Tax reform expands availability of cash accounting


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

What’s changed?

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

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

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

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

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

Should you switch?

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

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

© 2018

Estimates vs. actuals: Was your 2018 budget reasonable?


As the year winds down, business owners can be thankful for the gift of perspective (among other things, we hope). Assuming you created a budget for the calendar year, you should now be able to accurately assess that budget by comparing its estimates to actual results. Your objective is to determine whether your budget was reasonable, and, if not, how to adjust it to be more accurate for 2019.

Identify notable changes

Your estimates, like those of many companies, probably start with historical financial statements. From there, you may simply apply an expected growth rate to annual revenues and let it flow through the remaining income statement and balance sheet items. For some businesses, this simplified approach works well. But future performance can’t always be expected to mirror historical results.

For example, suppose you renegotiated a contract with a major supplier during the year. The new contract may have affected direct costs and profit margins. So, what was reasonable at the beginning of the year may be less so now and require adjustments when you draft your 2019 budget.

Often, a business can’t maintain its current growth rate indefinitely without investing in additional assets or incurring further fixed costs. As you compare your 2018 estimates to actuals, and look at 2019, consider whether your company is planning to:

• Build a new plant,• Buy a major piece of equipment,• Hire more workers, or• Rent additional space.
External and internal factors — such as regulatory changes, product obsolescence, and in-process research and development — also may require specialized adjustments to your 2019 budget to keep it reasonable.

Find the best way to track

The most analytical way to gauge reasonableness is to generate year-end financials and then compare the results to what was previously budgeted. Are you on track to meet those estimates? If not, identify the causes and factor them into a revised budget for next year.

If you discover that your actuals are significantly different from your estimates — and if this takes you by surprise — you should consider producing interim financials next year. Some businesses feel overwhelmed trying to prepare a complete set of financials every month. So, you might opt for short-term cash reports, which highlight the sources and uses of cash during the period. These cash forecasts can serve as an early warning system for “budget killers,” such as unexpected increases in direct costs or delinquent accounts.

Alternatively, many companies create 12-month rolling budgets — which typically mirror historical financial statements — and update them monthly to reflect the latest market conditions.

Do it all

The budgeting process is rarely easy, but it’s incredibly important. And that process doesn’t end when you create the budget; checking it regularly and performing a year-end assessment are key. We can help you not only generate a workable budget, but also identify the best ways to monitor your financials throughout the year.

© 2018

4 steps to auditing AP


At most companies, the accounts payable (AP) department handles an enormous volume of transactions. So, the AP ledger may be prone to errors or used to bury fraudulent journal entries. How do auditors get a handle on AP? They use four key procedures to evaluate whether this account is free from “material misstatement” and compliant with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

1. Examination of SOPs

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are critical to a properly functioning AP department. However, some companies haven’t written formal SOPs — and others don’t always follow the SOPs they’ve created.

If SOPs exist, the audit team reviews them in detail. They also test a sample of transactions to determine whether payables personnel follow them.

If the AP department hasn’t created SOPs — or if existing SOPs don’t reflect what’s happening in the department — the audit team will temporarily stop fieldwork. Auditors will resume testing once the AP department has issued formal SOPs or updated them as needed.

2. Analysis of paper trails

Auditors use the term “vouching” to refer to the process of tracking a transaction from inception to completion. Analyzing this paper trail requires auditors to review original source documents, such as:

  • Purchase orders,
  • Vendor invoices,
  • Journal entries for AP and inventory, and
  • Bank records.

The audit team may select transactions randomly, as well as based on a transaction’s magnitude or frequency. They’ll also ascertain whether the company has complied with invoice terms and received the appropriate discounts.

3. Confirmations

Auditors may send forms to the company’s vendors asking them to “confirm” the balance owed. Confirmations can either:

  • Include the amount due based on the company’s accounting records, or
  • Leave the balance blank and ask the vendor to complete it.

If the amount confirmed by the vendor doesn’t match the amount recorded in the AP ledger, the audit team will note the exception and inquire about the reason. Unresolved discrepancies may require additional testing procedures and could even be cause for a qualified or adverse audit opinion, depending on the size and nature of the discrepancy.

4. Verification of financial statements

Auditors compare the amounts recorded in the company financial statements to the records maintained by the AP department. This includes reviewing the month-end close process to ensure that items are posted in the correct accounting period (the period in which expenses are incurred).

Auditors also review the process for identifying and recording related-party transactions. And they search for vendor invoices paid with cash and unrecorded liabilities involving goods or services received but yet not processed for payment.

Get it right

These four procedures may be conducted as part of a routine financial statement audit — or you may decide to hire an auditor to specifically target the AP department. Either way, your payables personnel can help streamline fieldwork by having the formal SOPs in place and source documents ready when the audit team arrives. Contact us for more information about what to expect during the coming audit season.

© 2018

Tax reform expands availability of cash accounting


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

What’s changed?

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

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

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

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

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

Should you switch?

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

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

© 2018

Why revenue matters in an audit


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

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

Contractual arrangements

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

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

Gross vs. net revenue

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

Revenue cutoffs

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

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

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

Renewed attention

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

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

© 2018

It’s not too late: You can still set up a retirement plan for 2018


If most of your money is tied up in your business, retirement can be a challenge. So if you haven’t already set up a tax-advantaged retirement plan, consider doing so this year. There’s still time to set one up and make contributions that will be deductible on your 2018 tax return!

More benefits

Not only are contributions tax deductible, but retirement plan funds can grow tax-deferred. If you might be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), setting up and contributing to a retirement plan may be particularly beneficial because retirement plan contributions can reduce your modified adjusted gross income and thus help you reduce or avoid the NIIT.

If you have employees, they generally must be allowed to participate in the plan, provided they meet the qualification requirements. But this can help you attract and retain good employees.

And if you have 100 or fewer employees, you may be eligible for a credit for setting up a plan. The credit is for 50% of start-up costs, up to $500. Remember, credits reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar, unlike deductions, which only reduce the amount of income subject to tax.

3 options to consider

Many types of retirement plans are available, but here are three of the most attractive to business owners trying to build up their own retirement savings:

1. Profit-sharing plan. This is a defined contribution plan that allows discretionary employer contributions and flexibility in plan design. You can make deductible 2018 contributions as late as the due date of your 2018 tax return, including extensions — provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2018. For 2018, the maximum contribution is $55,000, or $61,000 if you are age 50 or older and your plan includes a 401(k) arrangement.

2. Simplified Employee Pension (SEP). This is also a defined contribution plan, and it provides benefits similar to those of a profit-sharing plan. But you can establish a SEP in 2019 and still make deductible 2018 contributions as late as the due date of your 2018 income tax return, including extensions. In addition, a SEP is easy to administer. For 2018, the maximum SEP contribution is $55,000.

3. Defined benefit plan. This plan sets a future pension benefit and then actuarially calculates the contributions needed to attain that benefit. The maximum annual benefit for 2018 is generally $220,000 or 100% of average earned income for the highest three consecutive years, if less. Because it’s actuarially driven, the contribution needed to attain the projected future annual benefit may exceed the maximum contributions allowed by other plans, depending on your age and the desired benefit.

You can make deductible 2018 defined benefit plan contributions until your tax return due date, including extensions, provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2018. Be aware that employer contributions generally are required.

Sound good?

If the benefits of setting up a retirement plan sound good, contact us. We can provide more information and help you choose the best retirement plan for your particular situation.

© 2018

A fresh look at percentage of completion accounting


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

Applying the PCM

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

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

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

Syncing financial statements and tax records

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

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

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

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

Got contracts?

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

© 2018

Buy business assets before year end to reduce your 2018 tax liability


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has enhanced two depreciation-related breaks that are popular year-end tax planning tools for businesses. To take advantage of these breaks, you must purchase qualifying assets and place them in service by the end of the tax year. That means there’s still time to reduce your 2018 tax liability with these breaks, but you need to act soon.

Section 179 expensing

Sec. 179 expensing is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 expensing can be used for assets such as equipment, furniture and software. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA expanded the list of qualifying assets to include qualified improvement property, certain property used primarily to furnish lodging and the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2018 is $1 million, up from $510,000 for 2017. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2018 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.5 million, up from $2.03 million for 2017.

100% bonus depreciation

For qualified assets that your business places in service in 2018, the TCJA allows you to claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation — compared to 50% in 2017. This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment and office furniture. The TCJA has expanded eligible assets to include used assets; previously, only new assets were eligible.

However, due to a TCJA drafting error, qualified improvement property will be eligible only if a technical correction is issued. Also be aware that, under the TCJA, certain businesses aren’t eligible for bonus depreciation in 2018, such as real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest and auto dealerships with floor plan financing (if the dealership has average annual gross receipts of more than $25 million for the three previous tax years).

Traditional, powerful strategy

Keep in mind that Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation can also be used for business vehicles. So purchasing vehicles before year end could reduce your 2018 tax liability. But, depending on the type of vehicle, additional limits may apply.

Investing in business assets is a traditional and powerful year-end tax planning strategy, and it might make even more sense in 2018 because of the TCJA enhancements to Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation. If you have questions about these breaks or other ways to maximize your depreciation deductions, please contact us.

© 2018

LIFO lessons learned


You have choices when it comes to reporting inventory costs. One popular technique — the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method — assumes that merchandise is sold in the reverse order it was acquired or produced. That is, it allocates the most recent costs to the cost of sales. Although this method is often preferred for tax purposes, internal accounting personnel may be hesitant to use it for various reasons.

Tax benefits

Assuming your inventory costs generally increase over time, LIFO offers a definite tax advantage over other inventory reporting methods. By allocating the most recent — and, therefore, higher — costs first, LIFO maximizes your cost of goods sold, which minimizes your taxable income.

In contrast, the first-in, first-out (FIFO) method assumes that merchandise is sold in the order it was acquired or produced. Thus, the cost of goods sold is based on older — and often lower — prices.

Financial reporting challenges

Before you jump headfirst into using LIFO, it’s important to recognize that it’s not permitted under International Financial Reporting Standards. The approach also involves sophisticated record keeping and calculations.

For example, the “LIFO conformity rule” generally requires you to use the same inventory accounting method for tax and financial statement purposes. Switching to LIFO may reduce your tax bill, but it could also depress your current earnings and reduce the value of inventories on your balance sheet, thus giving the appearance of a weaker financial position.

LIFO also can create a problem if your inventory levels are declining. As higher inventory costs are used up, you’ll need to start dipping into lower-cost “layers” of inventory, triggering taxes on “phantom income” that the LIFO method previously has allowed you to defer.

Moreover, if a C corporation elects S corporation status, the business must include a “LIFO recapture amount” in income for the C corporation’s last tax year. The recapture amount is the excess of your inventory’s value using FIFO over its value using LIFO. Fortunately, you can spread out the tax payments over four years in equal, interest-free installments.

One of the biggest challenges in using LIFO is the need to measure changes in inventory costs. If you currently use LIFO, you may be able to enjoy additional savings by electing to use the inventory price index computation method. It may enable you to reduce administrative costs — and it might even generate greater tax benefits — if you rely on government indexes to calculate LIFO values rather than developing an internal index.

Right for you?

If you’re contemplating a switch to LIFO, there are various issues to address and forms to complete. Contact us to help decide whether it’s right for your business.

© 2018

Research credit available to some businesses for the first time

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t change the federal tax credit for “increasing research activities,” but several TCJA provisions have an indirect impact on the credit. As a result, the research credit may be available to some businesses for the first time.

AMT reform

Previously, corporations subject to alternative minimum tax (AMT) couldn’t offset the research credit against their AMT liability, which erased the benefits of the credit (although they could carry unused research credits forward for up to 20 years and use them in non-AMT years). By eliminating corporate AMT for tax years beginning after 2017, the TCJA removed this obstacle.

Now that the corporate AMT is gone, unused research credits from prior tax years can be offset against a corporation’s regular tax liability and may even generate a refund (subject to certain restrictions). So it’s a good idea for corporations to review their research activities in recent years and amend prior returns if necessary to ensure they claim all the research credits to which they’re entitled.

The TCJA didn’t eliminate individual AMT, but it did increase individuals’ exemption amounts and exemption phaseout thresholds. As a result, fewer owners of sole proprietorships and pass-through businesses are subject to AMT, allowing more of them to enjoy the benefits of the research credit, too.

More to consider

By reducing corporate and individual tax rates, the TCJA also will increase research credits for many businesses. Why? Because the tax code, to prevent double tax benefits, requires businesses to reduce their deductible research expenses by the amount of the credit.

To avoid this result (which increases taxable income), businesses can elect to reduce the credit by an amount calculated at the highest corporate rate that eliminates the double benefit. Because the highest corporate rate has been reduced from 35% to 21%, this amount is lower and, therefore, the research credit is higher.

Keep in mind that the TCJA didn’t affect certain research credit benefits for smaller businesses. Pass-through businesses can still claim research credits against AMT if their average gross receipts are $50 million or less. And qualifying start-ups without taxable income can still claim research credits against up to $250,000 in payroll taxes.

Do your research

If your company engages in qualified research activities, now’s a good time to revisit the credit to be sure you’re taking full advantage of its benefits.

© 2018