CPA

The home office deduction: Actual expenses vs. the simplified method

If you run your business from your home or perform certain functions at home that are related to your business, you might be able to claim a home office deduction against your business income on your 2018 income tax return. There are now two methods for claiming this deduction: the actual expenses method and the simplified method.

Basics of the deduction

In general, you’ll qualify for a home office deduction if part of your home is used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business.

If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if 1) you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises, or 2) you use a storage area in your home (or a separate free-standing structure, such as a garage) exclusively and regularly for your business.

Actual expenses

Traditionally, taxpayers have deducted actual expenses when they claim a home office deduction. Deductible home office expenses may include:

  • Direct expenses, such as the cost of painting and carpeting a room used exclusively for business,
  • A proportionate share of indirect expenses, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, and
  • A depreciation allowance.

But keeping track of actual expenses can be time consuming.

The simplified method

Fortunately, there’s a simplified method that’s been available since 2013: You can deduct $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum total of $1,500.

For example, if you’ve converted a 300-square-foot bedroom to an office you use exclusively and regularly for business, you can write off $1,500 under the simplified method (300 square feet x $5). However, if your business is located in a 600-square-foot finished basement, the deduction will still be only $1,500 because of the cap on the deduction under this method.

As you can see, the cap can make the simplified method less beneficial for larger home office spaces. But even for spaces of 300 square feet or less, taxpayers may qualify for a bigger deduction using the actual expense method. So, tracking your actual expenses can be worth the extra hassle.

Flexibility in filing

When claiming the home office deduction, you’re not locked into a particular method. For instance, you might choose the actual expense method on your 2018 return, use the simplified method when you file your 2019 return next year and then switch back to the actual expense method thereafter. The choice is yours.

Unsure whether you qualify for the home office deduction? Or wondering whether you should deduct actual expenses or use the simplified method? Contact us. We can help you determine what’s right for your specific situation.

© 2019

What is and isn’t a financial statement audit?

by Tyler Mosley, CPA

Audit Partner at Atchley & Associates, LLP

 

In the public accounting world, we sometimes assume everyone knows what a financial statement audit is and what it isn’t. However, that is a misconception as the term “audit” can be used to describe a variety of compliance related activities.  For example, an income tax audit performed by the IRS is completely different than a financial statement audit performed by an independent auditor. So…what is a financial statement audit?

A financial statement audit is an examination of an organization’s financial statements by an independent auditor who must be a certified public accountant (CPA).  The examination is performed in accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS) and a reporting framework chosen by the party who authorizes the audit engagement.  In most cases, the framework chosen is Generally Accepted Accounting Standards (GAAP) as that is what most third parties who request a financial statement audit require.  However, a financial statement audit can be performed using a variety of reporting frameworks, such as but not limited to income tax basis, modified cash basis, cash basis, or statutory basis.

The independent auditors’ role in the engagement is to provide an opinion on whether or not the financial statements presented are materially correct in all respects related to the reporting framework chosen.  An audit involves the independent auditors obtaining an understanding of your organization’s internal control, assessing fraud risk, substantively testing accounting records through inspection, observation, and third-party confirmation or corroborative inquiry.

Now that we have defined what a financial statement audit is, let’s discuss what it isn’t.  A financial statement audit does not serve the same purpose as a financial statement compilation or review.

A financial statement review provides a conclusion as to whether they believe any material modifications should be made to the presented financial statements based on the reporting framework that has been chosen.  In a review engagement, the CPA is required to understand the industry in which the organization operates including accounting principles that are unique to the industry.  The CPA will also ask questions about your financial activity and perform analytical procedures to identify areas in the financial statements where material misstatements are likely to arise.  The CPA does not obtain an understanding of your organization’s internal controls, assess fraud risk, or substantively test accounting records.  As such, the CPA only provides limited assurance on the financial statements.

A financial statement compilation is a service that does not have to be performed by a CPA or even an independent third party. However, if the person preparing the compilation is not independent they must disclose the fact in the compilation.  The CPA does not provide an opinion on if the financial statements presented are materially correct nor do they provide a conclusion like they would for a review.

We encourage all our clients to inform us of the purpose of the compilation, review, or audit engagement services they are requesting so we can assist in determining what level of service is appropriate for their needs.  The time required to perform the engagement increases as you move from compilation to review to an audit.

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

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

Tax planning critical when buying a business

If you acquire a company, your to-do list will be long, which means you can’t devote all of your time to the deal’s potential tax implications. However, if you neglect tax issues during the negotiation process, the negative consequences can be serious. To improve the odds of a successful acquisition, it’s important to devote resources to tax planning before your deal closes.

Complacency can be costly

During deal negotiations, you and the seller should discuss such issues as whether and how much each party can deduct their transaction costs and how much in local, state and federal tax obligations the parties will owe upon signing the deal. Often, deal structures (such as asset sales) that typically benefit buyers have negative tax consequences for sellers and vice versa. So it’s common for the parties to wrangle over taxes at this stage.

Just because you seem to have successfully resolved tax issues at the negotiation stage doesn’t mean you can become complacent. With adequate planning, you can spare your company from costly tax-related surprises after the transaction closes and you begin to integrate the acquired business. Tax management during integration can also help your company capture synergies more quickly and efficiently.

You may, for example, have based your purchase price on the assumption that you’ll achieve a certain percentage of cost reductions via postmerger synergies. However, if your taxation projections are flawed or you fail to follow through on earlier tax assumptions, you may not realize such synergies.

Merging accounting functions

One of the most important tax-related tasks is the integration of your seller’s and your own company’s accounting departments. There’s no time to waste: You generally must file federal and state income tax returns — either as a combined entity or as two separate sets — after the first full quarter following your transaction’s close. You also must account for any short-term tax obligations arising from your acquisition.

To ensure the two departments integrate quickly and are ready to prepare the required tax documents, decide well in advance of closing which accounting personnel you’ll retain. If you and your seller use different tax processing software or follow different accounting methods, choose between them as soon as feasible. Understand that, if your acquisition has been using a different accounting method, you’ll need to revise the company’s previous tax filings to align them with your own accounting system.

The tax consequences of M&A decisions may be costly and could haunt your company for years. We can help you ensure you plan properly and minimize any potentially negative tax consequences.

© 2017

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

9 Things to Know When Settling a Loved One’s Estate

by Joe Ben Combs, CPA

Tax Supervisor @ Atchley & Associates, LLP

 

Handling the estate of a family member or friend who has passed away can be one of the most difficult things you may be asked to do, both emotionally and logistically. You have to navigate a complex tax system, a treacherous legal system and a bureaucratic financial system all while managing relationships with beneficiaries eager for their inheritance, not to mention the task of dealing with your own personal loss.

Our team has walked many people through this process and we thought it would be helpful to share a few items that our clients often need to be reminded of.

  1. Notifications. There are a number of individuals, businesses and institutions that are impacted when someone passes away and will need to be notified. Depending on the situation, these can include the Social Security Administration, heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, financial institutions, insurance companies, and utilities providers, among others.
  2. Obtain an EIN. The employer identification number is the tax ID used by an estate or trust. This will be required to open an estate or trust bank account as well as for any tax filings.
  3. Change of address. The United States Postal Service allows you to request a change of address online at usps.com. This is important in order to avoid a pile of mail in the decedent’s mailbox which can pose a security risk but it also allows you as the person responsible for the estate to stay on top of bills and identify businesses or financial institutions with which the decedent may have had accounts.
  4. Taxes. As the personal representative, you may be responsible for filing a number of tax returns for the decedent. These might include an estate tax return (form 706) an income tax return for the estate (form 1041) and the individual’s final income tax return (form 1040) or gift tax return (form 709) as well as unfiled returns from prior years. With all of these come a host of possible tax elections and post-mortem planning opportunities that should be discussed with a tax professional. And while Texas does not have any corresponding state returns for these federal filings, many decedents will have filing obligations in other states.
  5. Search for unclaimed property. One of the primary responsibilities of the executor, administrator or trustee handling an estate is to identify, collect, value, manage, and dispose of or distribute the decedent’s assets. An often overlooked source of assets is the state itself. In Texas, the Comptroller provides a website (https://mycpa.cpa.state.tx.us/up/Search.jsp) where individuals and business can search for unclaimed property by name.
  6. Value all assets. This was alluded to above but it is worth repeating. Even if the value of a decedent’s estate is below the threshold to generate any estate tax, obtaining date-of-death values (or values as of the alternate valuation date if applicable) is crucial to ensure correct income tax reporting when that property is subsequently disposed of. This is because the basis (tax-speak for the starting point in a gain or loss calculation) of an asset gets stepped up to the date of death value and is often difficult to track down later on when the asset is sold.
  7. Disclaiming an inheritance. Many beneficiaries find it advantageous for various reasons to allow assets that they would have otherwise inherited to pass to someone else. This can be an effective post-mortem planning technique. Keep in mind however that the assets must then be distributed as if the beneficiary had predeceased the decedent. In order to be effective for tax purposes a disclaimer generally must be made within 9 months of the date of death and the original beneficiary must not have received any benefit from the disclaimed assets.
  8. IRAs. Decedents’ assets at death will often include retirement accounts, particularly IRAs. The full range of options available for handling IRAs is beyond the scope of this piece and it is often not the executor’s decision what happens to these accounts but simply keep in mind that withdrawing the funds immediately is often the least advantageous option. Consulting a CPA or financial advisor is highly recommended when making these decisions.
  9. Hire professionals. At the risk of sounding self-serving, we could not in good conscience omit this simple piece of advice. There are simply too many moving pieces and too much at stake to not at least consult with a CPA and/or attorney who is experienced in dealing with estates.

Overview of inventory reporting methods

It’s critical to report inventory using the optimal method. There are several legitimate options for reporting inventory — but take heed: The method you choose ultimately affects how much inventory and profit you’ll show and how much tax you’ll owe.

The basics

Inventory is generally recorded when it’s received and title transfers to the company. Then, it moves to cost of goods sold when the product ships and title transfers to the customer. But you can apply different inventory methods that will affect the value of inventory on your company’s balance sheet.

FIFO vs. LIFO

Under the first-in, first-out (FIFO) method, the first units entered into inventory are the first ones presumed sold. Conversely, under the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method, the last units entered are the first presumed sold.

In an inflationary environment, companies that report inventory using FIFO report higher inventory values, lower cost of sales and higher pretax earnings than otherwise identical companies that use LIFO. So, in an increasing-cost market, companies that use FIFO appear stronger — on the surface.

But LIFO can be an effective way to defer taxes and, therefore, improve cash flow. Using LIFO causes the low-cost items to remain in inventory. Higher cost of sales generates lower pretax earnings as long as inventory keeps growing. To keep inventory growing and avoid expensing old cost layers, however, some companies may feel compelled to produce or purchase excessive amounts of inventory. This can be an inefficient use of resources.

Specific identification

When a company’s inventory is one of a kind, such as artwork or custom jewelry, it may be appropriate to use the specific-identification method. Here, each item is reported at historic cost and that amount is generally carried on the books until the specific item is sold. But a write-off may be required if an item’s market value falls below its carrying value.

Weighing your options

Each inventory reporting method has pros and cons — and what worked when you started your business may not be the right choice today. As you prepare for year end, consider whether your method is still optimal, given your current size and business operations, expected market conditions, and today’s tax laws and accounting rules. Not sure what’s right? We can help you evaluate the options.

© 2016

Combining business and vacation travel: What can you deduct?

If you go on a business trip within the United States and tack on some vacation days, you can deduct some of your expenses. But exactly what can you write off?

Transportation expenses

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, then generally none of your transportation expenses are deductible.

What costs can be included? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.

Business days vs. pleasure days

The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home.

Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t called upon to work those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (such as local transportation difficulties).

You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. These expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible.

We can help

Questions? Contact us if you want more information about business travel deductions.

© 2016

Will your business have a net operating loss? Make the most of it

When the deductible expenses of a business exceed its income, a net operating loss (NOL) generally occurs. If you’re planning ahead or filing your income tax return after an extension request and you find that your business has a qualifying NOL, there’s some good news: The loss may generate some tax benefits.

Carrying back or forward

The specific rules and exact computations to figure an NOL can be complex. But when a business incurs a qualifying NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow during a time when you need it.

However, there’s an alternative: The business can elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is fairly strong, carrying the loss forward may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply.

Your situation is unique

Your business may want to opt for a carryforward if its alternative minimum tax liability in previous years makes the carryback less beneficial. In the case of flow-through entities, owners might be able to reap individual tax benefits from the NOL. Also note that there are different NOL rules for farming businesses.

Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefits of an NOL.

© 2016