FAQs about agreed upon procedures

An agreed upon procedures (AUP) engagement uses procedures similar to an audit, but on a smaller and limited scale. Here’s how a customized AUP engagement differs from an audit and can be used to identify specific problems that require immediate action.

How do AUPs compare to audits?

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) regulates both audits and AUP engagements. But the natures of these two types of accounting services are quite different. When a CPA firm performs an audit, its client is the company. With an AUP engagement, the client is typically the company’s lender or another third party — a fact that usually alleviates potential conflicts of interest.

Another key difference is that of responsibility. Audits require CPAs to provide a formal opinion on whether the company’s financial statements have been prepared in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

On the other hand, CPAs make no formal conclusions when performing AUPs; they simply act as finders of fact. It’s the client’s responsibility to draw conclusions based on the CPA’s findings.

AUP engagements may target specific financial data (such as accounts payable, accounts receivable or related party transactions), nonfinancial information (such as a review of internal controls or compliance with royalty agreements), a specific financial statement (such as the income statement or balance sheet) or even a complete set of financial statements.

When do you need AUPs?

AUPs boast several advantages over audits. They can be performed at any time during the year — not just at year end. And because you have the flexibility to choose only those procedures you feel are necessary, they can be cost-effective.

Lenders may, for example, request an AUP engagement, if they have doubts or questions about a borrower’s financials — or if they want to check on the progress of a distressed company’s turnaround plan. Or a business owner may decide to hire a CPA to perform an AUP engagement, if he or she suspects that the CFO is misrepresenting the company’s financial results or the plant manager is stealing inventory. These engagements can also be useful in mergers and acquisition due diligence.

Who can help?

An AUP engagement can be used to dig deeper into financial results and identify specific problems that require immediate action. We can help you customize an AUP engagement that can identify problems and resolve issues quickly and effectively.

© 2017

Evaluating going concern issues

Financial statements are generally prepared under the assumption that the business will remain a “going concern.” That is, it’s expected to continue to generate a positive return on its assets and meet its obligations in the ordinary course of business. But sometimes conditions put that assumption into question.

Recently, the responsibility for making going concern assessments shifted from auditors to management. So, it’s important for you to identify the red flags that going concern issues exist.

Make the call

Under Accounting Standards Update No. 2014-15, Presentation of Financial Statements — Going Concern (Subtopic 205-40): Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, management is responsible for assessing whether there are conditions or events that raise “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date that the financial statements are issued — or available to be issued. (The alternate date prevents financial statements from being held for several months after year end to see if the company survives.)

When going concern issues arise, auditors may adjust balance sheet values to liquidation values, rather than historic costs. Footnotes also may report going concern issues. And the auditor’s opinion letter — which serves as a cover letter to the financial statements — may be downgraded to a qualified or adverse opinion. All of these changes forewarn lenders and investors that the company is experiencing financial distress.

Meet the threshold

When evaluating the going concern assumption, look for signs that your company’s long-term viability may be questionable, such as:

  • Recurring operating losses or working capital deficiencies,
  • Loan defaults and debt restructuring,
  • Denial of credit from suppliers,
  • Dividend arrearages,
  • Disposals of substantial assets,
  • Work stoppages and other labor difficulties,
  • Legal proceedings or legislation that jeopardizes ongoing operations,
  • Loss of a key franchise, license or patent,
  • Loss of a principal customer or supplier, and
  • An uninsured or underinsured catastrophe.

The existence of one or more of these conditions or events doesn’t automatically mean that there’s a going concern issue. Similarly, the absence of these conditions or events isn’t a guarantee that your company will meet its obligations over the next year.

Comply with the new guidance

Compliance with the new accounting standard starts with annual periods ending after December 15, 2016. So, managers of calendar-year entities will need to make the going concern assessment starting with their 2016 year-end financial statements. Contact us for more information about making going concern assessments and how it will affect your financial reporting.

© 2017

Use qualified auditors for your employee benefit plans

Employee benefit plans with 100 or more participants must generally provide an audit report when filing IRS Form 5500 each year. Plan administrators have fiduciary responsibilities to hire independent qualified public accountants to perform quality audits.

Select a qualified auditor

ERISA guidelines require employee benefit plan auditors to be licensed or certified public accountants. They also require auditors to be independent. In other words, they can’t have a financial interest in the plan or the plan sponsor that would bias their opinion about a plan’s financial condition.

But specialization also matters. The more training and experience that an auditor has with plan audits, the more familiar he or she will be with benefit plan practices and operations, as well as the special auditing standards and rules that apply to such plans. Examples of audit areas that are unique to employee benefit plans include contributions, benefit payments, participant data, and party-in-interest and prohibited transactions.

Ask questions

Employee benefit plan audits are a matter of more than just compliance. The auditor’s report highlights any problems unearthed during the audit, which can serve as a springboard for improving plan operations. The conclusion of audit work is a good time to ask such questions as the following:

  • Have plan assets covered by the audit been fairly valued?
  • Are plan obligations properly stated and described?
  • Were contributions to the plan received in a timely manner?
  • Were benefit payments made in accordance with plan terms?
  • Did the auditor identify any issues that may impact the plan’s tax status?
  • Did the auditor identify any transactions that are prohibited under ERISA?

Experienced auditors can also suggest ways to improve your plan’s operations based on their audit findings.

Protect yourself

Employee benefit plan audits offer critical protection to plan administrators and employees. Your company can’t afford to skimp when it comes to hiring an auditor who is unbiased, experienced and reliable. Contact us for more information on hiring a plan auditor.

© 2017

Can the WOTC save tax for your business?

Employers that hire individuals who are members of a “target group” may be eligible for the Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC). If you made qualifying hires in 2016 and obtained proper certification, you can claim the WOTC on your 2016 tax return. Whether or not you’re eligible for 2016, keep the WOTC in mind in your 2017 hiring, because the credit is also available for 2017.

In fact, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended the WOTC through 2019. The PATH Act also expanded the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers that hire qualified individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.

What are the “target groups’?

Besides the long-term unemployed, target groups include:

  • Designated community residents who live in Empowerment Zones or rural renewal counties,
  • Long-term family assistance recipients,
  • Qualified ex-felons,
  • Qualified recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
  • Qualified veterans,
  • Summer youth employees,
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients,
  • Supplemental Security Income benefits recipients, and
  • Vocational rehabilitation referrals for individuals who suffer from an employment handicap resulting from a physical or mental handicap.

How much is the credit worth?

Qualifying employers can claim the WOTC as a general business credit against their income tax. The amount of the credit depends on the:

  • Target group of the individual hired,
  • Wages paid to that individual, and
  • Number of hours that individual worked during the first year of employment.

The maximum credit that can be earned for each member of a target group is generally $2,400 per employee. The credit can be as high as $9,600 for certain veterans. Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire. In other words, if there are 10 individuals that qualify, the credit can be 10 times the amount listed.

Certification requirement

Before you can claim the WOTC, you must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you.

But if you hired long-term unemployment recipients between January 1, 2016, and May 31, 2016, the IRS extended the deadline to June 29, 2016, as long as the individuals started work for you on or after January 1, 2016, and before June 1, 2016.

The WOTC can lower your company’s tax liability when you hire qualified new employees. We can help you determine whether an employee qualifies, calculate the applicable credit and answer other questions you might have.

© 2017

Take small-business tax credits where credits are due

Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, making them particularly valuable. Two available credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits. And one of them might not be available after 2017.
1. Small-business health care credit
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium.
For 2016, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $25,000 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,000.
To qualify for the credit, online enrollment in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) generally is required. In addition, the credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.)
If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2016 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away for 2018 because lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA.
Most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2018 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2016, you may also be able to claim it on your 2017 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.
2. Retirement plan credit 
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.
Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.
If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2016, it might not be too late. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions.
Maximize tax savings
Be aware that additional rules apply beyond what we’ve discussed here. We can help you determine whether you’re eligible for these credits. We can also advise you on what other credits you might be eligible for when you file your 2016 return so that you can maximize your tax savings.
© 2017

New HRA offers small employers an attractive, tax-advantaged health care option

In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act. The long and complex bill covers a broad range of health care topics, but of particular interest to some businesses should be the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) provision. Specifically, qualified small employers can now use HRAs to reimburse employees who purchase individual insurance coverage, rather than providing employees with costly group health plans.

The need for HRA relief

Employers can use HRAs to reimburse their workers’ medical expenses, including health insurance premiums, up to a certain amount each year. The reimbursements are excludable from employees’ taxable income, and untapped amounts can be rolled over to future years. HRAs generally have been considered to be group health plans for tax purposes.

But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits group health plans from imposing annual or lifetime benefits limits and requires such plans to provide certain preventive services without any cost-sharing by employees. And according to previous IRS guidance, “standalone HRAs” — those not tied to an existing group health plan — didn’t comply with these rules, even if the HRAs were used to purchase health insurance coverage that did comply. Businesses that provided the HRAs were subject to fines of $100 per day for each affected employee.

The IRS position was troublesome for smaller businesses that struggled to pay for traditional group health plans or to administer their own self-insurance plans. The changes in the Cures Act give these employers a third option for providing one of the benefits most valued by today’s employees.

The QSEHRA

Under the Cures Act, certain small employers can maintain general purpose, standalone HRAs that aren’t “group health plans” for most purposes under the Internal Revenue Code, Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Public Health Service Act.

More specifically, the legislation allows employers that aren’t “applicable large employers” under the ACA to provide a Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA) if they don’t offer a group health plan to any of their employees. Annual benefits under a QSEHRA:

  • Can’t exceed an indexed maximum of $4,950 per year ($10,000 if family members are covered),
  • Must be employer-funded (no salary reductions), and
  • Can be used for only IRC Section 213(d) medical care.

QSEHRA benefits must be offered on the same terms to all “eligible employees” (certain individuals can be disregarded) and may be excluded from income only if the recipient has minimum essential coverage. There is a notice requirement and employees’ permitted benefits must be reported on Form W-2.

If you’re interested in exploring the QSEHRA option for your business, contact us for further details.

© 2017

Accounting for M&As

Many buyers are uncertain how to report mergers and acquisitions (M&As) under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). After a deal closes, the buyer’s post-deal balance sheet looks markedly different than it did before the entities combined. Here’s guidance on reporting business combinations to help minimize future write-offs and restatements due to inaccurate purchase price allocations.

Purchase price allocations

Under GAAP, buyers must allocate the purchase price paid in M&As to all acquired assets and liabilities based on their fair values. The process starts by estimating a cash equivalent purchase price.

If a buyer pays 100% cash up front, the purchase price is already at a cash equivalent value. But the cash equivalent price is less clear if a seller accepts non cash terms, such as an earnout that’s contingent on the acquired entity’s future performance or stock in the newly formed entity.

The next step is to identify all tangible and intangible assets and liabilities acquired in the business combination. The seller’s presale balance sheet will report most tangible assets and liabilities, including inventory, equipment and payables. However, intangibles are reported only if they were previously purchased by the seller. But intangibles are usually generated internally, so they’re rarely included on the seller’s balance sheet.

Fair value

Acquired assets and liabilities are then added to the buyer’s postdeal balance sheet, based on their fair values on the acquisition date. The difference between the sum of these fair values and the purchase price is reported as goodwill.

Goodwill and other indefinite-lived intangibles — such as brand names and in-process research and development — usually aren’t amortized for GAAP purposes. Instead, companies generally must test goodwill for impairment each year. Impairment testing also is needed when certain triggering events occur, such as the loss of a key person or an unanticipated increase in competition. If a borrower reports an impairment loss, it could mean that the business combination has failed to achieve management’s expectations.

Rather than test for impairment, private companies may elect to amortize goodwill straight-line, generally over 10 years. Companies that elect this alternate method, however, must still test for impairment when certain triggering events occur.

Bottom line

A business combination is a significant transaction, so it’s important to get the accounting right from the start. We can help buyers identify intangibles, estimate fair value and allocate purchase price even when a deal’s cash-equivalent purchase price isn’t readily apparent.

© 2017

2017 Q1 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 first quarter of 2017. 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.

January 31

  • File 2016 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • File 2016 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS, and provide copies to recipients.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2016. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2016. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2016 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 28

File 2016 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS and provide copies to recipients. (Note that Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation in Box 7 must be filed by January 31, beginning with 2016 forms filed in 2017.)

March 15

If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2016 tax return. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2016 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

© 2016

How entity type affects tax planning for owner-employees

Come tax time, owner-employees face a variety of distinctive tax planning challenges, depending on whether their business is structured as a partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. Whether you’re thinking about your 2016 filing or planning for 2017, it’s important to be aware of the challenges that apply to your particular situation.

Partnerships and LLCs

If you’re a partner in a partnership or a member of an LLC that has elected to be disregarded or treated as a partnership, the entity’s income flows through to you (as does its deductions). And this income likely will be subject to self-employment taxes — even if the income isn’t actually distributed to you. This means your employment tax liability typically doubles, because you must pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes.

The employer portion of self-employment taxes paid (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line. Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income and modified adjusted gross income, which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and phaseouts of many tax breaks.

But flow-through income may not be subject to self-employment taxes if you’re a limited partner or the LLC member equivalent. And be aware that flow-through income might be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on earned income or the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), depending on the situation.

S and C corporations

For S corporations, even though the entity’s income flows through to you for income tax purposes, only income you receive as salary is subject to employment taxes and, if applicable, the 0.9% Medicare tax. Keeping your salary relatively — but not unreasonably — low and increasing your distributions of company income (which generally isn’t taxed at the corporate level or subject to employment taxes) can reduce these taxes. The 3.8% NIIT may also apply.

In the case of C corporations, the entity’s income is taxed at the corporate level and only income you receive as salary is subject to employment taxes, and, if applicable, the 0.9% Medicare tax. Nevertheless, if the overall tax paid by both the corporation and you would be less, you may prefer to take more income as salary (which is deductible at the corporate level) as opposed to dividends (which aren’t deductible at the corporate level, are taxed at the shareholder level and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT).

Whether your entity is an S or a C corporation, tread carefully, however. The IRS remains on the lookout for misclassification of corporate payments to shareholder-employees. The penalties and additional tax liability can be costly.

As you can see, tax planning is extra important for owner-employees. Plus, tax law changes proposed by the President-elect and the Republican majority in Congress could affect tax treatment of your income in 2017. Please contact us for help identifying the ideal strategies for your situation.

© 2016

Help prevent the year-end vacation-time scramble with a PTO contribution arrangement

Many businesses find themselves short-staffed from Thanksgiving through December 31 as employees take time off to spend with family and friends. But if you limit how many vacation days employees can roll over to the new year, you might find your workplace a ghost town as workers scramble to use, rather than lose, their time off. A paid time off (PTO) contribution arrangement may be the solution.

How it works

A PTO contribution program allows employees with unused vacation hours to elect to convert them to retirement plan contributions. If the plan has a 401(k) feature, it can treat these amounts as a pretax benefit, similar to normal employee deferrals. Alternatively, the plan can treat the amounts as employer profit sharing, converting excess PTO amounts to employer contributions.

A PTO contribution arrangement can be a better option than increasing the number of days employees can roll over. Why? Larger rollover limits can result in employees building up large balances that create a significant liability on your books.

Getting started

To offer a PTO contribution arrangement, simply amend your plan. However, you must still follow the plan document’s eligibility, vesting, rollover, distribution and loan terms. Additional rules apply.

To learn more about PTO contribution arrangements, including their tax implications, please contact us.

© 2016