Auditing accounting estimates and the use of specialists

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) recently voted to finalize two related standards aimed at improving audits of accounting estimates and the work of specialists. Though the new, more consistent guidance would apply specifically to public companies, the effects would likely filter down to audits of private entities that use accounting estimates or rely on the work of specialists.

Estimates

Financial statements often report assets at fair value or use other types of accounting estimates, such as allowances for doubtful accounts, credit losses and impairments of long-lived assets. These estimates may involve some level of measurement uncertainty. So, they may be susceptible to misstatement and require more auditor focus.

PCAOB Release No. 2018-005, Auditing Accounting Estimates, Including Fair Value Measurements , aims to improve audits of estimates. The new risk-based standard would promote greater consistency in application. It would emphasize the importance of professional skepticism when auditors evaluate management’s estimates and the need to devote greater attention to potential management bias. Under the updated standard, auditors would consider both corroborating and contradictory evidence that’s obtained during the audit.

Use of specialists

Some accounting estimates may be easily determinable. But many are inherently subjective or complex, requiring the use of specialists. Examples include:

  • Actuaries to determine employee benefit obligations,
  • Engineers to determine obligations regarding environmental remediation, and
  • Appraisers to determine the value of intangible assets or real estate.

The audit guidance on using the work of specialists hasn’t changed much since it was originally published in the 1970s. It deals with auditors’ oversight of third-party specialists, as well as the auditor’s use of the work of a professional hired by management. Existing guidance requires auditors to evaluate the relationship of a specialist to the client, including situations that might impair the specialist’s objectivity. But it doesn’t provide specific requirements.

PCAOB Release No. 2018-006, Amendments to Auditing Standards for Auditor’s Use of the Work of Specialists , would provide more direction for carrying out that evaluation. The updated standard would extend the auditor’s responsibility for evaluating specialists beyond simply obtaining an understanding of their work. It would require auditors to perform additional procedures to evaluate the appropriateness of the company’s data, as well as significant assumptions and methods used. However, auditors wouldn’t be required to reperform the work of the company’s specialist.

Stay tuned

The PCAOB issued these related standards simultaneously at the end of 2018, and wants both to become effective for audits of financial statements for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2020. However, the updated guidance is pending approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Contact us to discuss how these updated standards are likely to affect your company’s audit procedures in the coming years.

© 2019


Understanding how taxes factor into an M&A transaction


Merger and acquisition activity has been brisk in recent years. If your business is considering merging with or acquiring another business, it’s important to understand how the transaction will be taxed under current law.

Stocks vs. assets

From a tax standpoint, a transaction can basically be structured in two ways:

1. Stock (or ownership interest). A buyer can directly purchase a seller’s ownership interest if the target business is operated as a C or S corporation, a partnership, or a limited liability company (LLC) that’s treated as a partnership for tax purposes.

The now-permanent 21% corporate federal income tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes buying the stock of a C corporation somewhat more attractive. Reasons: The corporation will pay less tax and generate more after-tax income. Plus, any built-in gains from appreciated corporate assets will be taxed at a lower rate when they’re eventually sold.

The TCJA’s reduced individual federal tax rates may also make ownership interests in S corporations, partnerships and LLCs more attractive. Reason: The passed-through income from these entities also will be taxed at lower rates on a buyer’s personal tax return. However, the TCJA’s individual rate cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, and, depending on future changes in Washington, they could be eliminated earlier or extended.

2. Assets. A buyer can also purchase the assets of a business. This may happen if a buyer only wants specific assets or product lines. And it’s the only option if the target business is a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC that’s treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.

Note: In some circumstances, a corporate stock purchase can be treated as an asset purchase by making a “Section 338 election.” Ask your tax advisor for details.

Buyer vs. seller preferences

For several reasons, buyers usually prefer to purchase assets rather than ownership interests. Generally, a buyer’s main objective is to generate enough cash flow from an acquired business to pay any acquisition debt and provide an acceptable return on the investment. Therefore, buyers are concerned about limiting exposure to undisclosed and unknown liabilities and minimizing taxes after the deal closes.

A buyer can step up (increase) the tax basis of purchased assets to reflect the purchase price. Stepped-up basis lowers taxable gains when certain assets, such as receivables and inventory, are sold or converted into cash. It also increases depreciation and amortization deductions for qualifying assets.

Meanwhile, sellers generally prefer stock sales for tax and nontax reasons. One of their main objectives is to minimize the tax bill from a sale. That can usually be achieved by selling their ownership interests in a business (corporate stock or partnership or LLC interests) as opposed to selling business assets.

With a sale of stock or other ownership interest, liabilities generally transfer to the buyer and any gain on sale is generally treated as lower-taxed long-term capital gain (assuming the ownership interest has been held for more than one year).

Keep in mind that other issues, such as employee benefits, can also cause unexpected tax issues when merging with, or acquiring, a business.

Professional advice is critical

Buying or selling a business may be the most important transaction you make during your lifetime, so it’s important to seek professional tax advice as you negotiate. After a deal is done, it may be too late to get the best tax results. Contact us for the best way to proceed in your situation.


2019 Q2 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines that apply to businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2019. 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.

April 1

  • File with the IRS if you’re an employer that will electronically file 2018 Form 1097, Form 1098, Form 1099 (other than those with an earlier deadline) and/or Form W-2G.
  • If your employees receive tips and you file electronically, file Form 8027.
  • If you’re an Applicable Large Employer and filing electronically, file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C with the IRS. For all other providers of minimum essential coverage filing electronically, file Forms 1094-B and 1095-B with the IRS.

April 15

  • If you’re a calendar-year corporation, file a 2018 income tax return (Form 1120) or file for an automatic six-month extension (Form 7004) and pay any tax due.
  • Corporations pay the first installment of 2019 estimated income taxes.

April 30

  • Employers report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for the first quarter of 2019 (Form 941) and pay any tax due.

May 10

  • Employers report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for the first quarter of 2019 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and fully paid all of the associated taxes due.

June 17

  • Corporations pay the second installment of 2019 estimated income taxes.


Simplifying the accounting rules for convertible debt and equity


Distinguishing between liabilities and equity on a company’s balance sheet may seem straightforward. But difficulties arise when it comes to the terms of complex securities and financial contracts like redeemable equity instruments, equity-linked or indexed instruments, and convertible instruments.

The good news is that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is currently working on a project to improve how to determine the difference between liabilities and equity.

Need for change

Work on this project dates as far back as 1986, when distinguishing liabilities from equity was added to the FASB’s technical agenda. Since then, the board has issued various pieces of guidance to help resolve issues that have been raised. But the outcry for revisions to the liabilities vs. equity topic hasn’t waned.

In 2017, accounting professionals told the FASB that current guidance is “overly complex, internally inconsistent, path dependent, form based and is a cause for frequent financial statement restatements.”

Once again, the project is a top priority for the FASB. In 2019, deliberations will initially focus on two areas:

  1. Accounting for convertible instruments with embedded conversion features, and
  2. Determining whether instruments are indexed to an entity’s own stock.

A convertible instrument, typically a bond or a preferred stock, is an instrument that can be converted into a different security — often shares of the company’s common stock. For example, emerging and growing companies often use convertible debt as an alternative financing solution. It’s basically a loan obtained by a company from venture capital or angel investors whereby both parties agree to convert the debt into equity at a specific date.

Tentative plans

Convertible instruments create complex accounting issues and have become a major source of confusion and restatements. In February 2019, the FASB tentatively voted to:

  • Revise certain disclosures for convertible instruments, including adding disclosure objectives for convertible debt and for convertible preferred shares,
  • Centralize the guidance on convertible preferred shares in Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 505, Equity, and convertible debt in ASC Subtopic 470-20, Debt — Debt with Conversion and other Options, and
  • Improve the diluted earnings-per-share calculation and derivative scope exception.

Under the existing rules, there are currently five models to account for convertible debt, which the board plans to narrow down to one or two models. As a result, convertible debt would be recognized in the balance sheet as a single liability, measured at amortized cost. There would no longer be bifurcation, or separation, of the conversion feature and the debt host. Similarly, convertible preferred shares would be recognized in the balance sheet as a single equity element.

Stay tuned

Many start-ups and midsize businesses use convertible instruments to raise cash. But it’s easy for management to miss an aspect of an arrangement and then follow the wrong accounting model under today’s complex, inconsistent principles. And the complex accounting rules even may cause some businesses to avoid tapping into these financing alternatives.

Fortunately, the FASB is taking steps to simplify the financial reporting requirements — and we’re atop the latest developments. Contact us for more information.   

© 2019

Could your business benefit from the tax credit for family and medical leave?


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created a new federal tax credit for employers that provide qualified paid family and medical leave to their employees. It’s subject to numerous rules and restrictions and the credit is only available for two tax years — those beginning between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2019. However, it may be worthwhile for some businesses.

The value of the credit

An eligible employer can claim a credit equal to 12.5% of wages paid to qualifying employees who are on family and medical leave, if the leave payments are at least 50% of the normal wages paid to them. For each 1% increase over 50%, the credit rate increases by 0.25%, up to a maximum credit rate of 25%.

An eligible employee is one who’s worked for your company for at least one year, with compensation for the preceding year not exceeding 60% of the threshold for highly compensated employees for that year. For 2019, the threshold for highly compensated employees is $125,000 (up from $120,000 for 2018). That means a qualifying employee’s 2019 compensation can’t exceed $72,000 (60% × $120,000).

Employers that claim the family and medical leave credit must reduce their deductions for wages and salaries by the amount of the credit.

Qualifying leave

For purposes of the credit, family and medical leave is defined as time off taken by a qualified employee for these reasons:

• The birth, adoption or fostering of a child (and to care for the child),
• To care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition,
• If the employee has a serious health condition,
• Any qualifying need due to an employee’s spouse, child or parent being on covered active duty in the Armed Forces (or being notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty), and
• To care for a spouse, child, parent or next of kin who’s a covered veteran or member of the Armed Forces.

Employer-provided vacation, personal, medical or sick leave (other than leave defined above) isn’t eligible.

When a policy must be established

The general rule is that, to claim the credit for your company’s first tax year that begins after December 31, 2017, your written family and medical leave policy must be in place before the paid leave for which the credit will be claimed is taken.

However, under a favorable transition rule for the first tax year beginning after December 31, 2017, your company’s written leave policy (or an amendment to an existing policy) is considered to be in place as of the effective date of the policy (or amendment) rather than the later adoption date.

Attractive perk

The new family and medical leave credit could be an attractive perk for your company’s employees. However, it can be expensive because it must be provided to all qualifying full-time employees. Consult with us if you have questions or want more information.

© 2019

Transparency is key with related party transactions


In recent years, external auditors have focused more attention on related party transactions. Although related party transactions aren’t necessarily bad, they do raise some concerns about the risk of misstatement or omission in financial reporting.

3 focal points

Issues with related parties played a prominent role in the scandals that surfaced nearly two decades ago at Enron, Tyco International and Refco. Public outrage about these scandals led Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and establish the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). Similar problems have arisen in more recent financial reporting fraud cases, prompting the PCAOB to enact tougher standards on related-party transactions and financial relationships.

PCAOB Auditing Standard No. 2410 (AS 2410), Related Parties, requires auditors of public companies to beef up their efforts in financial statement matters that pose increased risk of fraud. Specifically, auditors must focus on three critical areas:

1. Related-party transactions, such as those involving directors, executives and their family members,
2. Significant unusual transactions (SUTs) that are outside the company’s normal course of business or that otherwise appear to be unusual due to their timing, size or nature, and
3. Other financial relationships with the company’s executive officers and directors.

Subjecting these transactions and financial relationships to enhanced auditor scrutiny may help avert corporate failures. The PCAOB also hopes that enhanced auditor scrutiny will lead to improvements in accounting transparency and disclosures, which will help investors to more clearly gauge financial performance and fraud risks.

From start to finish

AS 2410 requires auditors to obtain a more in-depth understanding of every related-party financial relationship and transaction, including their nature, terms and business purpose (or lack thereof). Tougher related-party audit procedures must be performed in conjunction with the auditor’s risk assessment procedures, which occur in the planning phase of an audit.

In addition, auditors are expected to communicate with the audit committee throughout the audit process regarding the auditor’s evaluation of the company’s identification of, accounting for and disclosure of its related-party relationships and transactions. They can’t wait until the end of the engagement to communicate on these matters.

During fieldwork, expect auditors to be on the hunt for undisclosed related parties and unusual transactions. Examples of information that may be gathered during the audit that could reveal undisclosed related parties include information contained on the company’s website, tax filings, corporate life insurance policies, contracts and organizational charts.

Certain types of questionable transactions — such as contracts for below-market goods or services, bill-and-hold arrangements, uncollateralized loans and subsequent repurchase of goods sold — also might signal that a company is engaged in unusual or undisclosed related-party transactions.

To facilitate the audit process, management should be up-front with auditors about all related party transactions, even if they’re not required to be disclosed or consolidated on the company’s financial statements.

Let’s be honest

Private companies also engage in numerous related party transactions, and they may experience spillover effects of the tougher PCAOB auditing standard, which applies only to audits of public companies. Regardless of whether you’re publicly traded or privately held, it’s important to identify, evaluate and disclose all related parties. We can help you present related party relationships and transactions, openly and completely.

© 2019

ESG issues: To report or not to report?


Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton recently said that public companies shouldn’t be required to disclose information concerning environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters in their financial statements using a standardized format. Right now, these disclosures are voluntary and unstandardized.

ESG issues

The SEC is a long-standing member of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO). But, in January, the SEC refused to sign a statement issued by IOSCO that urged companies to disclose nonfinancial ESG matters that may affect a company’s financial condition and performance. Examples include:

• The size of the company’s carbon footprint,
• Efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources,
• Workplace, health and safety issues, and
• Consumer product safety risks.

Media attention on these external threats has increased public awareness and prompted concerns about how ESG issues could impact value or increase a company’s risk of litigation. Some investor groups and regulators are calling for formal rules that would mandate the use of a standardized framework.

SEC position

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce and Chairman Clayton recognize that voluntary ESG disclosures provide insight into company operations when used in conjunction with traditional financial metrics. But they oppose a one-size-fits-all reporting format. They contend that some ESG information isn’t relevant to a reasonable investor and thus takes time away from focusing on more pressing matters.

They also point out that companies that follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) already must disclose material ESG matters in the following sections of their financial statements:

Description of business. This disclosure describes the business and that of its subsidiaries, including information about its form of organization, principal products and services, major customers, competitive conditions and costs of complying with environmental laws.

Legal proceedings. This disclosure briefly explains any material pending legal proceedings in which the company, any of its subsidiaries and any of its property are involved.

Risk factors. These disclosures highlight the most significant factors that make an investment in the company speculative or risky.

Management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A). Public companies must identify known trends, events, demands, commitments and uncertainties that are reasonably likely to have a material effect on financial condition or operating performance.

In addition, some companies voluntarily issue separate standalone “sustainability” reports that cover a broad range of nonfinancial issues. However, these nonfinancial figures aren’t audited, and, unfortunately, some companies use ESG data to present a stronger financial picture than the ones that appear in their audited financial statements.

A custom approach

Voluntary ESG reporting can provide valuable insight to investors and lenders. We can help your company create customized financial statement disclosures and standalone sustainability reports that reflect its most pressing ESG concerns. Contact us for more information.

© 2019

There’s still time for small business owners to set up a SEP retirement plan for last year


If you own a business and don’t have a tax-advantaged retirement plan, it’s not too late to establish one and reduce your 2018 tax bill. A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) can still be set up for 2018, and you can make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2018 income tax return.

Contribution deadlines

A SEP can be set up as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP is to first apply. That means you can establish a SEP for 2018 in 2019 as long as you do it before your 2018 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2018 contributions and still claim a potentially substantial deduction on your 2018 return.

Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2018, in order for 2018 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2018 contributions to be made in 2019).

Discretionary contributions

With a SEP, you can decide how much to contribute each year. You aren’t obligated to make any certain minimum contributions annually.

But, if your business has employees other than you:

1. Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for yourself, and
2. Employee accounts must be immediately 100% vested.

The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.

For 2018, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction), subject to a contribution cap of $55,000. (The 2019 cap is $56,000.)

Next steps

To set up a SEP, you just need to complete and sign the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). You don’t need to file Form 5305-SEP with the IRS, but you should keep it as part of your permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.

Although there are rules and limits that apply to SEPs beyond what we’ve discussed here, SEPs generally are much simpler to administer than other retirement plans. Contact us with any questions you have about SEPs and to discuss whether it makes sense for you to set one up for 2018 (or 2019).

© 2019

Will leasing equipment or buying it be more tax efficient for your business?


Recent changes to federal tax law and accounting rules could affect whether you decide to lease or buy equipment or other fixed assets. Although there’s no universal “right” choice, many businesses that formerly leased assets are now deciding to buy them.

Pros and cons of leasing

From a cash flow perspective, leasing can be more attractive than buying. And leasing does provide some tax benefits: Lease payments generally are tax deductible as “ordinary and necessary” business expenses. (Annual deduction limits may apply.)

Leasing used to be advantageous from a financial reporting standpoint. But new accounting rules that bring leases to the lessee’s balance sheet go into effect in 2020 for calendar-year private companies. So, lease obligations will show up as liabilities, similar to purchased assets that are financed with traditional bank loans.

Leasing also has some potential drawbacks. Over the long run, leasing an asset may cost you more than buying it, and leasing doesn’t provide any buildup of equity. What’s more, you’re generally locked in for the entire lease term. So, you’re obligated to keep making lease payments even if you stop using the equipment. If the lease allows you to opt out before the term expires, you may have to pay an early-termination fee.

Pros and cons of buying

Historically, the primary advantage of buying over leasing has been that you’re free to use the assets as you see fit. But an advantage that has now come to the forefront is that Section 179 expensing and first-year bonus depreciation can provide big tax savings in the first year an asset is placed in service.

These two tax breaks were dramatically enhanced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — enough so that you may be convinced to buy assets that your business might have leased in the past. Many businesses will be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it’s purchased. Any remainder is eligible for regular depreciation deductions over IRS-prescribed schedules.

The primary downside of buying fixed assets is that you’re generally required to pay the full cost upfront or in installments, although the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax benefits are still available for property that’s financed. If you finance a purchase through a bank, a down payment of at least 20% of the cost is usually required. This could tie up funds and affect your credit rating. If you decide to finance fixed asset purchases, be aware that the TCJA limits interest expense deductions (for businesses with more than $25 million in average annual gross receipts) to 30% of adjusted taxable income.

Decision time

When deciding whether to lease or buy a fixed asset, there are a multitude of factors to consider, including tax implications. We can help you determine the approach that best suits your circumstances.

© 2019

Using knowledge management to develop your succession plan


As the old saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” This certainly rings true in business, as those who best understand their industries and markets tend to have a knack for staying on top. If that person is a company’s owner, however, great knowledge can turn into a vulnerability when he or she decides to retire or otherwise leave the business.

As you develop your succession plan, consider how to mitigate the loss of pure know-how that will occur when you step down. One way to tackle this risk is to implement a knowledge management strategy.

Two types of knowledge

Knowledge management is a formal process of recognizing and treating knowledge as an asset that your company can identify, maintain and share. Generally, a business can subdivide knowledge into two types:

1. Explicit knowledge. This exists in the tangible world and typically includes company reports, financial statements and databases. These items are usually easy to access, extrapolate from and append. For your succession plan, however, you may need to dig deeper into your own confidential files, memos or emails.

2. Tacit knowledge. This is information that resides solely between the ears of a business’s leadership, employees and perhaps even service providers. As such, it’s not easily retrievable. In terms of succession planning, this may be the stuff that you haven’t written down or even talked about much.

Typical categories

Typical knowledge management categories include:

  • Taxes and accounting,
  • Financial management,
  • Strategic planning,
  • HR, payroll and employment practices,
  • Sales and marketing,
  • Customers,
  • Production, and
  • Technology.

In addition, knowledge management should account for your company’s intellectual property —trade secrets, for example. Many business owners keep such details close to their vests and even managers may not know the full value of the company’s intellectual property. This could put your business at risk following your departure.

A comprehensive knowledge management effort related to your succession plan will call on you to undertake a full inventory of every category listed above and perhaps others. Gathering your explicit knowledge may entail compiling years’, even decades’, worth of documents, files and writings. This may not be an easy task, but it’s still a matter of straight research.

You’ll likely find capturing your tacit knowledge somewhat more challenging. One idea is to ask a suitable employee or engage an outside consultant to interview you regarding all the pertinent categories. Many business owners find these conversations arduous at first but eventually enlightening and enjoyable.

A legacy preserved

A solid succession plan is imperative to maintaining the future stability and success of your company. Knowledge management can strengthen that plan and help preserve the legacy you’ve worked so hard to build. Contact us for further information and for help identifying knowledge related to your tax filings, accounting methods and other financial matters.

© 2019