Austin

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

Are you ready for audit season?

It’s almost audit season for calendar-year entities. A little preparation can go a long way toward facilitating the external audit process, minimizing audit adjustments and surprises, lowering your audit fees in the future and getting more value out of the audit process. Here are some ways to plan ahead.

The mindset

Before fieldwork begins, meet with your office team to explain the purpose and benefits of financial statement audits. Novice staff members may confuse financial audits with IRS audits, which can sometimes become contentious and stressful. Also designate a liaison in the accounting department who will answer inquiries and prepare document requests for auditors.

Reconciliation
Enter all transactions into the accounting system before the auditors arrive, and prepare a schedule that reconciles each account balance. Be ready to discuss any estimates that underlie account balances, such as allowances for uncollectible accounts, warranty reserves or percentage of completion.

Check the schedules to reveal discrepancies from what’s expected based on the company’s budget or prior year’s balance. Also review last year’s adjusting journal entries to see if they’ll be needed again this year. An internal review is one of the most effective ways to minimize errors and adjusting journal entries during a financial statement audit.

Work papers
Auditors are grateful when clients prepare work papers to reconcile account balances and transactions in advance. Auditors also will ask for original source documents to verify what’s reported on the financial statements, such as bank statements, sales contracts, leases and loan agreements.

Compile these documents before your audit team arrives. They may also inquire about changes to contractual agreements, regulatory or legal developments, additions to the chart of accounts and major complex transactions that occurred in 2016.
Internal controls

Evaluate internal controls before your auditor arrives. Correct any “deficiencies” or “weaknesses” in internal control policies, such as a lack of segregation of duties, managerial review or physical safeguards. Then the auditor will have fewer recommendations to report when he or she delivers the financial statements.

Value-added
Financial statement audits should be seen as a learning opportunity. Preparing for your auditor’s arrival not only facilitates the process and promotes timeliness, but also engenders a sense of teamwork between your office staff and external accountants.

© 2016

Installment sales offer both tax pluses and tax minuses

Whether you’re selling your business or acquiring another company, the tax consequences can have a major impact on the transaction’s success or failure.

Consider installment sales, for example. The sale of a business might be structured as an installment sale if the buyer lacks sufficient cash or pays a contingent amount based on the business’s performance. And it sometimes — but not always — can offer the seller tax advantages.

Pluses

An installment sale may make sense if the seller wishes to spread the gain over a number of years. This could be especially beneficial if it would allow the seller to stay under the thresholds for triggering the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the 20% long-term capital gains rate.

For 2016, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately) will owe NIIT on some or all of their investment income. And the 20% long-term capital gains rate kicks in when 2016 taxable income exceeds $415,050 for singles, $441,000 for heads of households and $466,950 for joint filers (half that for separate filers).

Minuses

But an installment sale can backfire on the seller. For example:

  • Depreciation recapture must be reported as gain in the year of sale, no matter how much cash the seller receives.
  • If tax rates increase, the overall tax could wind up being more.

Please let us know if you’d like more information on installment sales — or other aspects of tax planning in mergers and acquisitions. Of course, tax consequences are only one of many important considerations.

© 2016

Are you ready for the new revenue recognition rules?

A landmark financial reporting update is replacing about 180 pieces of industry-specific revenue accounting guidance with a single, principles-based approach. In May 2014, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) unveiled Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. In 2015, the FASB postponed the effective date for the new revenue guidance by one year. Here’s why companies that report comparative results can’t delay any longer — and how to start the implementation process.

No time to waste

The updated revenue recognition guidance takes effect for public companies for annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2017, including interim periods within those annual reporting periods. The update permits early adoption, but no earlier than the original effective date of December 15, 2016. Private companies have an extra year to implement the changes.

That may seem like a long time away, but many companies voluntarily provide comparative results. For example, the presentation of two prior years of results isn’t required under GAAP, but it helps investors, lenders and other stakeholders assess long-term performance.

Calendar-year public companies that provide two prior years of results will need to collect revenue data under one of the retrospective transition methods for 2016 and 2017 in order to issue comparative statements by 2018. Private companies would have to follow suit a year later.

A new mindset

The primary change under the updated guidance is the requirement to identify separate performance obligations — promises to transfer goods or services — in a contract. A company should treat each promised good or service (or bundle of goods or services) as a performance obligation to the extent it’s “distinct,” meaning:

  1. The customer can benefit from it (either on its own or together with other readily available resources), and
  2. It’s separately identifiable in the contract.

Then, a company must determine whether these obligations are satisfied over time or at a point in time, and recognize revenue accordingly. The shift to a principles-based approach will require greater judgment on the part of management.

Call for help

Need assistance complying with the new guidance? We can help assess how — and when — you should report revenue, explain the disclosure requirements, and evaluate the impact on customer relationships and other aspects of your business, including tax planning strategies and debt covenants.

© 2016