Your CPA offers a wide menu of services. An audit is a familiar type of attestation service that provides a formal opinion about whether the company’s financial statements conform to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
Consulting services, in contrast, provide advice or technical assistance that’s only for internal purposes. That is, lenders and other third parties can’t rely on the findings, conclusions and recommendations presented during a consulting project.
If you need a report that falls somewhere between these alternatives, consider an agreed upon procedures (AUP) engagement.
An AUP engagement uses procedures similar to an audit, but on a limited scale. It can be used to identify specific problems that require immediate action. When performing an AUP engagement, your CPA makes no formal opinion; he or she simply acts as a fact finder. The report lists:
- The procedures performed, and
- The CPA’s findings.
It’s the user’s responsibility to draw conclusions based on those 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.
AUP engagements boast several advantages. They can be performed at any time during the year, and they can be relied on by third parties. Plus, you have the flexibility to choose only those procedures you feel are necessary, so AUP engagements can be cost-effective.
Specifically, AUP engagements can be useful:
- In M&A due diligence,
- When a business owner suspects an employee of misrepresenting financial results, and
- To determine compliance with specific regulatory requirements, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).
In addition, lenders or franchisors may request an AUP engagement if they have doubts or questions about a company’s financials or the effectiveness of its internal controls — or if they want to check on the progress of a distressed company’s turnaround plan.
AUP engagements can be performed to supplement audits and consulting engagements — or as a standalone service. We can help you customize an AUP engagement that fits the needs of your business and its stakeholders.
The accounting rules for reporting stock compensation have been expanded. They now include share-based payments to nonemployees for providing goods and services, under recent guidance issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).
Under existing U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the FASB requires businesses that give stock awards to independent contractors or consultants to follow a separate standard from the one used for employee stock compensation.
Under Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Subtopic 505-50, Equity — Equity-Based Payments to Non-Employees, the measurement date for nonemployees is determined at the earlier of the date at which:
- The commitment for performance is complete, or
- The counterparty’s performance is complete.
The FASB originally chose to apply different stock compensation guidance to nonemployees because independent contractors and consultants were perceived as having significant freedom to move from company to company. In theory, independent contractors could watch stock price movements to determine where to work.
However, the FASB now believes the assumptions behind the dual standards were overstated, because full-time employees also have the freedom to move from job to job.
In June 2018, the FASB issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-07, Compensation — Stock Compensation: Improvements to Nonemployee Share-Based Payment Accounting. It eliminates the separate guidance for stock compensation paid to nonemployees and aligns it with the guidance for stock compensation paid to employees.
Under the aligned guidance, all share-based compensation payments will be measured with an estimate of the fair value of the equity the business is obligated to issue at the grant date. The grant date is the date the business and the stock award recipient agree to the terms of the award. Essentially, compensation will be recognized in the same period and in the same manner as if the company had paid cash for goods or services instead of stock.
The guidance doesn’t cover stock compensation that’s used to provide financing to the company that issued the shares. It also doesn’t include stock awards tied to a sale of goods or services as part of a contract accounted for under the new-and-improved revenue recognition standard.
The updated standard is effective for public companies for fiscal years that begin after December 15, 2018. Private companies have an extra year to implement the changes for annual reports.
Early adoption is generally permitted, but businesses aren’t allowed to follow the changes in ASU No. 2018-07 until they’ve implemented the new revenue recognition standard. Contact us for more information.
For many businesses, offering employees a 401(k) plan is no longer an option — it’s a competitive necessity. But employees often grow so accustomed to having a 401(k) that they don’t pay much attention to it.
It’s in your best interest as a business owner to buck this trend. Keeping your employees engaged with their 401(k)s will increase the likelihood that they’ll appreciate this benefit and get the most from it. In turn, they’ll value you more as an employer, which can pay dividends in productivity and retention.
Promote positive awareness
Throughout the year, remind employees that a 401(k) remains one of the most tax-efficient ways to save for retirement. Regardless of investment results, the pretax advantage and any employer match make a 401(k) plan an ideal way to save.
For example, point out that, for every $100 of pay they defer to the 401(k), the entire $100 is invested in the plan — not reduced for taxes as it would be if it were paid directly to them. And any employer match increases investment potential.
At the same time, make sure employees know that your 401(k) plan operates under federal regulations. Although the value of their accounts may go up and down, it isn’t affected by the performance of your business, because plan assets aren’t commingled with company funds.
Encourage patience, involvement
The fluctuations and complexities of the stock market may cause some participants to worry about their 401(k)s — or to try not to think about them. Regularly reinforce that their accounts are part of a long-term retirement savings and investment strategy. Explain that both the economy and stock market are cyclical. If employees are invested appropriately for their respective ages, their accounts will likely rebound from most losses.
If a change occurs in the investment environment, such as a sudden drop in the stock market, present it as an opportunity for them to reassess their investment strategy and asset allocation. Market shifts have a significant impact on many individuals’ asset allocations, resulting in portfolios that may be inappropriate for their ages, retirement horizons and risk tolerance. Suggest that employees conduct annual rebalancing to maintain appropriate investment risk.
As part of their benefits package, some businesses provide financial counseling services to employees. If you’re one of them, now is a good time to remind them of this resource. Employee assistance programs sometimes offer financial counseling as well.
Another option is to occasionally engage investment advisors to come in and meet with your employees. Your plan vendor may offer this service. Of course, you should never directly give financial advice to employees through anyone who works for your company.
A 401(k) plan is a substantial investment for any company in time, money and resources. Encourage employees to appreciate your efforts — for their benefit and yours. We can help you assess and express the financial advantages of your plan.
Like most businesses, you’ve probably experienced a significant increase in the number of customers who prefer to make cashless payments. And you may be wondering: How does the acceptance of these types of transactions affect the auditing of your financial statements?
Cashless transactions require the exchange of digital information to facilitate payments. Instead of focusing on the collection and recording of physical cash, your auditors will spend significant time analyzing your company’s electronic sales records. This requires four specific procedures.
1. Identifying accepted payment methods
Auditors will ask for a list of the types of payments your company accepts and the process maps for each payment vehicle. Examples of cashless payment methods include:
- Credit and debit cards,
- Mobile wallets (such as Venmo),
- Digital currencies (such as Bitcoin),
- Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments,
- Wire transfers, and
- Payments via intermediaries (such as PayPal).
Be prepared to provide documents detailing how the receipt of cashless payments works and how the funds end up in your company’s bank account.
2. Evaluating roles and responsibilities
Your auditors will request a list of employees involved in the receipt, recording, reporting and analysis of cashless transactions. They will also want to see how your company manages and monitors employee access to every technology platform connected to cashless payments.
Evaluating who handles each aspect of the cashless payment cycle helps auditors confirm whether you have the appropriate level of security and segregation of duties to prevent fraud and misstatement.
3. Testing the reconciliation process
Auditors will review prior sales reconciliations to test their accuracy and ensure appropriate recognition of revenue. This may be especially challenging as companies implement the new accounting rules on revenue recognition for long-term contracts. Auditors also will test accounting entries related to such accounts as inventory, deferred revenue and accounts receivable.
4. Analyzing trends
Cashless transactions create an electronic audit trail. So, there’s ample data for auditors to analyze. To uncover anomalies, auditors may, for example, analyze sales by payment vehicle, over different time periods and according to each employee’s sales activity.
If your company has experienced payment fraud, it’s important to share that information with your audit team. Also tell them about steps you took to remediate the problem and recover losses.
Preparing for a cashless future
Before we arrive to conduct fieldwork, let’s discuss the types of cashless payments you now accept — or plan to accept in the future. Depending on the number of cashless methods, we’ll amend our audit program to review them in detail.
Many companies, especially those that operate in areas prone to natural disasters, should consider business interruption insurance. Unlike a commercial property policy, which may cover certain repairs of damaged property, this coverage generally provides the cash flow to cover revenues lost and expenses incurred while normal operations are suspended because of an applicable event.
But be warned: Business interruption insurance is arguably among the most complicated types of coverage on the market today. Submitting a claim can be time-consuming and requires careful preparation. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:
Notify your insurer immediately. Contact your insurance rep by phone as soon as possible to describe the damage. If your policy has been water-damaged or destroyed, ask him or her to send you a copy.
Review your policy. Read your policy in its entirety to determine how to best present your claim. It’s important to understand the policy’s limits and deductibles before spending time documenting losses that may not be covered.
Practice careful recordkeeping. Maintain accurate records to support your claim. Reorganize your bookkeeping to segregate costs related to the business interruption and keep supporting invoices. Among the necessary documents are:
- Predisaster financial statements and income tax returns,
- Postdisaster business records,
- Copies of current utility bills, employee wage and benefit statements, and other records showing continuing operating expenses,
- Receipts for building materials, a portable generator and other supplies needed for immediate repairs,
- Paid invoices from contractors, security personnel, media outlets and other service providers, and
- Receipts for rental payments, if you move your business to a temporary location.
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces most income tax rates and expands some tax breaks, it limits or eliminates several itemized deductions that have been valuable to many individual taxpayers. Here are five deductions you may see shrink or disappear when you file your 2018 income tax return:
1. State and local tax deduction. For 2018 through 2025, your total itemized deduction for all state and local taxes combined — including property tax — is limited to $10,000 ($5,000 if you’re married and filing separately). You still must choose between deducting income and sales tax; you can’t deduct both, even if your total state and local tax deduction wouldn’t exceed $10,000.
2. Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can claim an itemized deduction for interest on mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA reduces the mortgage debt limit from $1 million to $750,000 for debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, with some limited exceptions.
3. Home equity debt interest deduction. Before the TCJA, an itemized deduction could be claimed for interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt used for any purpose, such as to pay off credit cards (for which interest isn’t deductible). The TCJA effectively limits the home equity interest deduction for 2018 through 2025 to debt that would qualify for the home mortgage interest deduction.
4. Miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor. This deduction for expenses such as certain professional fees, investment expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses is suspended for 2018 through 2025. If you’re an employee and work from home, this includes the home office deduction. (Business owners and the self-employed may still be able to claim a home office deduction against their business or self-employment income.)
5. Personal casualty and theft loss deduction. For 2018 through 2025, this itemized deduction is suspended except if the loss was due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.
Be aware that additional rules and limits apply to many of these deductions. Also keep in mind that the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction. The combination of a much larger standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of many itemized deductions means that, even if itemizing has typically benefited you in the past, you might be better off taking the standard deduction when you file your 2018 return. Please contact us with any questions you have.