconsistencies, an upgrade could help.

And, of course, financial reporting isn’t only about taxes and compliance, it plays a huge role in obtaining loans, attracting investors, and perhaps winning bids or arranging joint ventures. If you and your leadership team believe you’re being outcompeted because you can’t make the right strategic moves, investing in better accounting software may be one of the steps you need to take.

Last but not least, we mentioned cybersecurity above, but it bears repeating: Any indication that your accounting software is vulnerable to hackers or internal fraud should be regarded as an immediate call to action. Fortify your existing software or find a more secure product.


Business imperative

Long gone are the days when companies could rely on a dusty ledger and ink to record their financial transactions. The right accounting software is a business imperative. We’d be happy to help you assess your current needs and decide whether now’s the time to upgrade.
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Small businesses can help employees save for retirement, too

Many small business owners run their companies as leanly as possible. This often means not offering what are considered standard fringe benefits for midsize or larger companies, such as a retirement plan.

If this is the case for your small business, don’t give up on the idea of helping your employees save for retirement in a tax-advantaged manner. When you’re ready, there are a couple account-based options that are relatively simple and inexpensive to launch and administrate.


SEP IRAs

Simplified Employee Pension IRAs (SEP IRAs) are individual accounts that small businesses establish on behalf of each participant. (Self-employed individuals can also establish SEP IRAs.) Participants own their accounts, so they’re immediately 100% vested. If a participant decides to leave your company, the account balance goes with them — most people roll it over into a new employer’s qualified plan or traditional IRA.

What are the advantages for you? SEP IRAs don’t require annual employer contributions. That means you can choose to contribute only when cash flow allows.
In addition, there are typically no setup fees for SEP IRAs, though participants generally must pay trading commissions and fund expense ratios (a fee typically set as a percentage of the fund’s average net assets). In 2024, the contribution limit is $69,000 (up from $66,000 in 2023) or up to 25% of a participant’s compensation. That amount is much higher than the 2024 limit for 401(k)s, which is $23,000 (up from $22,500 in 2023).

What’s more, employer contributions are tax-deductible. Meanwhile, participants won’t pay taxes on their SEP IRA funds until they’re withdrawn.

There are some disadvantages to consider. Although participants own their accounts, only employers can make SEP IRA contributions. And if you contribute sparsely or sporadically, participants may see little value in the accounts. Also, unlike many other qualified plans, SEP IRAs don’t permit participants age 50 or over to make additional “catch-up” contributions.


SIMPLE IRAs

Another strategy is to offer employees SIMPLE IRAs. (“SIMPLE” stands for “Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees.”) As is the case with SEP IRAs, your business creates a SIMPLE IRA for each participant, who’s immediately 100% vested in the account. Unlike SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs allow participants to contribute to their accounts if they so choose.

SIMPLE IRAs are indeed relatively simple to set up and administer. They don’t require the sponsoring business to file IRS Form 5500, “Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan.” Nor must you submit the plan to nondiscrimination testing, which is generally required for 401(k)s.

Meanwhile, participants face no setup fees and enjoy tax-deferred growth on their account funds. Best of all, they can contribute more to a SIMPLE IRA than they can to a self-owned traditional or Roth IRA. The 2024 contribution limit for SIMPLE IRAs is $16,000 (up from $15,500 in 2023), and participants age 50 or over can make catch-up contributions to the tune of $3,500 this year (unchanged from last year).


On the downside, that contribution limit is lower than the limit for 401(k)s. Also, because contributions are made pretax, participants can’t deduct them, nor can they take out plan loans. Then again, making pretax contributions does lower their taxable income.

Perhaps most important is that employer contributions to SIMPLE IRAs are mandatory — you can’t skip them if cash flow gets tight. However, generally, you may deduct contributions as a business expense.

Is now the time?
Overall, the job market remains somewhat tight and, in some industries, the competition for skilled labor is fierce. Offering one of these IRA types may enable you to attract and retain quality employees more readily. Some small businesses may even qualify for a tax credit if they start a SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA or other eligible plan. We can help you decide whether now is the right time to do so.
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3 tips for making the financial statement auditing process smoother

Not-for-profits aren’t required to produce audited financial statements. But audited statements are more likely to reassure big donors and grant makers about your financial stability and generally will be required if your organization applies for a bank loan. When you hire a CPA to audit your statements, the auditor is responsible for expressing an opinion on them and obtaining reasonable assurance that they’re free of material misstatements.

Here are three tips for making the process as smooth as possible.

1. Understand roles

You’ll need to prepare estimates (such as an allowance for bad debts), adopt sound accounting policies, and establish, maintain and monitor internal controls. Auditors may make suggestions about these items, but it isn’t their responsibility to implement them.

Your auditor is required to evaluate whether internal controls, accounting policies and estimates are adequate to prevent or detect errors or fraud that could result in material misstatements. But remember, all decision making is strictly your nonprofit’s responsibility.


2. Involve your board

Sometimes nonprofits overlook their board’s role in annual financial statement preparation. That’s a mistake. Your board should have a strategic and oversight role in the process, which is part of its overall fiduciary duty. The board also can be a good resource for certain technical matters, depending on the members’ professional backgrounds.


3. Understand statement formats

Financial statement items — such as debt ratios, program vs. administrative expense ratios and restricted vs. unrestricted resources — can help tell you how your nonprofit is doing. So when your organization’s financial team is preparing them, make sure statements are as user-friendly as possible.

One of the best ways to see the big financial picture is to compare your budget, your year-end internally generated financial statements and the financial statements generated during an annual audit. This task can be completed more easily if the format of your annual audited statements is similar to that of your internal financial statements and budgets. If audited financial statements are formatted differently than internally generated reports, you may need to develop a bridge between them, perhaps in the form of an internal memo.

When reviewing internal vs. audited statements, look for any large differences in individual accounts resulting from audit correcting adjustments. These often are an indication of an internal accounting deficiency. You’ll also be able to spot any significant discrepancies between what was budgeted for the year and the actual outcome.


First timers

If you’re engaging an auditor to prepare financial statements for the first time, don’t be anxious. Just provide your auditor with every requested document and keep the lines of communication open. Your auditor will let you know if there’s anything you should be concerned about.
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Perform an operational review to see how well your business is running

In the wide, wide world of mergers and acquisitions (M&A), most business buyers conduct thorough due diligence before closing their deals. This usually involves carefully investigating the target company’s financial, legal and operational positions.

But why let them have all the fun? As a business owner, you can perform these same types of reviews of your own company to glean critical insights.
Now you can take a deep dive into your financial or legal standing — and certainly should if you think something is amiss. But assuming all’s well, the start of a new year is a good time to perform an operational review.


Why to do it

An operational review is essentially a reality check into whether, from the standpoint of day-to-day operations, your company is running smoothly and fully capable of accomplishing its strategic objectives.

For example, let’s say a business relies on superior transportation logistics as a competitive advantage. Such a company would need to continuously ensure that it has the right people, vehicles and technology in place to remain a major player. The point is, you don’t want to fall behind the times, which can happen all too easily in today’s environment of disruptors and rapid technological change.
Before getting into specifics, gather your leadership team and ask yourselves some big-picture questions such as:
  • Are our IT systems up to date and secure, or will they soon need substantial upgrades to keep our data safe and our business competitive?
  • Are our production facilities capable of handling the output we intend to work toward in the coming year?
  • Are staffing levels across our various departments appropriate, or will we likely need to expand, contract or reallocate our workforce this year?
By listening to members of your leadership team, and perhaps even some key employees on the front line, you can gain a sense of your staff’s operational confidence. If they have concerns, better to address them sooner rather than later.


What to look at
Getting back to M&A, when business buyers perform operational due diligence, they tend to evaluate at least three primary areas of a target company. As mentioned, you can do the same. The areas are:

1. Production/operations. Buyers scrutinize mission-critical functions such as technological obsolescence, supply chain operations, procurement processes, customer response times, and product or service distribution speed. They may even visit production facilities and interview certain employees. Their goal, and yours, is to spot performance gaps, identify cost-cutting opportunities and determine ways to improve productivity.

2. Selling, general & administrative (SG&A). This is a financial term that summarizes a company’s sales-related expenses (including sales staff compensation and advertising costs) along with its administrative costs (such as executive compensation and certain other general expenses). A SG&A analysis is a way for business buyers — or you, the business owner — to assess whether the company’s operational expenses are too high or too low.

3. Human resources (HR). Buyers typically review a target business’s organizational charts, staffing levels, compensation and benefits, and employee bonus or incentive plans. They also look at the tone, quality and substance of communications between HR and staff. Their goal — and yours too — is to determine the reasonability and sustainability of each of these things.

A funny question
Would you buy your company if you didn’t already own it? It may seem like a funny question, but an operational review can tell you, objectively, just how efficiently and impressively your business is running. We’d be happy to help you gather and analyze the pertinent information involved.
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Businesses: Know who your privileged users are … and aren’t

Given the pervasiveness of technology in the business world today, most companies are sitting on treasure troves of sensitive data that could be abducted, exploited, corrupted or destroyed. Of course, there’s the clear and present danger of external parties hacking into your network to do it harm. But there are also internal risks — namely, your “privileged users.”

Simply defined, privileged users are people with elevated cybersecurity access to your business’s enterprise systems and sensitive data. They typically include members of the IT department, who need to be able to reach every nook and cranny of your network to install upgrades and fix problems. However, privileged users also may include those in leadership positions, accounting and financial staff, and even independent contractors brought in to help you with technology-related issues.


What could go wrong?

Assuming your company follows a careful hiring process, most of your privileged users are likely hardworking employees who take their cybersecurity clearances seriously.

Unfortunately, sometimes disgruntled or unethical employees or contractors use their access to perpetrate fraud, intellectual property theft or sabotage. And they don’t always act alone. Third parties, such as competitors, could try to recruit privileged users to steal trade secrets. Or employees could collude with hackers to compromise a company’s network in a ransomware scheme.


How can you protect yourself?

To best protect your business, you may want to implement a formal privileged user policy. This is essentially a set of rules and procedures governing who gets to be a privileged user, precisely what kind of access each such user is allowed, and how your company tracks and revokes privileged-user status.

When developing and enforcing the policy, you’ll first need to identify who your privileged users are and what specific security clearances each one needs. A good way to start is to list the privileges required for every position and then compare that list to a separate record of privileges that each employee currently has. What makes sense? What doesn’t? When in doubt whether someone needs a certain type of access, it’s generally best to err on the side of caution.

Also, establish an “upgrading” process under the policy. Only trusted and qualified managers or supervisors should have the power to upgrade or reinstate an employee’s privileges, perhaps in consultation with the leadership team.

Use technology to help standardize and track requests and approvals. For sensitive systems and applications, such as those that store customer and financial data, consider requiring two levels of approval to elevate a user’s privileges.

In addition, your privileged user policy should include stipulations to carefully monitor user activity. Observe and track how employees use their privileges. Let’s say a salesperson repeatedly accesses customer data for a region that the person isn’t responsible for. Have the sales manager inquire why. Subtly reminding employees that the company is aware of their tech-related activities is a good way to help deter fraud and unethical behavior.

Another important aspect of the policy is how you revoke privileges and remove dormant accounts. When employees leave the company, or independent contractors end their engagements, privileged access should be revoked immediately. Keep clear records of such actions. If a previously deactivated account somehow shows signs of activity, block access right away and investigate how and why it’s come back to life.


Do you know?

Every business should be able to definitively say who is a privileged user and who isn’t. If there’s any gray area or uncertainty regarding current or former employees or other workers, the security of your data could be severely compromised. And the ramifications, both financially and for your company’s reputation, are potentially very serious.
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Got independent contractors? Get to know Form W-9

If your not-for-profit is perpetually shorthanded, you may have decided to engage independent contractors or freelancers to pick up some of the slack. Just make sure you’re collecting the right information from these individuals and filing it with the IRS. Clean paperwork now can save you a lot of headaches — including tax penalties — later.

W-9 rules

When engaging an independent contractor, obtain that person’s individual or business Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). For individuals, this generally is the contractor’s Social Security number. Use the number to complete IRS Form W-9, “Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification.”

If a contractor doesn’t provide a correct TIN or doesn’t sign the certification in Part III of Form W-9, you’re generally required to “backup withhold” on reportable amounts. In other words, you must withhold and pay to the IRS 24% tax from future payments. If you fail to do so, the IRS may hold your organization liable for any uncollected amount.

The IRS will send you a backup withholding notice if a worker’s name and TIN on a Form W-9 don’t match its records. If you receive a notice, you may have to send what’s called a “B” notice to the contractor to solicit another TIN.


Collection and reporting

Several best practices can help you collect and report information about independent contractors:

Make W-9 completion part of the onboarding process. If contractors drag their feet on submitting Form W-9s, make clear that they can’t begin working for you until you have the completed and signed form in hand.

Review every form. When you do receive a Form W-9, take the time to review it. If you need additional information, request it from the contractor immediately to help preempt IRS penalties. Note that sole proprietors must furnish their individual names, not only a business name or “Doing Business As.”

Use the IRS’s TIN Matching service. You can find this free tool on the IRS website (search “e-services” at irs.gov), rather than simply waiting to see if the IRS sends you a notice about a Form W-9. The IRS allows payers and their authorized agents to match TIN and name combinations with IRS records before submitting forms so they can follow up with the individual if there’s a discrepancy.

Send annual notices to independent contractors. The notices should remind them to keep their forms with you up to date. If they’ve undergone a change — such as a change in entity type or owner — they need to provide a new form.

Retain records. Keep W-9 forms for at least three years after the last tax year for which you filed a Form 1099-NEC for the contractor. The IRS usually limits its audits to returns filed in the previous three years.

Filing 1099-NECs
You’ll use Form W-9 to report any payments for services by nonemployees you’ve paid at least $600 to during the tax year. Issue a 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation,” to each worker and file it with the IRS. If you need help, please contact us.
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Did your business buy the wrong software?

No one likes to make a mistake. This is especially true in business, where a wrong decision can cost money, time and resources. According to the results of a recent survey, one of the primary ways that many companies are committing costly foibles is buying the wrong software.

The report in question is the 2024 Tech Trends Survey. It was conducted and published by Capterra, a company that helps businesses choose software by compiling reviews and offering guidance. The study focuses on the responses of 700 U.S.-based companies. Of those, about two-thirds regretted at least one of their software purchases made in the previous 12 to 18 months. And more than half of those suffering regret described the financial fallout of the bad decision as “significant” or “monumental.”

Yikes! Clearly, it’s in every business’s best interest — both financially and operationally — to go slow when it comes to buying software.

Inquiring minds

The next time you think your company might need new software, begin the decision-making process with a series of inquiries. That is, sit down with your leadership team and ask questions such as:
  • What functionalities do we need?
  • Are we talking about an entirely new platform or an upgrade within an existing platform?
  • Who will use the software?
  • Are these users motivated to use a new type of software?
Compatibility is an issue, too. If you’re using an older operating system, new software could be buggy or flat-out incompatible. In either case, you could incur substantial additional costs to update or replace your operating system, which might involve new hardware and impact other software.

When deciding whether and what to buy, get input from appropriate staff members. For example, your accounting personnel should be able to tell you what types of reports they need from upgraded financial management software. From there, you can differentiate “must haves” from “nice to haves” from “needless bells and whistles.”

If you’re considering changes to “front-facing” software, you might want to first survey customers to determine whether the upgrade would really improve their experience.

Prequalified vendors
When buying software, businesses often focus more on price and less on from whom they’re buying the product. Think of a vendor as a business partner — that is, an entity who won’t only sell you the product, but also help you implement and maintain it.

Look for providers that have been operational for at least five to 10 years, have a track record of successful implementations and can provide references from satisfied customers. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy from a newer vendor, but you’ll need to look much more closely at its background and history.

For each provider, find out what kind of technical support is included with your purchase. Buying top-of-the-line software only to find out that the vendor provides poor customer service is usually a quick path to regret. Also, is training part of the package? If not, you’ll likely need to send one or more IT staffers out for training or engage a third-party trainer, either of which will cost you additional dollars.
Your goal is to create a list of prequalified software vendors. With it in hand, you can focus on comparing their products and prices. And you can use the list in the future as your software needs evolve.

No remorse
“Regrets, I’ve had a few,” goes the famous Sinatra song. Buying the wrong software doesn’t have to be one of them for your business. We can help you identify all the costs involved with a software purchase and assist you in ensuring a positive return on investment.
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3 types of internal benchmarking reports for businesses

As each year winds to a close, owners of established businesses can count on having plenty of at least one thing: information. That is, they have another full calendar year of financial results to peruse, parse and ponder over.

Indeed, you shouldn’t let this valuable data go to waste. Within your company’s financial statements lies a treasure trove of insights that can help you spot trends, both positive and negative.

That’s where benchmarking comes in. It can take several forms, but let’s focus on three types of internal benchmarking reports that can be particularly useful.

1. Horizontal analysis
A relatively easy starting point is to put two of your company’s financial statements side by side and compare them. In accounting, a comparison of two or more years of financial data is known as horizontal analysis. Differences between the years are typically shown in dollar amounts or percentages.

Naturally, what you’re hoping to find is growth. For instance, if accounts receivable increased from $1 million in 2022 to $1.2 million in 2023, that’s a difference of $200,000 or 20%. Horizontal analysis helps identify such trends. It’s then up to you and your leadership team to explain what caused them and, in the case of this example, keep that trendline moving in a positive direction.

You can also use horizontal analysis to sharpen your understanding of your business’s profitability. While public companies usually focus on earnings per share, private companies generally want to look at profit margin and gross margin. Rather than analyze only the top and bottom of the income statement (revenue and profits), you may want to drill down and compare individual line items such as the cost of materials, rent, utilities and payroll.

2. Vertical analysis
Vertical analysis works its magic within one year’s financial statements. Essentially, each line item in that set of financial statements is converted to a percentage of another item — often revenue or total assets. Accountants typically refer to financial statements that have been subject to vertical analysis as “common-size” financial statements.

For example, a common-size income statement that shows each line item as a percentage of revenue would explain how each dollar of revenue is distributed between expenses and profits.

Alternatively, from a profitability standpoint, vertical analysis could show the various expense line items in the income statement as a percentage of sales. This would show whether and how these line items are contributing to your profit margin.


3. Ratio analysis
Ratios also depict relationships between various items on a company’s financial statements. For instance, profit margin equals net income divided by revenue. Ratios are typically used to benchmark a business against its competitors or industry averages. But you can use ratios internally as well.

Within a single set of financial statements, for example, you might calculate total asset turnover (revenue divided by total assets). This ratio estimates how many dollars in revenue the business generated for every dollar it invested in assets. Generally, the more dollars earned, the better. You can also, of course, compare ratios from one year to the next or over longer periods.

Know your options
Many companies use a combination of horizontal, vertical and ratio analyses over time to highlight positive trends and catch operating inefficiencies. What’s important is knowing your benchmarking options and maximizing the value that your financial statements can provide.
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Joining forces with another nonprofit

A merger may seem like something that happens in the corporate world, where companies often combine to expand sales territory, gain competitive advantages and boost profits. But, in fact, mergers between not-for-profit organizations can offer similar advantages, including greater financial resilience and lower expenses.
Over the past several years — particularly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — many nonprofit hospitals and institutions of higher learning have explored and executed mergers. But even smaller nonprofits can benefit from the right combination.


Signs of success
Successful mergers are based on a foundation of solid motivations. You might decide to merge to establish the stability that will make it easier to pursue your mission. Such a union could lead to a stronger organization that’s better able to survive difficult times. You also might want to merge to reduce competition for funding.

A merger can help nonprofits achieve economies of scale that will make the merged organization more efficient, too. This might come, for example, from combining infrastructures — everything from staffing and board leadership to administration, information systems, human resources and accounting. A merger could also give you access to a wider network, as well as more perspectives and experiences to base decisions on. And it might enable you to provide more programming or add physical locations.

The best mergers usually occur when the two organizations share similar missions, values and work cultures. That doesn’t mean you and a potential merger partner must offer duplicative services, but you should at least complement each other. It’s also important to have clearly defined goals for the combination and to make prompt decisions to facilitate a swift integration.

Potential pitfalls
For all of the worthwhile reasons to consider a merger, it’s important to remember that mergers do sometimes fail. One common reason is that the merger itself, as well as the new organization, can cost much more than expected. In the short term, for example, you’ll need to finance transactional and integration costs.

Arrangements intended to rescue a failing organization are another red flag. In this scenario, you usually see a larger, more stable nonprofit swoop in to save a smaller counterpart that, despite its weaknesses, has something to offer. But a merger isn’t likely to solve problems such as poor leadership. The better approach in such a situation is for the larger nonprofit to acquire assets, or viable pieces, of the smaller organization.


Common factor
One critical factor in the success of any merger — for- or not-for-profit — is the assistance of knowledgeable, experienced advisors. Contact us to discuss your organization’s plans and we can help you assess whether a merger makes sense.
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Using the personal touch for last-minute fundraising

As 2023 hurtles toward Dec. 31, your not-for-profit probably is fully engrossed in last-minute fundraising. After all, taxpayers who itemize will be able to deduct qualified charitable contributions on their 2023 tax returns.

As you make last-minute pitches, don’t forget to deploy the personal touch. Many studies have shown that people are more willing to donate if a friend, family member or coworker is doing the asking. At this time — and into the new year — rely on board members to reach out to their networks.


Passionate advocates
All of your organization’s stakeholders can promote your nonprofit and request support from their contacts. But development staffers aside, board members generally make the most effective fundraisers because they’re knowledgeable about your organization, passionate about your mission and typically have a wide range of contacts in business and philanthropic circles.

Support their efforts by making sure they have the proper information and training. Equip them with a wish list of specific items or services your nonprofit needs. Keep in mind that not all of their contacts may be in a position to make a monetary donation. However, some people may be able to contribute in-kind goods or services.


In-person meetings
When making a personal appeal to prospective donors, your board members should, when possible, meet in person. Email can save time, but face-to-face appeals are more effective. Personal appeals can also be effective if your nonprofit offers donors something, such as coffee or lunch, in exchange for their attention.

When board members meet with prospective donors, they must humanize your cause. Say that your nonprofit raises money for cancer treatment. If board members have been affected by the disease, they might relate their personal experiences as a means of illustrating why they support your organization’s work.
Even when appealing to potential donors’ philanthropic instincts, it’s critical to mention other possible benefits. For example, if your nonprofit is trying to encourage business owners to buy ad space in your newsletter, board members could explain that your supporters are a desirable demographic, both in terms of spending power and an eagerness to “buy local.”


Into the new year
The clock is winding down on 2023, but you should plan to use these fundraising strategies in the new year. Start planning more small gatherings where board members can interact with major donors. In the meantime, contact us to discuss your nonprofit’s financial health and ways to boost it.
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Reinvigorating your company’s sales efforts heading into the new year

Business owners, with the year just about over, you and your leadership team presumably have a pretty good idea of where you want your company to go in 2024. The question is: Can you get there?
When it comes to success, the driving force behind most businesses is sales. If products or services aren’t moving off the shelves, literally or figuratively, you’ll likely fall short of your financial objectives. Here are some big-picture ways to reinvigorate your company’s sales efforts heading into the new year.

Review territories and customers
A good way to start is by reassessing your sales territories. The pandemic suddenly and severely curtailed business travel — so much so that some experts believe it will never return to pre-pandemic levels.
If your company has changed its approach to and budget for business travel in recent years, review the geographic routes that your sales staff used to physically traverse. You may see efficiency gains by creating a strategic sales territory plan that’s less focused on travel and more aimed at aligning salespeople with regions or markets that contain their most winnable prospects.

Also, as always, nurture your top-tier customers. If purchases from them have slowed recently, find out why and prioritize reversing this trend. For your sales staff, this may mean shifting focus from winning new business to tending to these important accounts. See whether you can craft a customized plan aimed at meeting a legacy customer’s long-term needs. It might include discounts, premiums and/or extended warranties.

Explore technological upgrades
Too much paperwork used to be a common gripe among salespeople. More often than not, “paperwork” is a figurative term these days, as most businesses have implemented technology to track leads, document sales efforts and record closings. Nevertheless, outdated or overly complicated software can slow sales momentum.

You might conduct a survey to gather feedback on whether your current customer relationship management or sales management software is helping or hindering the efforts of your sales team. Based on the results, you can then make a sensible decision about whether to upgrade or change your systems.

Incentivize staff
One thing about sales that will likely never change is the need to occasionally or regularly incentivize salespeople to go above and beyond. After all, what allows a business to grow is not only retaining top customers, but also creating organic sales growth from new products or services.
Consider creating a sales challenge that will motivate staff to achieve the specific financial results you’re looking for. One facet of such a challenge may be to replace across-the-board commission rates with higher commissions on new products or “tough sells.”

Investigate other ways to incentivize your team as well. Examples include boosted commissions or bonuses based on:
  • Actual customer payments rather than billable orders,
  • Increased sales to current customers,
  • Number of prospects converted, or
  • Number of customers who agree to prepay.
Ultimately, be sure to align commissions or other sales compensation methods with your company’s carefully projected and clearly communicated financial objectives.

Ring in the new year
Here’s hoping your business rings in the new year with sales on an upward trajectory and a sales staff fully equipped and motivated to be as productive as possible. We can help you generate or assess realistic sales projections and identify optimal, obtainable financial objectives.
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Businesses: Know who your privileged users are … and aren’t

Given the pervasiveness of technology in the business world today, most companies are sitting on treasure troves of sensitive data that could be abducted, exploited, corrupted or destroyed. Of course, there’s the clear and present danger of external parties hacking into your network to do it harm. But there are also internal risks — namely, your “privileged users.”

Simply defined, privileged users are people with elevated cybersecurity access to your business’s enterprise systems and sensitive data. They typically include members of the IT department, who need to be able to reach every nook and cranny of your network to install upgrades and fix problems. However, privileged users also may include those in leadership positions, accounting and financial staff, and even independent contractors brought in to help you with technology-related issues.

What could go wrong?
Assuming your company follows a careful hiring process, most of your privileged users are likely hardworking employees who take their cybersecurity clearances seriously.

Unfortunately, sometimes disgruntled or unethical employees or contractors use their access to perpetrate fraud, intellectual property theft or sabotage. And they don’t always act alone. Third parties, such as competitors, could try to recruit privileged users to steal trade secrets. Or employees could collude with hackers to compromise a company’s network in a ransomware scheme.

How can you protect yourself?
To best protect your business, you may want to implement a formal privileged user policy. This is essentially a set of rules and procedures governing who gets to be a privileged user, precisely what kind of access each such user is allowed, and how your company tracks and revokes privileged-user status.

When developing and enforcing the policy, you’ll first need to identify who your privileged users are and what specific security clearances each one needs. A good way to start is to list the privileges required for every position and then compare that list to a separate record of privileges that each employee currently has. What makes sense? What doesn’t? When in doubt whether someone needs a certain type of access, it’s generally best to err on the side of caution.

Also, establish an “upgrading” process under the policy. Only trusted and qualified managers or supervisors should have the power to upgrade or reinstate an employee’s privileges, perhaps in consultation with the leadership team. Use technology to help standardize and track requests and approvals. For sensitive systems and applications, such as those that store customer and financial data, consider requiring two levels of approval to elevate a user’s privileges.

In addition, your privileged user policy should include stipulations to carefully monitor user activity. Observe and track how employees use their privileges. Let’s say a salesperson repeatedly accesses customer data for a region that the person isn’t responsible for. Have the sales manager inquire why. Subtly reminding employees that the company is aware of their tech-related activities is a good way to help deter fraud and unethical behavior.
Another important aspect of the policy is how you revoke privileges and remove dormant accounts. When employees leave the company, or independent contractors end their engagements, privileged access should be revoked immediately. Keep clear records of such actions. If a previously deactivated account somehow shows signs of activity, block access right away and investigate how and why it’s come back to life.


Do you know?
Every business should be able to definitively say who is a privileged user and who isn’t. If there’s any gray area or uncertainty regarding current or former employees or other workers, the security of your data could be severely compromised. And the ramifications, both financially and for your company’s reputation, are potentially very serious.
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Consider these 2 issues before searching for new staffers

Despite many predictions to the contrary, U.S. employers have continued to add workers to their payrolls and the unemployment rate has remained low — at 3.7% as of November 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Is your not-for-profit among the employers that need fresh staffers? The new year is a good time to start looking, but make sure you consider a couple of issues before you place any ads.

1. Your workforce
First, do you really need to hire? Even if you plan to expand services and introduce new programs, volunteers may be capable of picking up the slack. Or current staffers may be underused on projects that are stagnating or winding down. Carefully review your nonprofit’s priorities and consider eliminating programs that aren’t meeting expectations so you can redeploy human resources.

If staffers have been working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to call them back to the office before making the decision to hire. It’s possible some staffers will refuse to return to the office full time. In that case, you’ll need to decide whether to keep them working from home and on the payroll or start searching for new employees. Just keep in mind that you could have trouble finding new workers at compensation levels your organization can afford to offer.

2. Your finances
The second major consideration, of course, is money. Thanks to generous donors and grant-makers, some nonprofits have bounced back and even expanded in the post-pandemic period. Others have been forced to pinch pennies just to maintain the existing programs. Wherever your nonprofit falls on this spectrum, ensure you can fit new staffers into your budget before hiring.

Remember that when you hire full-time employees, the expense isn’t limited to salaries or hourly wages — you’ll also be paying employment taxes and benefits. In many cases, it’s cheaper to outsource functions, particularly accounting, IT and human resources work. Outsourcing offers the additional benefit of being temporary if you aren’t happy with the service.

Finally, even if you can afford to hire or outsource, the fact remains that nonprofits are obligated to be careful financial stewards. Donors, watchdog groups and the media demand it. So consider how you’ll make the most of any new staffing budget before you spend it.

Making the decision
The economy in the U.S. remains relatively strong, making it a good time to hire for many employers. However, this situation could change. Ultimately, the decision to hire depends on your organization’s staffing needs and financial resources. We can help by reviewing your budget and suggesting ways to free up cash.
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Is your business underestimating the value of older workers?

The job market remains relatively tight for businesses looking to fill open positions or simply add top talent when the fit is right. That means it’s still important for companies to continuously reassess where they’re looking for applicants and which job candidates they’re focusing on.
In October, global employment nonprofit Generation, in partnership with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), released a report entitled The Midcareer Opportunity: Meeting the Challenges of an Ageing Workforce. Its results are based on OECD data along with a survey of thousands of employers, job candidates and employees in the United States and Europe.
Among the eye-opening findings of the report is that responding hiring managers disclosed a strong preference for candidates between the ages of 30 and 44. Applicants between the ages of 45 and 64 were favored least.

Positive attributes
There’s no denying that many Baby Boomers (generally, those born between 1946 and 1964) have retired. And some older members of Generation X (generally, those born between 1965 and 1980) may soon be joining them. Nonetheless, a large contingent of older workers remain active in the workforce. Underestimating the value of these individuals when hiring could represent a costly blind spot for your business.

Older workers tend to share many positive attributes. For starters, they’ve lived and worked through many economic ups and downs, so these workers are usually budget-savvy. In addition, many are well-connected in their fields and can reach out or point to helpful resources your company may be unaware of. Seasoned workers are often self-motivated and need less direct supervision, too.

Onboarding and performance management
Many businesses currently feature workforces largely comprised of Gen Xers, Millennials (generally, those born between 1981 and 1996) and members of Generation Z (generally, those born between 1997 and 2012). Adding older workers to the mix can present challenges to company culture, so adjusting your onboarding process and approach to performance management may be necessary.

First, ensure internal communications emphasize inclusivity. If you’re concerned that your existing culture might hinder the onboarding process for older workers, begin addressing the potential obstacles before hiring anyone. Emphasize your company’s commitment to an equitable approach to hiring and professional development under which everyone’s contributions are valued and career path is empowered.

Second, consider involving other staff members in the hiring process. For example, you could ask those who will work directly with a new hire to sit in on the initial job interviews. You’ll likely experience less resistance if an older employee’s co-workers are involved from the beginning. Just be sure that every participant understands proper interviewing techniques to avoid legal problems.

Third, as appropriate and feasible, offer training to managers who might suddenly find themselves supervising employees with many more years of work experience. Learning to listen to an older worker’s suggestions while sticking to the company’s strategic objectives and operational procedures isn’t always easy.
Finally, consider a mentorship program. Bringing in new employees of a different age group is an opportune time to investigate the potential benefits of mentoring. By pairing newly hired older workers with younger staff members, you could see both groups learn from each other — and the business benefit as a result.

A deep pool
On a more positive note, the Generation/OECD report found that about 89% of responding employers indicated that their midcareer and older workers performed just as well, if not better than, younger hires. The message is clear: If your business is hiring, don’t overlook the depths of this particular hiring pool. For help identifying and analyzing your company’s employment costs, contact us.
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Solving the riddles of succession planning for family businesses

Every established company will encounter challenges when confronting the thorny issue of succession planning. Family-owned businesses, however, often face particularly complex issues. After all, their owners may have to consider both family members who work for the company and those who do not.

If yours is a family business, you may run into some confounding riddles as you develop your succession plan. As difficult as it may seem, always bear in mind that there are solutions to be found.

Divergent financial needs
One tough quandary for many family businesses is that the financial needs of older and younger generations conflict. For instance, the business owner is counting on the sale of the company to serve as a de facto retirement fund while the owner’s family wants to take over the business without a significant investment.
Fortunately, several strategies are available to generate cash flow for the owner while minimizing the burden on the next generation. For example, an installment sale of the business to children or other family members can provide liquidity for owners while easing the burden on children and grandchildren. An installment sale may also increase the chance that cash flows from the business can fund the purchase. Plus, so long as the price and terms are comparable to arm’s-length transactions between unrelated parties, the sale shouldn’t trigger gift or estate taxes.

Trust alternatives
Alternatively, owners may transfer business interests to a grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT) to obtain a variety of gift and estate tax benefits, provided they survive the trust term. They’ll also enjoy a fixed income stream for a period of years. At the end of the term, the business is transferred to the owner’s beneficiaries. GRATs are typically designed to be gift-tax-free.

Similarly, a properly structured installment sale to an intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) allows an owner to sell the business on a tax-advantaged basis while enjoying an income stream and retaining control during the trust term. Once installment payments are complete, the business passes to the owner’s beneficiaries free of gift taxes.

The answers are out there
There’s no doubt that every family business is a little bit different. Nevertheless, there are probably answers out there to your distinctive questions. We can help you put together a succession plan that’s right for you and your family.
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Some businesses may have an easier path to financial statements

There’s no getting around the fact that accurate financial statements are imperative for every business. Publicly held companies are required to not only issue them, but also have them audited by an independent CPA. Audited financial statements provide the highest level of assurance to third-party users that the documents in question are free of material misstatements.

The good news for privately held companies — particularly small businesses — is you may not need to incur the cost or undertake the effort that goes with formally audited financial statements. There are other less expensive and less arduous paths to follow.


The most basic: Preparations

True to its name, a financial statement preparation is simply the product of an accountant preparing a set of financial statements in accordance with an acceptable financial reporting framework. It’s usually done as part of bookkeeping or tax-related work.

A preparation provides no assurance of the accuracy and completeness of the financial statements in question. And assurance is typically critical if you plan to share the financial statements with third parties such as lenders and investors.
That said, some lenders may accept preparations in support of small lending arrangements. However, more often than not, preparations are used only for internal purposes to provide a business’s leadership with information on the company’s current financial condition and as a basis of comparison against future accounting periods. In fact, professional standards don’t even require a CPA to be independent of a business to perform a preparation.

To avoid misleading any third parties who might eventually receive a preparation, each page of the financial statements should include a disclaimer or legend stating that no CPA provides any assurance on the accuracy of the documents. In addition, a preparation must adequately refer to or describe the applicable financial reporting framework that’s used and disclose any known departures from that framework.


The next step up: Compilations
If you want to fortify the trust of potential third-party financial statement users a little more, consider a compilation. Like a preparation, a compilation is simply a set of financial statements generated in accordance with an acceptable financial reporting framework that provides no assurance of the documents’ accuracy and completeness.

The primary difference is a compilation includes a formal report by a CPA attesting that this professional has fully read the financial statements and evaluated whether they’re free from obvious material errors. If the CPA isn’t independent of the business, this fact must be disclosed in the report as well.
The use of a compilation can extend beyond the business’s leadership to third parties such as lenders, investors and collaborative partners who may view the input of a CPA as reassuring. However, many third parties might still insist on some level of formal assurance to accept your company’s financial statements.


The right level

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention there’s another level in between audit (highest assurance) and preparation and compilation (no assurance). That would be a financial statement review. A review is performed by an independent CPA, who provides limited assurance that no material modifications should be made to the financial statements in question. If you need help deciding which level of financial statement services is right for your business, please contact us.
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Help donors help your nonprofit with a planned gift

Most established not-for-profits are already equipped to solicit and accept planned gifts. But if your nonprofit is new to planned giving and doesn’t yet understand the long-term advantages of deferred gifts, it’s a good time to get up to speed. You’ll likely need to educate donors about the advantages — for them and your organization — of this form of support.


Planned gifts typically are made using one of three methods:

Direct gifts and bequests. These are made from a donor or a donor’s estate directly to your nonprofit. Generally, the bigger the donation, the bigger the tax benefit. Direct gifts provide donors with a current income tax deduction if they itemize, subject to annual limits. In addition, donated assets are removed from the donor’s taxable estate, which can reduce any estate tax due. Direct bequests don’t generate an income tax deduction, but they usually are 100% deductible for  estate tax purposes.

- Charitable gift annuities. These allow donors to gift substantial assets during their lifetimes. Annuities can be structured to minimize current income tax and future estate tax while providing donors with a consistent income stream during their lifetimes.

- Charitable trusts. With a charitable lead trust, the donor contributes assets to a trust, which pays income to your charity for a set number of years. Then the property reverts to the donor or another beneficiary. With a charitable remainder trust, the donor or another beneficiary receives income from the donated assets for a specified period or for life, and the remainder goes to your nonprofit. Depending on the structure of a trust, donors may enjoy income and estate tax savings.

Other options that might be appropriate for charitable gift- and tax-planning objectives are donor-advised funds, supporting organizations or foundations.


Choose what you’ll accept
Of course, your nonprofit doesn’t have to accept planned gifts in all forms. If, for example, your organization is going to accept endowments (gifts that permanently restrict the principal) or contributions that temporarily restrict use, you’ll need an infrastructure that handles them.

If you haven’t already, decide what type of gifts you’ll accept. Do you want to accept donations of appreciated securities (which typically provide donors with a greater tax benefit)? If so, establish a policy for them, such as whether you’ll liquidate these assets in a certain period of time. Then, adjust your investment policy on restricted gifts and get board approval. Also make sure your accounting system is set up to receive these types of gifts.


Getting the word out
You might start seeking planned gifts among your nonprofit’s board members. Even if they don’t make planned gifts themselves, they can be effective evangelists for your nonprofit’s mission and the benefits of planned giving.
Next, you may want to target outside resources such as financial advisors. Meet with prominent advisors in your community and explain your needs and willingness to enter into planned giving arrangements. Also develop strong relationships with local community foundations. These entities can act as intermediaries between your organization and potential donors, helping you to reduce or eliminate internal investment and infrastructure costs.


Long-term thinking
To take advantage of planned gifts, your staff and board members should be prepared to discuss them when opportunities arise. Provide training on how they work and how your organization’s policies affect what you accept. Contact us with questions.
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Why your nonprofit’s board needs to be diverse

Ideally, a not-for-profit’s board of directors should mirror that of its community and clientele. Does yours? Identifying that your board needs more diversity is the easy part, though. Figuring out what to do about it can be more difficult. But it’s important because it can affect your funding and program effectiveness.

Striking a healthy balance
In its infancy, your nonprofit probably just wanted to get the word out about its mission. So you may have recruited family members, friends and friends of friends for your board. As time passes, however, your not-for-profit might find that it’s represented solely by one race, sex, religion or economic class. And such lack of diversity can signal a disconnect from your community.

What’s considered “healthy” diversity will vary from board to board. But think of it like this: The more diverse your board is in attributes, the more diverse it will be in thoughts and ideas. This diversity can come in many forms — physical, societal and economic.

If your bylaws limit the number of board members you can have at any given time, you might consider amending them to accommodate your nonprofit’s commitment to board diversity. Be careful, though, that the size of your board doesn’t become unwieldy.

Start with what you have
The first step to a great mix is to ask board members to write their own profiles. In the instructions you give — or on the form you provide — include the attributes you consider important, such as skill sets and particular demographics. From this information, you’ll be able to see what the board may lack.

Look at the group as a whole and assess where the organization lies on the diversity continuum. Imagine a scale from “1” to “5,” with “5” displaying your nonprofit’s ideal diversity. Assess your members and give yourself a score. The diversity, or lack thereof, should be obvious. You may find, for example, that the board is underrepresented by women, persons of color, young adults or individuals with a financial background.

Find new members
Explain the need for diversity to your board — if members haven’t already vocalized the need themselves. Ask them to help find the right individuals in their own personal and professional networks. Also gather input from your community and the organizations that serve it. If your nonprofit lacks the perspective of younger people, for example, contact a local “young professionals” group in your area or recent college graduates.

If you’re having trouble finding qualified board members, try a board placement service. Some communities have board training programs for people interested in joining nonprofit boards. Professional associations also can be a good recruitment resource. Some state CPA organizations, for example, help match accountants with nonprofits that need volunteers with financial expertise.

Term limit option
If you’re reluctant to enlarge the size of your board, take every resignation to put in place an individual who will help you meet your diversity goals. But if this process ends up being too slow, you might want to consider implementing term limits for board members.
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5 tips for more easily obtaining cyberinsurance

Every business should dedicate time and resources to cybersecurity. Hackers are out there, in many cases far across the globe, and they’re on the prowl for vulnerable companies. These criminals typically strike at random — doing damage to not only a business’s ability to operate, but also its reputation.
One way to protect yourself, at least financially, is to invest in cyberinsurance. This type of coverage is designed to mitigate losses from a variety of incidents — including data breaches, business interruption and network damage. If you decide to buy a policy, here are five tips to help make the application process a little easier:

1. Be detail-oriented when filling out the paperwork. Insurers usually ask an applicant to complete a questionnaire to help them understand the risks facing the company in question. Answering the questionnaire fully and accurately may call for input from your leadership team, IT department and even third parties such as your cloud service provider. Take your time and be as thorough as possible. Missed questions or incomplete answers could result in denial of coverage or a longer-than-necessary approval time.

2. Establish (or fortify) a comprehensive cybersecurity program. Your business has a better chance of obtaining optimal coverage if you have a formal program that includes documented policies for best practices such as:
  • Installing software updates and patches,
  • Encrypting data,
  • Using multifactor authentication, and
  • Educating employees about ongoing cyberthreats.
Before applying for coverage, either establish such a program if you don’t have one or strengthen the one in place. Be sure to generate clear documentation about the program and all its features that you can show insurers.

3. Create and document a disaster recovery plan. An effective cybersecurity program can’t focus only on preventing negative incidents. It must also include a disaster recovery plan specifically focused on cyberthreats, so everyone knows what to do if something bad happens.
If your company has yet to create such a plan, establish and implement one before applying for cyberinsurance. Put it in writing so you can share it with insurers. Review your disaster recovery plan at least annually to ensure it’s up to date.

4. Prepare to be tested. Some insurers may want to test your company’s cyberdefenses with a “penetration test.” This is a simulated cyberattack on your systems designed to uncover weak points that hackers could exploit. Before applying for cyberinsurance, conduct a thorough assessment of your networks and, if necessary, train or upskill your employees to follow protocols and be wary of “phishing” schemes and other threats.

5. Consider a third-party assessment. To better uncover weaknesses that could result in a denial of coverage or unreasonably high premiums, you may want to engage a third-party consultant to assess your cybersecurity program, as well as your equipment, network and users. Doing so can be beneficial before applying for cyberinsurance because some IT security firms maintain relationships with insurers and can help streamline the application process.

Like most types of coverage, cyberinsurance is a risk-management measure worth exploring with your leadership team and professional advisors. Contact us for help determining whether buying a policy is the right move and, if so, for assistance analyzing the costs involved and developing a budget.
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Don’t let IRS compliance issues drag down your nonprofit

In recent years, the IRS has increased its scrutiny of tax-exempt organizations. Most not-for-profits that fail to file Form 990 for three consecutive years will have their exempt status revoked automatically. The IRS is also cracking down on nonprofits that don’t properly classify workers as employees, don’t report unrelated business income, participate in off-limits political activities or engage in financial transactions with insiders.

If you’re experiencing compliance issues, you may be hesitant to reach out to the IRS. But the agency is generally willing to work with struggling organizations (and their advisors) to help them maintain their nonprofit status.

Acknowledge errors
In addition to failing to file regularly or taking part in prohibited activities, nonprofits can trigger an IRS investigation with an innocent math or other filing preparation error. If you discover you’ve made a mistake, act quickly and get professional advice. The earlier you bring an error to the attention of your tax advisor, the easier it is to make right.
Also, make sure that you don’t brush off a potential compliance problem because you don’t understand it or don’t have time to deal with it. And don’t let embarrassment prevent you from taking the right steps. Innocent mistakes don’t have to reflect badly on your organization. Getting caught trying to sweep mistakes under the rug, however, can bring your judgment — not to mention your nonprofit’s reputation and funding — into question.

Consult your advisors
Tax advisors have experience working with the IRS, so listen carefully to your experts’ advice and follow their lead in amending any errors. These advisors can even accompany you if you need to meet with the IRS in person or by phone. Approach IRS meetings with an open mind and, once there, simply explain the facts. Don’t act defensive, assume the government is “out to get you” or engage in other hostile behavior.

By taking the proactive path and approaching the IRS before you receive a notice, you’ll find that the agency is likely to be more amenable to finding a solution. Taking the initiative can also speed up the process so that you can get back to running your organization.

Act immediately
Don’t put your organization at risk for interruptions, fines or censure. If you’re having trouble complying with IRS regulations, discover you’ve made a filing error or receive an IRS notice of audit or compliance check, contact us immediately. We can help you catch up, repair mistakes and, if necessary, apply for tax-exempt status
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Could value-based sales boost your company’s bottom line?

If your company sells products or services to other businesses, you’re probably familiar with the challenge of growing your sales numbers. At times, you might even struggle to maintain them. One way to put yourself in a better position to succeed is to diversify your approaches, so you’re not limited to a single method by which salespeople interact with customers.
Have you ever considered value-based sales? Under this method, sales reps act as sort of business consultants, working closely with customers or prospects to identify specific needs or solve certain problems. The objective is to provide as much value as possible from the sales that result. This approach has its risks but, under the right circumstances, it can pay off.


What is value?

Before embarking on a value-based sales initiative, you’ll need to identify what kinds of value you may be able to provide. This can’t be a fuzzy concept; sales reps should be able to put dollars and cents to their value-based sales propositions or at least build a compelling case. Value generally takes four forms: Dollars gained; your product or service will lead to an increase in revenue for the subject based on a reasonable financial projection, Dollars saved; your product or service will demonstrably save the customer or prospect money, Risk reduced; your product or service will address and help minimize one or more identifiable threats to the business in question, and Qualitative; if you can’t make a case for one of the other three value types, you may still be able to argue that your product or service improves the quality of the subject’s operations in some way.
At least one of these four types of value will be the ultimate objective when salespeople engage customers or prospects. However, to identify that objective, your sales team will need to put in considerable effort.


How does the process work?
Perhaps the biggest downside of a value-based sales approach is that it’s labor-intensive. As opposed to, say, making cold calls with a product or service list and a series of talking points, your salespeople will need to do a “deep dive” into targeted businesses. They’ll need to learn details such as each company’s mission, history, management structure, financial status, strengths and weaknesses.

Then, when interacting with customers or prospects, they’ll need to focus on education — both their own and the subject’s. In other words, a sales rep will need to ask the right questions to learn as much as possible about the customer’s or prospect’s business needs and challenges. Meanwhile, the salesperson will need to act much like a consultant, informing the subject about industry trends, potential solutions and perhaps how comparable companies have overcome similar issues.
As you can see, value-based sales is more about relationship building and knowledge sharing than straight selling. Because of this, it can be a gamble. Some sales reps may spend extensive time and effort with a customer or prospect, even helping that business in certain ways, only to reap little to no sales revenue. On the other hand, when the approach works well, your company may be able to build a dynamic, long-lasting relationship with a lucrative customer.

Are there such sales in your pipeline?
If value-based sales sounds like something that could benefit your business, discuss it with your leadership team and sales staff. You’ll likely want to review your sales pipeline and determine which customers or prospects would be good fits for the approach. Contact us for help tracking, organizing and analyzing your sales numbers.
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Private foundations: “Disqualified persons” must color within the lines

Although conflict-of-interest policies are essential for all not-for-profits, private foundations must be particularly careful about adhering to them. In general, stricter rules apply to foundations. For example, you might assume that transactions with insiders are acceptable so long as they benefit your foundation. Not true. Although such transactions might be permissible for 501(3)(c) nonprofits, they definitely aren’t for foundations. Specifically, transactions between private foundations and “disqualified persons,” such as certain insiders, are prohibited.


A wide net
The IRS casts a wide net when defining “disqualified persons.” Its definition includes substantial contributors, managers, officers, directors, trustees and people with large ownership interests in corporations or partnerships that make substantial contributions to the foundation. Their family members are disqualified, too. In addition, when a disqualified person owns more than 35% of a corporation or partnership, that business is considered disqualified.
Prohibited transactions can be hard to identify because there are many exceptions. But, in general, you should ensure that disqualified persons don’t engage in these activities with your foundation:
  • Selling, exchanging or leasing property,
  • Making or receiving loans,
  • Extending credit,
  • Providing or receiving goods, services or facilities, and
  • Receiving compensation or reimbursed expenses.
Disqualified persons also shouldn’t agree to pay money or give property to government officials on your behalf.


Possible penalties

What happens if you violate the rules? The disqualified person may be subject to an initial excise tax of 10% of the amount involved and, if the transaction isn’t corrected quickly, an additional tax of up to 200% of the amount. What’s more, an excise tax of 5% of the amount involved is imposed on a foundation manager who knowingly participates in an act of self-dealing, unless participation wasn’t willful and was due to reasonable cause. An additional tax of 50% is imposed if the manager refuses to agree to part or all of the correction of the self-dealing act.
Although liability is limited for foundation managers ($40,000 for any one act), self-dealing individuals enjoy no such limits. In some cases, private foundations that engage in self-dealing lose their tax-exempt status.


Go the extra mile
If you lead a private foundation, you must go the extra mile to avoid anything that might be perceived as self-dealing. Transactions between foundations and disqualified persons are firmly prohibited, and violating this rule can be costly. But it’s easy to get tripped up by IRS rules. So contact us to help ensure you’re coloring well within the lines.
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Do you have to return a donation when a donor requests it?

If a donor has never asked your not-for-profit to return a gift, it may only be a matter of time. Although uncommon, donors can change their minds. They may come to believe your organization is misusing or wasting donated funds or decide it’s no longer fulfilling its charitable mission. Although you’re probably inclined to cooperate with requests, doing so can be difficult if you’ve already spent the money or if other factors are in play. Let’s look at the problem — and a potential solution.

What the law says

In general, federal law doesn’t require nonprofits to return donations. Individual states have enacted various laws, but these generally are vague about returning contributions. They usually assume that a gift is no longer the property of a donor once a charity accepts it. And because nonprofits are expected to act in the public interest, state regulators may rule that returning a donation harms the public good.

However, to avoid potential lawsuits, some situations require you to return a donation. One such situation is the violation of a donation agreement. If, for example, a donor stipulates that money must go directly to hurricane relief and the funds are instead spent on mobile devices for staffers, the charity is legally obligated to return the donation. Another situation where donations should be returned is when a donor pays for a ticket to a fundraising or other event and the event is cancelled. At the very least, nonprofits should offer a refund for the canceled event, but can ask supporters to donate the amount.

As a gesture of goodwill, it’s usually best to return small donations when asked. Larger gifts may be harder to return. In such circumstances, talk to your attorney and financial advisor — and possibly your state’s nonprofit agency.

Heading off unwanted return requests
No nonprofit wants to return donated funds. Fortunately, you can head off unwanted return requests by adopting a written donation refund policy. State that most donations aren’t eligible for return and explicitly describe the circumstances under which a donation is eligible for return.

Also document large gifts using a standard agreement form that includes your return policy and consider including a “gift-over clause.” This permits a donor to request that a gift be transferred to another organization if the donor believes it has been misused. Finally, observe best fundraising practices. By adhering to the highest ethical standards, you may be able to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that could result in refund requests.

Get to the bottom of it
Supporters can request the return of donations for many reasons. Try to get to the bottom of each case so you can prevent other donors from following suit. For instance, supporters may object to a recent decision or trend — or simply dislike how something was worded in your newsletter. In these circumstances, you may be able to smooth ruffled feathers and keep the donation. Just be certain you respond quickly to requests and enlist the help of advisors when there’s a threat of legal or financial repercussions.
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Business owners: Think carefully about fringe benefits related to smartphones

You’d be hard-pressed to find many employees these days who don’t use smartphones for some aspect of their jobs. Even someone who works behind a point-of-sale device may use a phone to interact with a supervisor or log work hours.

For business owners, this situation creates both problems and opportunities. On the downside, there are security and productivity issues to grapple with. However, on a more positive note, you could provide a fringe benefit related to smartphones or their usage. Employees will likely appreciate the gesture, but you’ll need to think carefully about the tax ramifications.

What if you provide the phone?
Let’s say you decide to provide employees with smartphones — for work purposes, of course. Business use of an employer-provided phone may be treated as a nontaxable working condition fringe benefit so long as it’s provided “primarily for noncompensatory business purposes.”

Examples of such purposes include a need to be accessible:
 
  • To the company at any time for work-related emergencies, and
  • To customers outside of normal business hours or when away from the office.
If the noncompensatory business purposes test is met, the value of any personal use of an employer-provided smartphone will generally be treated as a nontaxable “de minimis” fringe benefit. However, an employer-provided phone will fail the test — and trigger taxable income — if it’s provided as a substitute for compensation, or to attract new employees or boost staff morale.

What if you reimburse employees for their phones?
Instead of providing smartphones, you might consider reimbursing employees on a nontaxable basis for business use of their personal phones.

The IRS has indicated that it will analyze the reimbursement of employees’ expenses for their personal smartphones similarly to how they look at employer-provided phones. That is, reimbursements generally won’t be considered additional income or wages so long as three conditions are met: The employer has substantial business reasons for requiring employees to use their personal phones and reimbursing employees for doing so. The reimbursements are reasonably related to the needs of the employer’s operations and are reasonably calculated not to exceed the expenses that employees typically incur in maintaining their phones. The reimbursements aren’t a substitute for a portion of employees’ regular wages.

So, let’s say your company reimburses employees for a basic phone plan that charges a flat monthly rate for a specified number of minutes of domestic calls, and some of those minutes are used for personal calls. In such a case, the portion of the cost attributable to personal use can be deemed a nontaxable “de minimis” fringe benefit if all three requirements noted above are met.

Need help with the decision?
The IRS generally applies the rules described above to other “similar telecommunications equipment,” though it doesn’t define that phrase with absolute clarity. Nonetheless, tablet devices are presumably included. We can help you decide whether and how to address smartphones as part of your company’s fringe benefits.
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Trust and internal controls can coexist in your nonprofit

Within a period of just a month, a Minnesota woman was charged with skimming more than $300,000 from her animal rescue charity, a Florida man was charged with multiple felonies for running several charities for his personal benefit, and a New York man was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defrauding his trade association employer. Not-for-profit organizations have about a 9% chance of being defrauded, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Think of it this way: That’s almost one in 10.

Fortunately, strong internal controls can reduce your nonprofit’s risk. You may not think you need them, particularly if your leaders, staffers, volunteers and clients consider themselves to be one big happy family. But controls and trust can coexist.


Are your controls effective?
Internal controls are policies and procedures that govern everything from accepting cash to signing checks to training staff to keeping your IT network secure. Most nonprofits have at least a rudimentary set of internal controls, but dishonest employees and other criminals can usually find gaps in environments where controls aren’t thorough or adequately followed.

Why might nonprofits skimp on controls or enforcement? They may be so focused on programming that they don’t allocate enough budget dollars and other resources to fraud prevention. It’s not uncommon for executives or board members to indicate that fraud prevention is low on their priority list — probably because they underestimate their fraud risk.

Nonprofit boards may inadvertently enable fraud when they place too much trust in the executive director and fail to challenge that person’s financial representations. Unlike their for-profit counterparts, nonprofit board members may lack financial oversight experience.


Which controls are critical?
Some of the most common types of employee theft in nonprofit organizations are check tampering, expense reimbursement fraud and billing schemes. But proper segregation of duties — for example, assigning account reconciliation and fund depositing to different staff members — is a relatively easy and quite effective method of preventing such fraud. Strong management oversight and confidential fraud hotlines open to all stakeholders also have been proven to reduce employee theft.

Indeed, although you should trust staffers, you should also verify what they tell you. Conduct background checks on all prospective hires, as well as volunteers who’ll be handling money or financial records. Also, provide an orientation to new board members to ensure they have a clear understanding of their fiduciary role and the potential consequences of committing fraud.

Finally, handle fraud incidents seriously. Many nonprofits choose to quietly fire thieves and sweep their actions under the rug. But if an incident is hushed up, rumors could do more reputational damage than publicly addressing the issue head-on. It’s better to file a police report, consult an attorney and inform major stakeholders about the incident.


Do you trust too much?
Trust tends to be the biggest potential fraud weakness for nonprofits. Although it’s fine to regard your staff, volunteers and other stakeholders like family, you need to set guardrails. Contact us for help determining which controls you might lack and how to implement them.
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What businesses can expect from a green lease

With events related to climate change continuing to rock the news cycle, many business owners are looking for ways to lessen their companies’ negative environmental impact. One move you may want to consider, quite literally, is relocating to a commercial property with a “green lease.”

Increasing demand

Green leases are sometimes also known as “aligned,” “energy-efficient” or “high-performance” leases. Whatever the label, they generally use financial incentives to promote sustainable property management and energy usage. The leases typically include provisions related to cost recovery, submeters, data sharing and minimum efficiency standards. Done right, they can cut energy costs, conserve critical resources and improve building operations — offering benefits to property owners and tenants alike.

Businesses that sign on to green leases may gain several competitive advantages. Many customers and investors now prioritize visible commitments to environmentally friendly business practices. More and more job candidates do, too. Sustainability is particularly important to Millennials and members of Generation Z, who together now make up the largest subset of the U.S. workforce.
In addition, the pandemic boosted interest in so-called “healthy buildings,” which are often available through green leases. Healthy buildings feature more efficient lighting as well as pathogen-fighting heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. For example, they draw in fresh air, as opposed to recirculating indoor air. Some even use ultraviolet germicidal irradiation to kill bacteria and mold, as well as reduce the number of viral particles in the air.

A research study published by Harvard University in 2021 found that working in an office with higher air quality and better ventilation can raise employees’ cognitive functioning. Indeed, subjects’ decision-making performance improved when they were exposed to higher ventilation rates and lower chemical and carbon dioxide levels.


Lease provisions
If your company decides to explore environmentally friendly commercial properties, you’ll likely encounter standardized green leases. However, you may want to negotiate or at least double-check provisions regarding:
Certification. Many commercial properties are certified green under various standards, the most well-known of which is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The standards usually require periodic recertification. To ensure renewal, property owners may require commercial tenants to use sustainable design components, construction materials and office equipment.


Improvements. Property owners don’t want to jeopardize their buildings’ certifications with noncompliant tenant improvements. So, if you’ll likely want to substantially improve a property, you’ll need to ensure the project satisfies the relevant lease terms. In the event you install energy-saving improvements that benefit both you and the property owner, the lease should provide for how costs will be shared.


Renewable energy. If applicable, the lease should address how a conversion to a renewable energy source, such as solar panels, will be handled. For example, which party will be responsible for installation and maintenance? Who will receive any revenue from selling excess output to local utilities (where allowed)?
Green leases also may contain provisions related to:
  • HVAC system design and components,
  • Water usage,
  • Energy management and monitoring,
  • Irrigation and landscaping,
  • Air quality,
  • Lighting,
  • Waste management and recycling, and
  • Maintenance, including cleaning products used.
A lease may even include transportation components, such as requiring a tenant to provide bike racks or public transportation passes for employees.


Many positives
There are many positive reasons to consider signing a green lease. However, the costs of relocating and ongoing expenses related to the lease still must make sense for your business. We can assist you in analyzing the decision, including projecting the financial impact.
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Build a better nonprofit board with term limits

Are your not-for-profit’s board members subject to term limits? If not, you might want to consider implementing what’s widely considered a best practice.

Some board members lose enthusiasm for the job over time or might even become ineffective or disruptive. Negative attitudes at the board level can easily trickle down and harm your organization’s programs and initiatives, not to mention its financial health. Then there are the board members who invest so much time and energy in your nonprofit that they risk burnout. Term limits give all of these board members a way to make a graceful exit.


Pros and cons
One of the great advantages of term limits is that they can help your organization build a more diverse board over time. They allow you to add people with certain skills and perspectives (such as financial or political expertise) as needed and make it easier to ensure your board represents its community’s gender, racial, economic, religious and other diverse groups. And as board positions open up, you can expand your circle of invested stakeholders beyond the usual core group of volunteers.

Another advantage is that term limits preempt “power hoarding” issues that can occur when authority is concentrated in the hands of a small, entrenched group. Sometimes, such cliques intimidate new members, as well as staff, and block necessary change. Regular turnover provides opportunities to eliminate domineering personalities and improve group dynamics.

Also, term limits can help prevent insider fraud. It’s generally easier for long-term board members who know an organization’s ins and outs to override internal controls and hide fraudulent schemes.

Term limits could have some disadvantages, however, including potential loss of institutional knowledge, expertise and donations from both board members and their networks. You could lose significant volunteer hours, as well. Regular turnover also requires time and resources. You’ll need to regularly identify, recruit and train new members and work to build the cohesiveness required for collaboration.


Setting terms
If term limits sound like a good idea, you’ll need to establish rules. Don’t adopt terms that are too long because it could discourage new members from applying. On the other hand, terms that are too short don’t give members sufficient time to make meaningful contributions, at least if they’re combined with tight limits on the number of terms a member can serve. Short terms also mean holding frequent elections.

You might, for example, allow two consecutive three-year terms or a total of six years with a minimum one-year hiatus between terms. To reduce disruption, structure it so that only one-third of the board departs at a time. Consider conferring emeritus status or establishing advisory boards to keep these departing board members invested.


Amending bylaws
If you don’t already have term limits, you’ll need to amend your bylaws to establish them. 
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Why nonprofits should be transparent about compensation

More and more U.S. workers are calling for “pay transparency,” and not-for-profit employers need to listen — and act. Pay transparency is the idea that employers should openly share their compensation policies and practices with job candidates, current employees and the public. Many states and cities have already passed pay transparency laws. But even if you aren’t subject to such laws, consider disclosing pay ranges for specific positions and explaining how your organization calculates wages, raises and bonuses.


Employers and employees are on board

In its 2023 Compensation Best Practices Report, software and data company Payscale reported that 45% of employers now include pay ranges in their job postings. What’s more, 48% of organizations said that legislation is driving them to change compensation policies. In a different Payscale report, a majority of employers stated that compensation transparency, when analyzed in isolation, “decreases [worker] intent to quit by 30%.”

Surveys of employees, particularly younger workers, underline how important transparency is today. In a 2023 report, technology services company Symplicity revealed that 87% of Generation Z respondents thought that pay transparency was “important” or “very important,” and over half said they’d be discouraged from applying for a position if a salary range wasn’t publicized.


Providing rationalizations

But simply divulging compensation ranges in job listings isn’t enough. Your nonprofit also needs to clearly explain to job candidates how you determine pay and why the compensation you provide is competitive with that of other nonprofits (and, possibly, with what similar for-profit employers are offering).

Also explain what staffers need to do to receive raises — and what kinds of raises are realistic. Be as specific as possible and make sure you discuss the possibility of salary increases and job promotions with employees during their performance evaluations.


Comply or adopt voluntarily

If your state or municipality has passed laws regarding pay transparency, review your employment policies to ensure they’re in compliance. If no law applies, consider adopting these practices voluntarily. Pay policy disclosure can help you recruit serious job candidates in what remains a tight labor market. It can also help foster the kind of trusting and equitable work culture that most nonprofits strive to achieve.
If you’re unsure about how to set salary ranges, contact us. We can analyze internal and external data to determine your nonprofit’s ideal compensation targets.
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Could your business benefit from interim financial reporting?

When many business owners see the term “financial reporting,” they immediately think of their year-end financial statements. And, indeed, properly prepared financial statements generated at least once a year are critical.
But engaging in other types of financial reporting more frequently may help your company stay better attuned to the nuances of running a business in today’s inflationary and competitive environment.


Spot trends and trouble

Just how often your company should engage in what’s often referred to as “interim” financial reporting depends on factors such as its size, industry and operational complexity. Nevertheless, monthly, quarterly and midyear financial reports can enable you to spot trends and get early warnings of potential trouble.
For example, you might compare year-to-date revenue for 2023 against your annual budget. If your business isn’t growing or achieving its goals, find out why. Perhaps you need to provide additional sales incentives or change your marketing strategy.

It’s also important to more closely track costs in light of the current level of inflation. If your business is starting to lose money, you might need to consider raising prices or cutting discretionary spending. You could, for instance, temporarily scale back on your hours of operation, reduce travel expenses or implement a hiring freeze.

Your balance sheet is important as well. Reviewing major categories of assets and liabilities can help you detect working capital problems before they spiral out of control. For example, a buildup of accounts receivable could signal troubles with collections. A low stock of key inventory items may foreshadow delayed shipments and customer complaints, signaling an urgent need to find alternative suppliers. Or, if your company is drawing heavily on its line of credit, your operations might not be generating sufficient cash flow.


Don’t panic

If interim financial reports do uncover inconsistencies, they may not indicate a major crisis. Some anomalies might be attributable to more informal accounting practices that are common during the calendar year. Typically, either your accounting staff or CPA can correct these items before year-end financial statements are issued.

For instance, some controllers might liberally interpret period “cutoffs” or use subjective estimates for certain account balances and expenses. In addition, interim financial reports typically exclude costly year-end expenses, such as profit sharing and shareholder bonuses. The interim reports, therefore, tend to paint a rosier picture of a company’s performance than its full year-end financial statements.
Furthermore, many companies perform time-consuming physical inventory counts exclusively at year end. So, the inventory amount shown on the interim balance sheet might be based solely on computer inventory schedules or, in some instances, management’s estimate using historic gross margins.

Similarly, accounts receivable may be overstated because overworked finance managers might lack the time or personnel to adequately evaluate whether the interim balance contains any bad debts.


Glean more insights
Many business owners have had an “aha moment” or two when studying their year-end financial statements. Why not glean those insights more often? We can help you decide how frequently to engage in interim financial reporting and assist you in designing the reports that provide the information you need.
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Reviewing and adjusting your marketing strategy

As summer slips away and fall shuffles forth, business owners and their leadership teams might want to take a look at the overall marketing strategy they’ve pursued this year. How’s yours doing? It may not be entirely too late to make some adjustments to ensure your sales numbers wind up where you want them.


What success looks like

The simple question you might ask regarding your marketing strategy is, “What are we trying to accomplish, and can we still get there?” (Okay, maybe that’s two questions.) Determine as specifically as possible what marketing success should look like this year.
If the goal is indeed to increase sales, what metrics are you using to calculate whether you’ve achieved adequate growth? You should be able to lay out these metrics in a report or chart to help you determine whether your money has been well spent so far.

Many companies divide their marketing efforts between recurring activities and “one off” or ad-hoc initiatives. For example, they invest in advertising on certain websites, social media platforms, or in a magazine or newspaper. Then they look for special opportunities, such as a local festival or annual trade show. You should have data indicating whether these initiatives are paying off, too.

Fine tune your efforts going forward by comparing inflows to outflows from various types of marketing. Will you be able to create a revenue inflow from sales that at least matches, if not exceeds, the outflow of marketing dollars?


Tracking methods

It’s imperative to track sources of new business, as well as leads and customers. Be sure your staff is asking new customers how they heard about your company. This one simple question can provide invaluable information about which aspects of your marketing strategy are generating the most leads.

Further, once you’ve discovered a lead or new customer, ensure that you maintain contact with the person or business. Letting leads and customers fall through the cracks will undermine your marketing efforts. If you haven’t already, explore (or upgrade) customer relationship management software to help you better track and analyze key data points.
In addition to generating leads, marketing can help improve brand awareness. Although an increase in brand awareness may not immediately translate to increased sales, it tends to do so over time. Identify ways to measure the impact of marketing efforts on your business’s brand. Possibilities include customer surveys, website traffic data and social media interaction metrics.


It can pay off

Sometimes business owners look at marketing as a sunk cost. You know you’ve got to allocate dollars to it, but the results may seem random and unpredictable. By refining your approach and tracking the right metrics, however, you can help ensure that your marketing strategy pays off. We can assist you in analyzing your marketing costs and picking the right ways to measure this mission-critical activity.
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Make fundraising a year-round commitment

If your not-for-profit focuses all of its fundraising energy on the holiday season and end of the year, it’s not misguided. After all, 26% of charitable giving to nonprofits occurs in December, according to the 2023 M+R Benchmarks Study. But that means almost three quarters of annual donations need to be obtained during the rest of the year. Even if your December haul is much greater, you still risk experiencing cash shortfalls.
The best way to make fundraising an ongoing process with strategies you can use any time of the year is to build a fundraising plan.


It takes a team

The first step to a solid fundraising plan is to form a fundraising committee. This should consist of board members, your executive director and other key staffers. You may also want to include major donors and active community members.
Committee members need to start by reviewing past fundraising sources and approaches and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Even if your overall fundraising efforts have been less than successful, some sources and approaches may still be worth keeping. Next, brainstorm new donation sources and methods and select those with the greatest fundraising potential.
As part of your plan, outline the roles you expect board members to play in fundraising efforts. For example, in addition to making their own donations, they can be crucial links to corporate and individual supporters.


A flexible plan

Once the committee has developed a plan for where to seek funds and how to ask for them, it’s time to create a fundraising budget that includes operating expenses, staff costs and volunteer projections. After the plan and budget have board approval, develop an action plan for achieving each objective and assign tasks to specific individuals.

Most important, once you’ve set your plan in motion, don’t let it sit on the shelf. Regularly evaluate the plan and be ready to adapt it to organizational changes and unexpected situations. Although you’ll want to give new fundraising initiatives time to succeed, don’t be afraid to cut your losses if it’s obvious an approach isn’t working.


Get going now

Perhaps you’re gearing up for your year-end campaign (most nonprofits start planning in September or October). That doesn’t mean you should wait until the new year to build a more comprehensive fundraising plan. Your organization’s cash flow depends on steady income, so the sooner you put a plan in place, the better. Contact us for more information.
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Nonprofits: Special events call for tax planning

Tax reporting may be the last thing on your mind when planning a special fundraising event. But your not-for-profit should carefully track revenues and expenses and retain related documentation now to facilitate the reporting process later. Pay attention to the following issues.


What to report

Tax reporting for an event may require different — and more — information than financial statement reporting does. If your organization adheres to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), you usually must report revenue and expenses related to special events on your financial statements as special event revenue. For tax purposes, though, your organization may be able to report some of the event ticket revenue as contributions. For example, if attendees pay more for a ticket to a dinner than the dinner’s fair market value (FMV), the excess would be a contribution.

Tax reporting can require more granular information, too. You report special event data on IRS Form 990, “Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.” If you’re reporting more than $15,000 in fundraising event gross income and contributions, you also need to complete Schedule G, “Supplemental Information Regarding Fundraising or Gaming Activities.”

Schedule G requires you to report amounts for cash prizes, noncash prizes, facilities rental, food and beverages, and entertainment. If your event includes gaming, you’ll have to answer a series of multi-part questions on Schedule G, too. In addition, you’ll need to allocate income and expenses between the gaming and fundraising event on Form 990.


How to handle donations and donors

Nonprofits often rely on donated services or facilities, as well as the work of volunteers. Although GAAP generally requires nonprofits to record such in-kind contributions and sometimes the value of volunteer time, the IRS doesn’t include them in contributions or expenses. Goods donated for an event, on the other hand, are reported as contribution revenue and, when used, as expenses.
Be sure to provide donors with information about the tax benefits they receive from participating in a special event. They might not be aware that their deductible contributions are reduced by the FMV of the benefit they receive. It’s generally up to you to report the value donors receive in a written statement, reminding them to deduct only the excess of their payment over the FMV.

Specifically, you must provide the disclosure for payments of more than $75. Note that it’s the initial payment amount that triggers the obligation — not the amount of the deductible portion. Failure to make the disclosure can result in a penalty of $10 per contribution, up to $5,000 per fundraising event.
Even if it’s not legally required, you should routinely provide special event participants with a statement of the benefits they receive. You’ll make it easier for them at tax time, which could result in the kind of goodwill that leads to future support.


When to start organizing

Although it may seem like more work, planning for tax reporting while you’re still in the early stages of your event preparation will pay dividends later. If you need help collecting data or complying with IRS rules, contact us.
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Avoid succession drama with a buy-sell agreement

Recently, the critically acclaimed television show “Succession” aired its final episode. If the series accomplished anything, it was depicting the chaos and uncertainty that can take place if a long-time business owner fails to establish a clearly written and communicated succession plan.
While there are many aspects to succession planning, one way to put some clear steps in writing — particularly if your company has multiple owners — is to draft a buy-sell agreement.


Avoiding conflicts

A “buy-sell,” as it’s often called for short, is essentially a contract that lays out the terms and conditions under which the owners of a business, or the business itself, can buy out an owner’s interest if a “triggering event” occurs. Such events typically include an owner dying, becoming disabled, getting divorced or deciding to leave the company.

If an owner dies, for example, a buy-sell can help prevent conflicts — and even litigation — between surviving owners and a deceased owner’s heirs. In addition, it helps ensure that surviving owners don’t become unwitting co-owners with a deceased owner’s spouse who may have little knowledge of the business or interest in participating in it.

A buy-sell also spells out how ownership interests are valued. For instance, the agreement may set a predetermined share price or include a formula for valuing the company that’s used upon a triggering event, such as an owner’s death or disability. Or it may call for the remaining owners to engage a business valuation specialist to estimate fair market value.

By facilitating the orderly transition of a deceased, disabled or otherwise departing owner’s interest, a buy-sell helps ensure a smooth transfer of control to the remaining owners or an outside buyer.
This minimizes uncertainty for all parties involved. Remaining owners can rest assured that they’ll retain ownership control without outside interference. The departing owner, or in some cases that person’s spouse and heirs, know they’ll be fairly compensated for the ownership interest in question. And employees will feel better about the company’s long-term stability, which may boost morale and retention.

Funding the agreement

There are several ways to fund a buy-sell. The simplest approach is to create a “sinking fund” into which owners make contributions that can be used to buy a departing owner’s shares. Or remaining owners can simply borrow money to purchase ownership shares.
However, there are potential complications with both options. That’s why many companies turn to life insurance and disability buyout insurance as a funding mechanism. Upon a triggering event, such a policy will provide cash that can be used to buy the deceased owner’s interest. There are two main types of buy-sells funded by life insurance:

1. Cross-purchase agreements. Here, each owner buys life insurance on the others. The proceeds are used to purchase the departing owner’s interest.

2. Entity-purchase agreements. In this case, the business buys life insurance policies on each owner. Policy proceeds are then used to purchase an owner’s interest following a triggering event. With fewer ownership interests outstanding, the remaining owners effectively own a higher percentage of the company.
A cross-purchase agreement tends to work better for businesses with only two or three owners. Conversely, an entity-purchase agreement is often a good choice when there are more than three owners because of the cost and complexity of owners having to buy so many different life insurance policies.

Getting expert guidance
Creating, administering and executing a buy-sell agreement calls for expert assistance. Our firm can help you identify, gather and organize the relevant financial information involved.
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Hiring family members can offer tax advantages (but be careful)

Summertime can mean hiring time for many types of businesses. With legions of working-age kids and college students out of school, and some spouses of business owners looking for part-time or seasonal work, companies may have a much deeper hiring pool to dive into this time of year.
If you’re considering hiring your children or spouse, there could be some tax advantages in play. However, you’ll need to be careful about following the IRS rules.


Employing your kids

Children who work for the business of a parent are subject to income tax withholding regardless of age. If the company is a partnership or corporation, children’s wages are also subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes (commonly known as FICA taxes) and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) taxes — unless each partner is a parent of the child.

However, substantial savings are possible for a business that’s a sole proprietorship or a partnership in which each partner is a parent of the child-employee. In such cases:
  • Children under age 18 aren’t subject to FICA or FUTA taxes, and
  • Children who are 18 to 20 years old are subject to FICA taxes but not FUTA taxes.
As you can see, substantial tax savings may be in the offing depending on your child’s age. Avoiding FICA or FUTA taxes, or both, means more money in your pocket and that of your child.

It’s also worth noting that children generally are taxed at lower rates than their parents. Moreover, a child’s income can be offset partially or completely by the child’s standard deduction ($13,850 for single taxpayers in 2023). If your child earns less than the standard deduction, income is tax-free for the child on top of being deductible for the business.


Hiring your spouse

When your spouse goes to work for your business, that individual’s wages are subject to income tax withholding and FICA taxes — but not FUTA taxes. Employers generally must pay 6% of an employee’s first $7,000 in earnings as the FUTA tax, subject to tax credits for state unemployment taxes paid. Thus, you’ll save the money you’d otherwise spend for a nonspouse employee’s FUTA taxes.
It’s important that your spouse is treated and compensated as an employee. When spouses run a business together, and they share in profits and losses, the IRS may deem them partners — even in the absence of a formal partnership agreement.
You also may reap some savings from hiring your spouse if you’re a sole proprietor and have a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). Your family can receive tax-free reimbursement from the business for medical expenses, and the business can deduct the reimbursements — reducing your income and self-employment taxes. HRA reimbursements aren’t subject to FICA taxes and the plan itself is a tax-free fringe benefit for your spouse. Do note, however, that this strategy isn’t available if you have other employees.


Handling it properly

Whether you decide to hire a child or spouse, or both, you’ll need to step carefully. Assign them actual job duties, pay them a reasonable amount, and keep thorough employment records (including timesheets as well as IRS Forms W-4 and I-9). Essentially, treat them as you would any other employee. Our firm can help you handle the situation properly.
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Are your nonprofit’s interim and year-end financial statements at odds?

Using the cash basis of accounting may make sense for your not-for-profit organization — at least at this stage. Many smaller nonprofits use the cash basis to prepare their financial statements because it’s generally quick, easy and intuitive and can alert them to current cash flow challenges. However, there’s a potential problem with cash basis accounting: It can require year-end adjustments. Let’s look at the issue.


Easy and intuitive method

Under cash basis accounting, income is recognized when you receive payments and expenses are recognized when you pay them. The cash “ins” and “outs” are totaled, generally by accounting software, to produce the internal financial statements and trial balance you use to prepare periodic statements.
The simplicity of this accounting method comes at a price, however: Accounts receivable (income you’re owed but haven’t yet received, such as pledges) and accounts payable and accrued expenses (expenses you’ve incurred but haven’t yet paid) don’t exist.

The result is that if your nonprofit periodically prepares internal financial statements for your board, your auditors may propose adjustments to these interim statements at year end. Why do auditors do this? Generally, it’s to reflect differences due to cash basis vs. accrual basis financial statements.


A truer picture

With accrual accounting, accounts receivable, accounts payable and other accrued expenses are recognized when they occur, allowing your financial statements to be a truer picture of your organization at any point in time. If a donor pledges money, you recognize it when it’s pledged rather than waiting until you receive the money — which could be next month or even next year.
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) require the use of accrual accounting and recognition of contributions as income when promised. Often, year-end audited financial statements are prepared on a GAAP basis. Larger nonprofits and charities with diverse funding sources typically use accrual accounting. Also, some charities are required by their funders to use it.
Note that internal and year-end statements can differ for reasons other than accounting method. For example, auditors may propose adjusting certain entries if, for example, your organization is party to a lawsuit for which there’s a reasonable estimate of the amount to be received or paid.


Minimize disparities

Disparities between monthly or quarterly and year-end financial statements can be confusing and inconvenient. Regardless of your accounting method, you can reduce such occurrences by using software suited to your nonprofit’s specific needs. Contact us for software recommendations and help with accounting estimates.
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Should your business add a PTO buying feature to its cafeteria plan?

With the pandemic behind us and a red-hot summer in full swing, many of your company’s employees may be finally rediscovering the uninhibited joys of vacation.

Your workers might be having so much fun, in fact, that they might highly value being able to buy even more paid time off (PTO) as an employee benefit. Such a perk could also catch the attention of job candidates. Well, it’s all possible if your business sponsors a cafeteria plan (sometimes referred to as a Section 125 plan).


Compliance requirements

A “PTO buying” feature under a cafeteria plan allows employees to prospectively elect, during the annual open enrollment period before the beginning of each plan year, to buy additional PTO beyond that which they’d otherwise receive from their employer. These purchases typically occur via salary reductions or flex credits.
The rules for PTO buying under a cafeteria plan are complex, but let’s review a couple of the most critical compliance requirements. First, the PTO buying feature must not defer compensation from one plan year to the next. This means that PTO bought under the cafeteria plan generally must be used, cashed out or forfeited by the end of the plan year. Employees can’t carry over the PTO for use in a later plan year.

If you opt to permit employees to cash out unused PTO at the end of the plan year, you’ll need to clearly inform them that these dollars will be included in their taxable income. Employers can also choose to set up the plan feature so that employees simply forfeit unused PTO when the plan year ends. However, before going this route, you should check into whether your state’s laws restrict such forfeitures.

Second, something called the “ordering rule” applies. The IRS refers to additional PTO bought through a cafeteria plan as “elective” PTO. The ordering rule requires employees to use nonelective PTO before elective PTO. Thus, they can use their purchased PTO only after exhausting all PTO earned under normal compensation.
The practical consequence of the ordering rule is that employees must expend all their PTO — whether elective or nonelective — to prevent a cash-out or forfeiture of any elective PTO at the end of the plan year. Thus, a PTO buying feature under a cafeteria plan may not be a good fit for businesses with PTO policies that allow employees to carry over unused nonelective PTO to future years. And, again, a buying feature might conflict with state laws that prohibit forfeiture of unused PTO.


An appealing benefit.

Being able to buy additional PTO may not only be an appealing way to give employees more “beach time,” but also (and on a more serious note) a means of giving staff members more flexibility to care for their mental health. However, as mentioned, the rules involved are complex, so you’ll need to design and manage this cafeteria-plan feature carefully. Contact us for further information and assistance.
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The advantages of using an LLC for your small business

If you operate your small business as a sole proprietorship, you may have thought about forming a limited liability company (LLC) to protect your assets. Or maybe you’re launching a new business and want to know your options for setting it up. Here are the basics of operating as an LLC and why it might be a good choice for your business.

An LLC is a bit of a hybrid entity because it can be structured to resemble a corporation for owner liability purposes and a partnership for federal tax purposes. This duality may provide the owners with the best of both worlds.


Protecting your personal assets
Like the shareholders of a corporation, the owners of an LLC (called “members” rather than shareholders or partners) generally aren’t liable for the debts of the business except to the extent of their investment. Thus, the owners can operate the business with the security of knowing that their personal assets are protected from the entity’s creditors. This protection is much greater than that afforded by partnerships. In a partnership, the general partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. Even limited partners, if they actively participate in managing the business, can have personal liability.


Tax issues
The owners of an LLC can elect under the “check-the-box” rules to have the entity treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. This can provide a number of benefits to the owners. For example, partnership earnings aren’t subject to an entity-level tax. Instead, they “flow through” to the owners, in proportion to the owners’ respective interests in profits, and are reported on the owners’ individual returns and taxed only once.

To the extent the income passed through to you is qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the Section 199A pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. (However, keep in mind that the pass-through deduction is temporary. It’s available through 2025, unless Congress acts to extend it.)

In addition, since you’re actively managing the business, you can deduct on your individual tax return your ratable shares of any losses the business generates. This, in effect, allows you to shelter other income that you (and your spouse, if you’re married) may have.

An LLC that’s taxable as a partnership can provide special allocations of tax benefits to specific partners. This can be a notable reason for using an LLC over an S corporation (a form of business that provides tax treatment that’s similar to a partnership). Another reason for using an LLC over an S corp is that LLCs aren’t subject to the restrictions the federal tax code imposes on S corps regarding the number of owners and the types of ownership interests that may be issued.


Consider all angles
In conclusion, an LLC can give you corporate-like protection from creditors while providing the benefits of taxation as a partnership. For these reasons, you may want to consider operating your business as an LLC. Contact us to discuss in more detail how an LLC might be an appropriate choice for you and the other owners.
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Retirement account catch-up contributions can add up 

If you’re age 50 or older, you can probably make extra “catch-up” contributions to your tax-favored retirement account(s). It is worth the trouble? Yes! Here are the rules of the road.

The deal with IRAs

Eligible taxpayers can make extra catch-up contributions of up to $1,000 annually to a traditional or Roth IRA. If you’ll be 50 or older as of December 31, 2023, you can make a catch-up contribution for the 2023 tax year by April 15, 2024.
Extra deductible contributions to a traditional IRA create tax savings, but your deduction may be limited if you (or your spouse) are covered by a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds certain levels.

Extra contributions to Roth IRAs don’t generate any up-front tax savings, but you can take federal-income-tax-free qualified withdrawals after age 59½. There are also income limits on Roth contributions.
Higher-income individuals can make extra nondeductible traditional IRA contributions and benefit from the tax-deferred earnings advantage.


How company plans stack up

You also have to be age 50 or older to make extra salary-reduction catch-up contributions to an employer 401(k), 403(b), or 457 retirement plan — assuming the plan allows them and you signed up. You can make extra contributions of up to $7,500 to these accounts for 2023. Check with your human resources department to see how to sign up for extra contributions.
Salary-reduction contributions are subtracted from your taxable wages, so you effectively get a federal income tax deduction. You can use the resulting tax savings to help pay for part of your extra catch-up contribution, or you can set the tax savings aside in a taxable retirement savings account to further increase your retirement wealth.


Tally the amounts

Here’s the proof of how much you can accumulate.

IRAs
Let’s say you’re age 50 and you contribute an extra $1,000 catch-up contribution to your IRA this year and then do the same for the following 15 years. Here’s how much extra you could have in your IRA by age 65 (rounded to the nearest $1,000).
4% Annual Return 6% Annual Return 8% Annual Return $22,000 $26,000 $30,000
Remember: Making larger deductible contributions to a traditional IRA can also lower your tax bills. Making additional contributions to a Roth IRA won’t, but you can take more tax-free withdrawals later in life.

Company plans
Say you’ll turn age 50 next year. You contribute an extra $7,500 to your company plan next year. Then, you do the same for the next 15 years. Here’s how much more you could have in your 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan account (rounded to the nearest $1,000).
4% Annual Return 6% Annual Return 8% Annual Return $164,000 $193,000 $227,000
Again, making larger contributions can also lower your tax bill.

Both IRA and company plans
Finally, let’s say you’ll turn age 50 next year. If you’re eligible, you contribute an extra $1,000 to your IRA for next year plus you make an extra $7,500 contribution to your company plan. Then, you do the same for the next 15 years. Here’s how much extra you could have in the two accounts combined (rounded to the nearest $1,000).
4% Annual Return 6% Annual Return 8% Annual Return $186,000 $219,000 $257,000


Make retirement more golden

As you can see, making extra catch-up contributions can add up to some pretty big numbers by the time you retire. If your spouse can make them too, you can potentially accumulate even more. Contact us if you have questions or want more information.
 
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Use an S corporation to mitigate federal employment tax bills

If you own an unincorporated small business, you probably don’t like the size of your self-employment (SE) tax bills. No wonder!

For 2023, the SE tax is imposed at the painfully high rate of 15.3% on the first $160,200 of net SE income. This includes 12.4% for Social Security tax and 2.9% for Medicare tax. The $160,200 Social Security tax ceiling is up from the $147,000 ceiling for 2022, and it’s only going to get worse in future years, thanks to inflation. Above the Social Security tax ceiling, the Medicare tax component of the SE tax continues at a 2.9% rate before increasing to 3.8% at higher levels of net SE income thanks to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax, on all income.


The S corp advantage

For wages paid in 2023 to an S corporation employee, including an employee who also happens to be a shareholder, the FICA tax wage withholding rate is 7.65% on the first $160,200 of wages: 6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax. Above $160,200, the FICA tax wage withholding rate drops to 1.45% because the Social Security tax component is no longer imposed. But the 1.45% Medicare tax wage withholding hits compensation no matter how much you earn, and the rate increases to 2.35% at higher compensation levels thanks to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax.

An S corporation employer makes matching payments except for the 0.9% Additional Medicare tax, which only falls on the employee. Therefore, the combined employee and employer FICA tax rate for the Social Security tax is 12.4%, and the combined rate for the Medicare tax is 2.9%, increasing to 3.8% at higher compensation levels — same as the corresponding SE tax rates.

Note: In this article, we’ll refer to the Social Security and Medicare taxes collectively as federal employment taxes whether paid as SE tax for self-employed folks or FICA tax for employees.


Strategy: Become an S corporation

While wages paid to an S corporation shareholder-employee get hit with federal employment taxes, any remaining S corp taxable income that’s passed through to the employee-shareholder is exempt from federal employment taxes. The same is true for cash distributions paid out to a shareholder-employee. Since passed-through S corporation taxable income increases the tax basis of a shareholder-employee’s stock, distributions of corporate cash flow are usually free from federal income tax.

In appropriate circumstances, an S corp can follow the tax-saving strategy of paying modest, but justifiable, salaries to shareholder-employees. At the same time, it can pay out most or all of the remaining corporate cash flow in the form of federal-employment-tax-free shareholder distributions. In contrast, an owner’s share of net taxable income from a sole proprietorship, partnership and LLC (treated as a partnership for tax purposes) is generally subject to the full ravages of the SE tax.


Potential negative side effect

Running your business as an S corporation and paying modest salaries to the shareholder-employee(s) may mean reduced capacity to make deductible contributions to tax-favored retirement accounts. For example, if an S corporation maintains a SEP, the maximum annual deductible contribution for a shareholder-employee is limited to 25% of salary. So the lower the salary, the lower the maximum contribution. However, if the S corp sets up a 401(k) plan, paying modest salaries generally won’t preclude generous contributions.


Other implications

Converting an unincorporated business into an S corporation has other legal and tax implications. It’s a big decision. We can explain all the issues.
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That email or text from the IRS: It’s a scam! 

“Thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams,” according to the IRS. The scams may come in through email, text messages, telephone calls or regular mail. Criminals regularly target both individuals and businesses and often prey on the elderly.

Important: The IRS will never contact you by email, text or social media channels about a tax bill or refund. Most IRS contacts are first made through regular mail. So if you get a text message saying it’s the IRS and asking for your Social Security number, it’s someone trying to steal your identity and rob you. Remember that the IRS already has your Social Security number.

“Scammers are coming up with new ways all the time to try to steal information from taxpayers,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel. “People should be wary and avoid sharing sensitive personal data over the phone, email or social media to avoid getting caught up in these scams.”
Here are some of the crimes the IRS has identified in recent months:

Email messages and texts that infect recipients’ computers and phones. In this scam, a phony email claims to come from the IRS. The subject line of the email often states that the message is a notice of underreported income or a refund. There may be an attachment or a link to a bogus web page with your “tax statement.” When you open the attachment or click on the link, a Trojan horse virus is downloaded to your computer.
The trojan horse is an example of malicious code (also known as malware) that can take over your computer hard drive, giving someone remote access to the computer. It may also look for passwords and other information. The scammer will then use whatever information is gathered to commit identity theft, gain access to bank accounts and more.

Phishing and spear phishing messages. Emails or text messages that are designed to get users to provide personal information are called phishing. Spear phishing is a tailored phishing attempt sent to a specific organization or business department.
For example, one spear phishing scam targets employees who work in payroll departments. These employees might get an email that looks like it comes from an official source, such as the company CEO, requesting W-2 forms for all employees. The payroll employees might erroneously reply with these documents, which then provides criminals with personal information about the staff that can be used to commit fraud.
The IRS recommends using a two-person review process if you receive a request for W-2s. In addition, employers should require any requests for payroll to be submitted through an official process, like the employer’s human resources portal.

Scams keep evolving
These are only a few examples of the types of tax scams circulating. Be on guard for any suspicious messages. Don’t open attachments or click on links. Contact us if you get an email about a tax return we prepared. You can also report suspicious emails that claim to come from the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. Those who believe they may already be victims of identity theft should find out what do by going to the Federal Trade Commission’s website, OnGuardOnLine.gov.
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The best way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare 

The IRS recently released its audit statistics for the 2022 fiscal year and fewer taxpayers had their returns examined as compared with prior years. But even though a small percentage of returns are being chosen for audits these days, that will be little consolation if yours is one of them.


Recent statistics

Overall, just 0.49% of individual tax returns were audited in 2022. However, as in the past, those with higher incomes were audited at higher rates. For example, 8.5% of returns of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of $10 million or more were audited as of the end of FY 2022.

However, audits are expected to be on the rise in coming months because the Biden administration has made it a priority to go after high-income taxpayers who don’t pay what they legally owe. In any event, the IRS will examine thousands of returns this year. With proper planning, you may fare well even if you’re one of the unfortunate ones.


Be ready

The easiest way to survive an IRS examination is to prepare in advance. On a regular basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts or other proof — for all items reported on your tax returns.
Keep in mind that if you’re chosen, it’s possible you didn’t do anything wrong. Just because a return is selected for audit doesn’t mean that an error was made. Some returns are randomly selected based on statistical formulas. For example, IRS computers compare income and deductions on returns with what other taxpayers report. If an individual deducts a charitable contribution that’s significantly higher than what others with similar incomes report, the IRS may want to know why.

Returns can also be selected if they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers who were previously selected for audit, such as business partners or investors.

The government generally has three years from when a tax return is filed to conduct an audit, and often the exam won’t begin until a year or more after you file a return.


Tax return complexity

The scope of an audit generally depends on whether it’s simple or complex. A return reflecting business or real estate income and expenses will obviously take longer to examine than a return with only salary income.

In FY 2022, most examinations (78.6%) were “correspondence audits” conducted by mail. The rest were face-to-face audits conducted at an IRS office or “field audits” at the taxpayers’ homes, businesses, or accountants’ offices.

Important: Even if you’re chosen, an IRS examination may be nothing to lose sleep over. In many cases, the IRS asks for proof of certain items and routinely “closes” the audit after the documentation is presented.


Get professional help

It’s prudent to have a tax professional represent you at an audit. A tax pro knows the issues that the IRS is likely to scrutinize and can prepare accordingly. In addition, a professional knows that in many instances IRS auditors will take a position (for example, to disallow certain deductions) even though courts and other guidance have expressed contrary opinions on the issues. Because pros can point to the proper authority, the IRS may be forced to concede on certain issues.
Contact us if you receive an IRS audit letter or simply want to improve your recordkeeping.
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The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty: Who can it be personally assessed against?

If you own or manage a business with employees, there’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be at risk for paying personally. The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (TFRP) applies to Social Security and income taxes that are withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.


Sweeping penalty

The TFRP is dangerous because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.
Here are some answers to questions about the penalty:


What actions are penalized?

The TFRP applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.

Why is it so harsh? 

Taxes are considered the government’s property. The IRS explains that Social Security and income taxes “are called trust fund taxes because you actually hold the employee’s money in trust until you make a federal tax deposit in that amount.”
The penalty is sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person found liable is personally penalized 100% of the taxes due. The amounts the IRS seeks are usually substantial and the IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.

Who’s at risk? 
The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collecting and paying tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors and shareholders, a partnership’s partners and any employee with related duties. In some circumstances, voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations have been subject to this penalty. In other cases, responsibility has been extended to professional advisors and family members close to the business.

According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay withheld taxes and have the power to pay them, you become a responsible person. Although taxpayers held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken entirely on their own after the TFRP is paid.

What’s considered willful? 
There doesn’t have to be an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Failing to do the job yourself can be treated as willful.

Recent cases

Here are two cases that illustrate the risks. A U.S. Appeals Court held a hospital administrator liable for the TFRP. The administrator was responsible for payroll, as well as signing and reviewing checks. She also knew that the financially troubled hospital wasn’t paying withheld taxes to the IRS. Instead of prioritizing paying taxes, she paid vendors and employees’ wages. (Cashaw, CA 5, 5/31/23) A corporation owner’s daughter/corporate officer was assessed a $680,472 TFRP for unpaid payroll taxes. She argued that she wasn’t a responsible party. She owned no stock and couldn’t hire and fire employees. But she did have the power to write checks and pay vendors and was aware of the unpaid taxes. A U.S. Appeals Court found the “great weight of evidence” indicated she was a responsible party and the TFRP was upheld. (Scott, CA 11, 10/31/22)


Best advice

Under no circumstances should you “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds withheld should be paid over to the government on time. Contact us with any questions.
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2023 Q3 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2023. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.


July 31
 
  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2023 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See the exception below, under “August 10.”)
  • File a 2022 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.
August 10
 
  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2023 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
September 15
 
  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2023 estimated income taxes.
  • If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2022 income tax return (Form 1120-S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2022 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
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Advantages and disadvantages of claiming big first-year real estate depreciation deductions

Your business may be able to claim big first-year depreciation tax deductions for eligible real estate expenditures rather than depreciate them over several years. But should you? It’s not as simple as it may seem.


Qualified improvement property

For qualifying assets placed in service in tax years beginning in 2023, the maximum allowable first-year Section 179 depreciation deduction is $1.16 million. Importantly, the Sec. 179 deduction can be claimed for real estate qualified improvement property (QIP), up to the maximum annual allowance.
QIP includes any improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that’s placed in service after the date the building is placed in service. For Sec. 179 deduction purposes, QIP also includes HVAC systems, nonresidential building roofs, fire protection and alarm systems and security systems that are placed in service after the building is first placed in service.

However, expenditures attributable to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, or the building’s internal structural framework don’t count as QIP and must be depreciated over several years.


Mind the limitations

A taxpayer’s Sec. 179 deduction can’t cause an overall business tax loss, and the maximum deduction is phased out if too much qualifying property is placed in service in the tax year. The Sec. 179 deduction limitation rules can get tricky if you own an interest in a pass-through business entity (partnership, LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes, or S corporation). Finally, trusts and estates can’t claim Sec. 179 deductions, and noncorporate lessors face additional restrictions. We can give you full details.


First-year bonus depreciation for QIP

Beyond the Sec. 179 deduction, 80% first-year bonus depreciation is also available for QIP that’s placed in service in calendar year 2023. If your objective is to maximize first-year write-offs, you’d claim the Sec. 179 deduction first. If you max out on that, then you’d claim 80% first-year bonus depreciation.

Note that for first-year bonus depreciation purposes, QIP doesn’t include nonresidential building roofs, HVAC systems, fire protection and alarm systems, or security systems.


Consider depreciating QIP over time
Here are two reasons why you should think twice before claiming big first-year depreciation deductions for QIP.


1. Lower-taxed gain when property is sold

First-year Sec. 179 deductions and bonus depreciation claimed for QIP can create depreciation recapture that’s taxed at higher ordinary income rates when the QIP is sold. Under current rules, the maximum individual rate on ordinary income is 37%, but you may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
On the other hand, for QIP held for more than one year, gain attributable to straight-line depreciation is taxed at an individual federal rate of only 25%, plus the 3.8% NIIT if applicable.


2. Write-offs may be worth more in the future

When you claim big first-year depreciation deductions for QIP, your depreciation deductions for future years are reduced accordingly. If federal income tax rates go up in future years, you’ll have effectively traded potentially more valuable future-year depreciation write-offs for less-valuable first-year write-offs.
As you can see, the decision to claim first-year depreciation deductions for QIP, or not claim them, can be complicated. Consult with us before making depreciation choices.
© 2023
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Reduce the impact of the 3.8% net investment income tax

High-income taxpayers face a regular income tax rate of 35% or 37%. And they may also have to pay a 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) that’s imposed in addition to regular income tax. Fortunately, there are some ways you may be able to reduce its impact.


Affected taxpayers

The NIIT applies to you only if modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds:
  • $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and surviving spouses,
  • $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately,
  • $200,000 for unmarried taxpayers and heads of household.
The amount subject to the tax is the lesser of your net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold ($250,000, $200,000, or $125,000) that applies to you.
Net investment income includes interest, dividend, annuity, royalty and rental income, unless those items were derived in the ordinary course of an active trade or business. In addition, other gross income from a trade or business that’s a passive activity is subject to the NIIT, as is income from a business trading in financial instruments or commodities.

There are many types of income that are exempt from the NIIT. For example, tax-exempt interest and the excluded gain from the sale of your main home aren’t subject to the tax. Distributions from qualified retirement plans aren’t subject to the NIIT. Neither are Social Security benefits. Wages and self-employment income also aren’t subject to the NIIT, though they may be subject to a different Medicare surtax.

It’s important to remember the NIIT applies only if you have net investment income and your MAGI exceeds the applicable thresholds above. But by following strategies, you may be able to minimize your net investment income.


Shifting investments

If your income is high enough to trigger the NIIT, shifting some income investments to tax-exempt bonds could result in less exposure to the tax. Tax-exempt bonds lower your MAGI and avoid the NIIT.

Dividend-paying stocks are taxed more heavily as a result of the NIIT. The maximum income tax rate on qualified dividends is 20%, but the rate becomes 23.8% with the NIIT.

As a result, you may want to consider rebalancing your investment portfolio to emphasize growth stocks over dividend-paying stocks. While the capital gains from these investments will be included in net investment income, there are two potential benefits: 1) the tax will be deferred because the capital gains won’t be subject to the NIIT until the stocks are sold, and 2) capital gains can be offset by capital losses, which isn’t the case with dividends.


Retirement plan distributions

Because distributions from qualified retirement plans are exempt from the NIIT, upper-income taxpayers with some control over their situations (such as small business owners) might want to make greater use of qualified plans.

These are only a couple of strategies you may be able to employ. You also may be able to make moves related to charitable donations, passive activities and rental income that may allow you to minimize the NIIT. If you’re subject to the tax, you should include it in your tax planning. Contact us for strategies in your situation.
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Traveling for business this summer? Here’s what you can deduct

If you and your employees are traveling for business this summer, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind. Under tax law, in order to claim deductions, you must meet certain requirements for out-of-town business travel within the United States. The rules apply if the business conducted reasonably requires an overnight stay.
Note: Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can’t deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses on their own tax returns through 2025. That’s because unreimbursed employee business expenses are “miscellaneous itemized deductions” that aren’t deductible through 2025.
However, self-employed individuals can continue to deduct business expenses, including away-from-home travel expenses.


Rules that come into play

The actual costs of travel (for example, plane fare and cabs to the airport) are deductible for out-of-town business trips. You’re also allowed to deduct the cost of meals and lodging. Your meals are deductible even if they’re not connected to a business conversation or other business function. Although there was a temporary 100% deduction in 2021 and 2022 for business food and beverages provided by a restaurant, it was not extended to 2023. Therefore, there’s once again a 50% limit on deducting eligible business meals this year.

Keep in mind that no deduction is allowed for meal or lodging expenses that are “lavish or extravagant,” a term that’s been interpreted to mean “unreasonable.”
Personal entertainment costs on the trip aren’t deductible, but business-related costs such as those for dry cleaning, phone calls and computer rentals can be written off.


Mixing business with pleasure

Some allocations may be required if the trip is a combined business/pleasure trip, for example, if you fly to a location for four days of business meetings and stay on for an additional three days of vacation. Only the costs of meals, lodging, etc., incurred for the business days are deductible — not those incurred for the personal vacation days.

On the other hand, with respect to the cost of the travel itself (plane fare, etc.), if the trip is primarily business, the travel cost can be deducted in its entirety and no allocation is required. Conversely, if the trip is primarily personal, none of the travel costs are deductible. An important factor in determining if the trip is primarily business or personal is the amount of time spent on each (although this isn’t the sole factor).

If the trip doesn’t involve the actual conduct of business but is for the purpose of attending a convention, seminar, etc., the IRS may check the nature of the meetings carefully to make sure it isn’t a vacation in disguise. Retain all material helpful in establishing the business or professional nature of this travel.


Other expenses

The rules for deducting the costs of a spouse who accompanies you on a business trip are very restrictive. No deduction is allowed unless the spouse is an employee of you or your company, and the spouse’s travel is also for a business purpose.

Finally, note that personal expenses you incur at home as a result of taking the trip aren’t deductible. For example, let’s say you have to board a pet while you’re away. The cost isn’t deductible. Contact us if you have questions about your small business deductions.
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The IRS has just announced 2024 amounts for Health Savings Accounts

The IRS recently released guidance providing the 2024 inflation-adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).


HSA fundamentals

An HSA is a trust created or organized exclusively for the purpose of paying the “qualified medical expenses” of an “account beneficiary.” An HSA can only be established for the benefit of an “eligible individual” who is covered under a “high-deductible health plan.” In addition, a participant can’t be enrolled in Medicare or have other health coverage (exceptions include dental, vision, long-term care, accident and specific disease insurance).
Within specified dollar limits, an above-the-line tax deduction is allowed for an individual’s contributions to an HSA. This annual contribution limitation and the annual deductible and out-of-pocket expenses under the tax code are adjusted annually for inflation.


Inflation adjustments for next year

In Revenue Procedure 2023-23, the IRS released the 2024 inflation-adjusted figures for contributions to HSAs, which are as follows:

Annual contribution limitation.

For calendar year 2024, the annual contribution limitation for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP will be $4,150. For an individual with family coverage, the amount will be $8,300. This is up from $3,850 and $7,750, respectively, in 2023.
There is an additional $1,000 “catch-up” contribution amount for those age 55 and older in 2024 (and 2023).

High-deductible health plan defined. 

For calendar year 2024, an HDHP will be a health plan with an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,600 for self-only coverage or $3,200 for family coverage (up from $1,500 and $3,000, respectively, in 2023). In addition, annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) won’t be able to exceed $8,050 for self-only coverage or $16,100 for family coverage (up from $7,500 and $15,000, respectively, in 2023).


Advantages of HSAs

There are a variety of benefits to HSAs. Contributions to the accounts are made on a pre-tax basis. The money can accumulate tax-free year after year and can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for a variety of medical expenses such as doctor visits, prescriptions, chiropractic care and premiums for long-term care insurance. In addition, an HSA is “portable.” It stays with an account holder if he or she changes employers or leaves the workforce. Contact your employee benefits and tax advisors if you have questions about HSAs at your business.