Fundamental tax truths for C corporations

The flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has been great news for these entities and their owners. But some fundamental tax truths for C corporations largely remain the same:

C corporations are subject to double taxation. Double taxation occurs when corporate income is taxed once at the corporate level and again at the shareholder level as dividends are paid out. The cost of double taxation, however, is now generally less because of the 21% corporate rate.

And double taxation isn’t a problem when a C corporation needs to retain all its earnings to finance growth and capital investments. Because all the earnings stay “inside” the corporation, no dividends are paid to shareholders, and, therefore, there’s no double taxation.

Double taxation also isn’t an issue when a C corporation’s taxable income levels are low. This can often be achieved by paying reasonable salaries and bonuses to shareholder-employees and providing them with tax-favored fringe benefits (deductible by the corporation and tax-free to the recipient shareholder-employees).

C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures with appreciating assets or certain depreciable assets. If assets such as real estate are eventually sold for substantial gains, it may be impossible to extract the profits from the corporation without being subject to double taxation. In contrast, if appreciating assets are held by a pass-through entity (such as an S corporation, partnership or limited liability company treated as a partnership for tax purposes), gains on such sales will be taxed only once, at the owner level.

But assets held by a C corporation don’t necessarily have to appreciate in value for double taxation to occur. Depreciation lowers the tax basis of the property, so a taxable gain results whenever the sale price exceeds the depreciated basis. In effect, appreciation can be caused by depreciation when depreciable assets hold their value.

To avoid this double-taxation issue, you might consider using a pass-through entity to lease to your C corporation appreciating assets or depreciable assets that will hold their value.

C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures that will incur ongoing tax losses. When a venture is set up as a C corporation, losses aren’t passed through to the owners (the shareholders) like they would be in a pass-through entity. Instead, they create corporate net operating losses (NOLs) that can be carried over to future tax years and then used to offset any corporate taxable income.

This was already a potential downside of C corporations, because it can take many years for a start-up to be profitable. Now, under the TCJA, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after 2017 can’t offset more than 80% of taxable income in the NOL carryover year. So it may take even longer to fully absorb tax losses.

Do you have questions about C corporation tax issues post-TCJA? Contact us.

© 2019

Private companies: Have you implemented the new revenue recognition standard?

Private companies that follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) must comply with the landmark new revenue recognition standard in 2019. Many private company CFOs and controllers report that they still have significant work to do to meet the demands of the sweeping rules. If you haven’t started the implementation process, it’s time to get the ball rolling.

Lessons from public company peers

Affected private companies must start following Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Accounting Standards Codification Topic 606), the first time they issue financial statements in 2019. For private companies with a fiscal year end or issuing quarterly statements under U.S. GAAP, that could be within the next few months. Other private companies have until the end of the year or even early 2020. No matter what, it’s crunch time.

Public companies, which had to begin following the standard in 2018, reported that, even if the new accounting didn’t radically change the number they reported in the top line of their income statements, it changed the method by which they had to calculate it. They had to comb through contracts and offer paper trails to back up their estimates to auditors. Public companies largely reported that the standard was more work than they anticipated. Private companies can expect the same challenges.

An overview

The revenue recognition standard erases reams of industry-specific revenue guidance in U.S. GAAP and attempts to come up with the following five-step revenue recognition model for most businesses worldwide:

  1. Identify the contracts with a customer.
  2. Identify the performance obligations in the contract.
  3. Determine the transaction price.
  4. Allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations.
  5. Recognize revenue as the entity satisfies a performance obligation.

In many cases, the revenue a company reports under the new guidance won’t differ much from what it reported under old rules. But the timing of when a company can record revenues may be affected, particularly for long-term, multi-part arrangements. Companies also must assess:

  • The extent by which payments could vary due to such terms as bonuses, discounts, rebates and refunds,
  • The extent that collected payments from customers is “probable” and won’t result in a significant reversal in the future, and
  • The time value of money to determine the transaction price.

The result is a process that offers fewer bright-line rules and more judgment calls compared to old U.S. GAAP.

We can help

Our accounting experts can help you avoid a “fire drill” right before your implementation deadline and employ best practices learned from public companies that made the switch in 2018. Contact us for help getting your revenue reporting systems, processes and policies up to speed.

© 2019

M&A due diligence: Don’t accept financial statements at face value

The M&A market was hot last year, and that momentum is expected to continue in 2019. Before acquiring another business, however, it’s important to do your homework. Conducting comprehensive due diligence can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never negotiated a deal before. So, consider seeking input from an experienced accounting professional.

Reviewing historical performance

For starters, the target company’s historical financial statements must be reviewed. This will help you understand the nature of the company’s operations and the types of assets it owns — and the liabilities it owes.

When reviewing historical results, it’s important to evaluate a full business cycle, including any cyclical peaks and troughs. If a seller provides statements during only peak years, there’s a risk that you could overpay.

Historical financial statements also may be used to determine how much to offer the seller. An offer should be based on how much return the business interest is expected to generate. An accounting expert can project expected returns, as well as provide pricing multiples based on real-world comparable transactions.

Evaluating the target’s historical balance sheet also may help you decide whether to structure the deal as a stock purchase (where all assets and liabilities transfer from the seller to the buyer) or as an asset purchase (where the buyer cherry-picks specific assets and liabilities).

Looking to the future

Prospective financial statements are typically based on management’s expectations for the future. When reviewing these reports, the underlying assumptions must be critically evaluated, especially for start-ups and other businesses where prospective financials serve as the primary basis for your offer price.

It’s also important to consider who prepared the prospective financials. If forecasts or projections are prepared by an outside accountant, do the reports follow the AICPA standards? You may have more confidence when reports provided by the seller conform to these standards. However, it’s a good idea to hire your own expert to perform an independent analysis, because management may have an incentive to paint a rosy picture of financial performance.

Digging deeper

A target company’s historical balance sheet tells you about the company’s tangible assets, acquired intangibles and debts. But some liabilities may not appear on the financial statements. An accounting expert can help you identify unrecorded liabilities, such as:

  • Pending lawsuits and regulatory audits,
  • Warranty and insurance claims,
  • Uncollectible accounts receivable, and
  • Underfunded pensions.

You also need to be skeptical of representations the seller makes to seal a deal. Misrepresentations that are found after closing can lead to expensive legal battles. An earnout provision or escrow account can be used to reduce the risk that the deal won’t pan out as the seller claimed it would.

Avoiding M&A mishaps

Do-it-yourself acquisitions can lead to costly mistakes. In addition to evaluating historical and prospective financial statements, we can help identify potential hidden liabilities and misrepresentations, as well as prepare independent forecasts and projections. We also can help you determine the optimal offer price and deal terms based on an objective review of the target’s historical, prospective and unreported financial information.

© 2019

A refresher on major tax law changes for small-business owners

The dawning of 2019 means the 2018 income tax filing season will soon be upon us. After year end, it’s generally too late to take action to reduce 2018 taxes. Business owners may, therefore, want to shift their focus to assessing whether they’ll likely owe taxes or get a refund when they file their returns this spring, so they can plan accordingly.

With the biggest tax law changes in decades — under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — generally going into effect beginning in 2018, most businesses and their owners will be significantly impacted. So, refreshing yourself on the major changes is a good idea.

Taxation of pass-through entities

These changes generally affect owners of S corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships, as well as sole proprietors:

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%
  • A new 20% qualified business income deduction for eligible owners (the Section 199A deduction)
  • Changes to many other tax breaks for individuals that will impact owners’ overall tax liability

Taxation of corporations

These changes generally affect C corporations, personal service corporations (PSCs) and LLCs treated as C corporations:

  • Replacement of graduated corporate rates ranging from 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%
  • Replacement of the flat PSC rate of 35% with a flat rate of 21%
  • Repeal of the 20% corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT)

Tax break positives

These changes generally apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:

  • Doubling of bonus depreciation to 100% and expansion of qualified assets to include used assets
  • Doubling of the Section 179 expensing limit to $1 million and an increase of the expensing phaseout threshold to $2.5 million
  • A new tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave

Tax break negatives

These changes generally also apply to both pass-through entities and corporations:

  • A new disallowance of deductions for net interest expense in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income (exceptions apply)
  • New limits on net operating loss (NOL) deductions
  • Elimination of the Section 199 deduction (not to be confused with the new Sec.199A deduction), which was for qualified domestic production activities and commonly referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction”
  • A new rule limiting like-kind exchanges to real property that is not held primarily for sale (generally no more like-kind exchanges for personal property)
  • New limitations on deductions for certain employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation

Preparing for 2018 filing

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to the rates and breaks covered here. Also, these are only some of the most significant and widely applicable TCJA changes; you and your business could be affected by other changes as well. Contact us to learn precisely how you might be affected and for help preparing for your 2018 tax return filing — and beginning to plan for 2019, too.

© 2018

6 last-minute tax moves for your business

Tax planning is a year-round activity, but there are still some year-end strategies you can use to lower your 2018 tax bill. Here are six last-minute tax moves business owners should consider:

  1. Postpone invoices. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, and it would benefit from deferring income to next year, wait until early 2019 to send invoices. Accrual-basis businesses can defer recognition of certain advance payments for products to be delivered or services to be provided next year.
  2. Prepay expenses. A cash-basis business may be able to reduce its 2018 taxes by prepaying certain expenses — such as lease payments, insurance premiums, utility bills, office supplies and taxes — before the end of the year. Many expenses can be deducted up to 12 months in advance.
  3. Buy equipment. Take advantage of 100% bonus depreciation and Section 179 expensing to deduct the full cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, bonus depreciation, like Sec. 179 expensing, is now available for both new and used assets. Keep in mind that, to deduct the expense on your 2018 return, the assets must be placed in service — not just purchased — by the end of the year.
  4. Use credit cards. What if you’d like to prepay expenses or buy equipment before the end of the year, but you don’t have the cash? Consider using your business credit card. Generally, expenses paid by credit card are deductible when charged, even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until next year.
  5. Contribute to retirement plans. If you’re self-employed or own a pass-through business — such as a partnership, limited liability company or S corporation — one of the best ways to reduce your 2018 tax bill is to increase deductible contributions to retirement plans. Usually, these contributions must be made by year-end. But certain plans — such as SEP IRAs — allow your business to make 2018 contributions up until its tax return due date (including extensions).
  6. Qualify for the pass-through deduction. If your business is a sole proprietorship or pass-through entity, you may qualify for the new pass-through deduction of up to 20% of qualified business income. But if your taxable income exceeds $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), certain limitations kick in that can reduce or even eliminate the deduction. One way to avoid these limitations is to reduce your income below the threshold — for example, by having your business increase its retirement plan contributions.

Most of these strategies are subject to various limitations and restrictions beyond what we’ve covered here, so please consult us before you implement them. We can also offer more ideas for reducing your taxes this year and next.

© 2018

How to prepare for year-end physical inventory counts

As year end approaches, it’s time for calendar-year entities to perform physical inventory counts. This activity is more than a compliance chore. Proactive companies see it as an opportunity to improve operational efficiency.

Inventory basics

Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), inventory is recorded at the lower of cost or market value. There are three types of inventory:

  1. Raw materials,
  2. Work-in-progress, and
  3. Finished goods.

Estimating the value of inventory may involve subjective judgment calls, especially if your company converts raw materials into finished goods available for sale. The value of work-in-progress inventory can be especially hard to assess, because it includes overhead allocations and, in some cases, may require percentage-of-completion assessments.

Physical counts

A physical inventory count gives a snapshot of how much inventory your company has on hand at year end. For example, a manufacturing plant might need to count what’s on its warehouse shelves, on the shop floor and shipping dock, on consignment, at the repair shop, at remote or public warehouses, and in transit from suppliers and between company locations.

Before counting starts, you should consider:

  • Ordering or creating prenumbered tags that identify the part number and location and leave space to add the quantity and person who performed the count,
  • Conducting a dry run a few days before the count to identify any potential roadblocks and determine how many workers to schedule,
  • Assigning two-person teams to count inventory to minimize errors and fraud,
  • Carving the location into “count zones” to ensure full coverage and avoid duplication of efforts,
  • Writing off any unsalable or obsolete items, and
  • Precounting and bagging slow-moving items.

It’s essential that business operations “freeze” while the count takes place. Usually, inventory is counted during off-hours to minimize the disruption to business operations.

Auditor’s role

If your company issues audited financial statements, one or more members of your external audit team will be present during your physical inventory count. They aren’t there to help you count inventory. Instead, they’ll observe the procedures, review written inventory processes, evaluate internal controls over inventory, and perform independent counts to compare to your inventory listing and counts made by your employees.

Be ready to provide auditors with invoices and shipping/receiving reports. They review these documents to evaluate cutoff procedures for year-end deliveries and confirm the values reported on your inventory listing.

Making counts count

When it comes to physical inventory counts, our auditors have seen the best (and worst) practices over the years. For more information on how to perform an effective inventory count, contact us before year end.

© 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

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

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.

© 2018t

Businesses aren’t immune to tax identity theft

Tax identity theft may seem like a problem only for individual taxpayers. But, according to the IRS, increasingly businesses are also becoming victims. And identity thieves have become more sophisticated, knowing filing practices, the tax code and the best ways to get valuable data.

How it works

In tax identity theft, a taxpayer’s identifying information (such as Social Security number) is used to fraudulently obtain a refund or commit other crimes. Business tax identity theft occurs when a criminal uses the identifying information of a business to obtain tax benefits or to enable individual tax identity theft schemes.

For example, a thief could use an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file a fraudulent business tax return and claim a refund. Or a fraudster may report income and withholding for fake employees on false W-2 forms. Then, he or she can file fraudulent individual tax returns for these “employees” to claim refunds.

The consequences can include significant dollar amounts, lost time sorting out the mess and damage to your reputation.

Red flags

There are some red flags that indicate possible tax identity theft. For example, your business’s identity may have been compromised if:

  • Your business doesn’t receive expected or routine mailings from the IRS,
  • You receive an IRS notice that doesn’t relate to anything your business submitted, that’s about fictitious employees or that’s related to a defunct, closed or dormant business after all account balances have been paid,
  • The IRS rejects an e-filed return or an extension-to-file request, saying it already has a return with that identification number — or the IRS accepts it as an amended return,
  • You receive an IRS letter stating that more than one tax return has been filed in your business’s name, or
  • You receive a notice from the IRS that you have a balance due when you haven’t yet filed a return.

Keep in mind, though, that some of these could be the result of a simple error, such as an inadvertent transposition of numbers. Nevertheless, you should contact the IRS immediately if you receive any notices or letters from the agency that you believe might indicate that someone has fraudulently used your Employer Identification Number.

Prevention tips

Businesses should take steps such as the following to protect their own information as well as that of their employees:

  • Provide training to accounting, human resources and other employees to educate them on the latest tax fraud schemes and how to spot phishing emails.
  • Use secure methods to send W-2 forms to employees.
  • Implement risk management strategies designed to flag suspicious communications.

Of course identity theft can go beyond tax identity theft, so be sure to have a comprehensive plan in place to protect the data of your business, your employees and your customers. If you’re concerned your business has become a victim, or you have questions about prevention, please contact us.

© 2018