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17 posts from March 2016

4 Cybersecurity Pitfalls to Avoid

HackerYou might break out in a cold sweat at just the thought of criminals on the other side of the world stealing your clients’ or customers’ account information. After all, if some of the largest corporations and agencies of the federal government can’t prevent their systems from being breached, what can a Main Street CPA firm or medium-sized business possibly do against such a threat?

Reality is that as a CPA you can probably do more than you think. At a minimum, as a trusted business adviser, you should help your clients or employer avoid these common pitfalls:

  1. Classifying cybersecurity as an IT issue. Although IT has a support role involving intrusion detection and prevention, cybersecurity involves much more than IT. Today’s hackers increasingly focus their attacks on human rather than technical vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity is an enterprise risk management (ERM) issue. With some specialized training, CPAs are uniquely qualified to systematically assess and report on cybersecurity risks and implement controls to mitigate those risks.

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7 Ways to Make Busy Season More Fun


MassageAlthough it can be a daunting and stressful time, busy season is also an extremely lucrative and productive one for tax practices, one that can be just as rewarding for them as the holidays are for retailers. What may be overlooked, however, is that it can also be a great time to build a sense of camaraderie and team spirit because a shared challenge can bring people together. That’s especially true if you add in some enjoyable activities that help maintain your team’s positive outlook and demonstrate your concern for their well-being.

To find out how CPAs are keeping the season upbeat—and even adding some fun to it—the AICPA recently engaged our social media audience and asked two questions: "How does your firm show appreciation for staff during busy season?” and “You get three wishes: What are the best ways to show staff appreciation during busy season?” We then put together the tips below based on their responses and what we’ve heard from other practitioners.

Be nice. This is the easiest and least expensive stress reliever available, so be sure to make the most of it by expressing appreciation for hard work and complimenting or publicly acknowledging outstanding efforts.

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Revised: CPA Exam Q1/Q2 2016 Score Release Timetables

Due to the 10-day extension of testing windows beginning April 1, a revised Q1/Q2 2016 score release timetable is now available. Score release timelines are updated biannually on AICPA Insights and on the CPA Exam website. For more information about score release and the scoring process, please visit the Psychometrics and Scoring page.

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy releases the scores to candidates and state boards of accountancy based upon the target score release dates listed in the tables below.

Jan 2016 timetable

**The examination data files the AICPA receives after March 1 will be included in the final target score release date.

Apr 2016 timetable

**The examination data files the AICPA receives after June 11 will be included in the final target score release date.

Keep in mind:

  • All dates and times are based on Eastern Standard Time zone.
  • For the vast majority of candidates, the AICPA receives the examination data files from Prometric within 24 hours after a candidate completes the Exam.
  • The scores for the examination data files received after the AICPA cutoff dates will be in the subsequent scheduled target score release.
  • Some candidates who take the BEC section might receive their scores approximately one week following the target release date due to additional analysis that might be required for the written communication tasks.

We encourage candidates to visit the Psychometrics and Scoring page on the Exams website at www.aicpa.org/cpa-exam for information about score release and the scoring process, including the CPA Exam Score Release Timeline FAQs .

Acting Today for a Strong Profession Tomorrow

Christen_Tim_headshot_Every member of the AICPA plays a role in shaping the accounting profession.

The CPA’s reputation and profession’s success rely upon the actions each and every one of us takes every day. Our collective contributions can be seen in many forms. We collaborate to address the evolving needs of our clients and organizations, and to maintain the relevance of the services we provide. Through peer review, standard setting and other activities, we all contribute to helping firms maintain quality in an increasingly complex environment. And in the corporate environment, we work to embed our core values of quality, competency and integrity to improve management accounting which, in turn, enables stronger audits and financial reporting.

Now, there’s a new opportunity for us to play our part in the profession’s vitality for the future. Last week, the AICPA governing Council voted to proceed with a member ballot on a proposal that would enhance our profession across public and management accounting. Specifically, the Institute will be asking members to support a proposal to create a new association with The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants representing the entire accounting profession, while preserving our respective membership bodies. It will enhance advocacy and expand member resources and education opportunities.

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Appearances are Not Deceiving: Powering CPAs as Premier Tax Service Providers

The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.

--Socrates

2013_CPAGiveaway_Thumbnail (2)When I started college at the University of Maryland, I went in as a pre-med major, intending to be a pediatrician.  I wanted something meaningful, and I wanted to make a living, but all the sciences did me in. Luckily for me, my sister had just married a CPA and I spoke to him about becoming an accounting major. The rest is history. I thought, “Maybe it’s not the most glamorous job in the world,” but I had a very positive impression of CPAs and my brother-in-law reinforced that positive impression when I spoke to him.

Fast forward to my role at the AICPA, where a key mission is to position CPAs as the premier providers of tax services. This is not just about appearances – it’s about realities. It is why the AICPA Tax Section is the home for CPA tax professionals seeking the edge they need to achieve success – premier status, if you will – through the tax practice resources and the ethical guidance we provide. We believe “premier’ is defined by the high quality services and uncommon ethical conduct CPAs provide; and the AICPA has to do its part in helping CPAs achieve the reality.

But the appearances part is important too. It’s critical. I know that CPAs are the premier tax service providers, but I want the rest of the world to know it too. And so for a number of years, the AICPA has supported a public-facing communications campaign to position CPAs as the premier service provider. Two years ago, that campaign morphed into a social media push to engage consumers to tell their #CPAPOWERED life moment stories of financial success or goals met thanks to their CPA. Last year, the #CPAPOWERED campaign focused on establishing CPAs as essential to small business success and a strong economy. The campaign helped business owners and entrepreneurs understand how much the advice of a CPA can help them start, grow and thrive.

Part of that campaign showcased CPA expertise and tips through the “CPA Secrets to a Better Business” video series. This year, the push when the consuming public has taxes on its mind began on March 4 and will run during busy season. We will again be using the Tax Tip video series on YouTube and Facebook.

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The Insanity of Inheritance: How to Keep Your Clients Civil and Practical

InheritanceWhen you handle inheritance issues for bereaved clients, stop and put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand their emotions…loneliness, sadness, fear and possibly anger.

As a CPA financial planner, your role is to support your clients throughout their lives, including during the loss of a loved one. When it comes to inheritance, people’s judgment can become clouded. Even if dealing with an inheritance brings out the worst in your clients, you are helping them prepare for a secure retirement. Take a deep dive into their lives and look for an understanding of what they’re going through.

When clients lose a parent, they also lose their security blanket, leading them to cling to possessions that remind them of their loved one, such as a silver set, a gun collection or a folded veteran flag from military service. While these are all reminders of loved ones, lasting security really comes down to financial stability. Consider these three factors:

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Answers to 5 Common Cloud Questions for Not-for-Profits


CloudWith cybersecurity in recent news headlines, more clients are coming to us for advice on accounting software solutions. Cloud systems, especially, have increased in popularity among businesses in the private sector and not-for-profits alike. Organizations with decentralized operations, or with many remote workers that need access to information, can benefit the most from using a cloud system.

Here are the most common questions we encounter in our practices.

Q: What (and where) is the cloud?

A: When we talk about the cloud, it just refers to a system or application that is hosted somewhere outside of your office—usually accessed over the Internet. The term “cloud” comes from the shape used to represent the Internet on network diagrams. 

Some people may also be familiar with the term Software as a Service (SaaS).  The “as a Service” (aaS) suffix also refers to the cloud. There are several flavors of this: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and more keep coming up as additional services are delivered via the cloud.

Another term also often associated with the cloud is “hosted solutions.” This can be software, servers, or even desktop services. Unlike the “as a Service” model, which would be considered “pure” cloud and accessible directly from the Internet in a web browser, hosted solutions usually require a VPN network connection or specially configured client software to access.  However, for most intents and purposes, we can consider hosted solutions as part of the “cloud.”

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Social Security File and Suspend: Important Deadline and Changes

DeadlineUp until now, if a married couple had one spouse at full retirement age (66 or older), file and suspend allowed the other spouse and/or a dependent to enjoy short-and long-term benefits.  But after April 29, 2016, this will no longer be the case. After this date, if a spouse suspends his or her benefits, benefits for everyone involved – including the other spouse or qualifying dependent – will be suspended, too. Thus, a filer must take benefits and abstain from delayed retirement credits for the other person to also receive benefits.

With the file and suspend strategy, a married person – typically the one who makes the most money – can file for his or her own Social Security benefits at age 66 or older, and then immediately suspend those benefits, while their spouse can still file for spousal benefits. As a result, the couple collects an ongoing Social Security check, and, at the same time, the spouse earning the most money sees his or her benefits grow by 8% each year, allowing for a potentially higher benefit for the surviving spouse.

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Why “Extension” is not a Four-Letter Word for Tax Season

Tax extensionsUp until January, I worked in public accounting and remember all too well the feeling when the calendar flipped to March; it seemed like all I was hearing from my individual clients was that they still had not received their 1099s from their brokerage accounts. It seems every year the compression of when these 1099s are received and the deadline to file gets closer and closer. Not to mention the frustration of getting those amended 1099s right after the client’s tax return has been assembled. Talk about adding fuel to the fire!

There are strategies and processes you can implement to encourage your clients to bring in all of their tax return data (with the exception of the late 1099s) so that you will have everything ready to go and can quickly finish the return once the 1099 arrives. However, despite these well intended strategies, the reality is that it feels nearly impossible to move all the returns that have complicated, late arriving 1099s through the entire process before April 18th (or April 19th in the case of residents of Maine or Massachusetts).

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Management Accounting for a Healthy Bottom Line

Natural Food is a Natural Fit for Shan Staka

Shan StakaShan was brought up with respect for healthy food and living that influences him in his role as CFO of Western Foods, a gluten-free facility in Woodland, Calif. The company makes flour from rice and ancient grains like millet, sorghum and amaranth.  In this AICPA Insights profile, we look at what prepared Shan to guide the operations of a growing natural foods enterprise.

Tell me about Western Foods and your role there.
The enterprise started five years ago and grew so fast that we were maximizing our capacity by year three. So we put forth additional resources and equipment to increase the production level, which has led to incredible growth. I am planning, forecasting and implementing financials to get the best use of those investments in Western Foods.

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ACA: Step Away from that Form 1095 ‘Til You Read This

“Never do today what you can as well do tomorrow” – Aaron Burr

Proceed with cautionThis statement, sometimes written in the context of postponing an unpleasant task, was originally expressed by our country’s third vice-president to acknowledge that in certain circumstances, a premature action may be regrettable. Alexander Hamilton would agree.

The same can be said for reporting on the Affordable Care Act: CPAs may regret completing any related forms without first taking some precautions. We are in the business of helping our clients with a full range of accounting and tax needs, so offering services in this space seems to fall neatly into the area of tax compliance. This is a compliance matter, but the nature of the material required to prepare these information returns adds an additional level of complexity. CPAs who aid clients with the completion of these forms need to consider the applicability of privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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Advice from a CPA Client - How to Break the News That They Owe

Tax billLet’s just get this out of the way up front: I’m not a CPA. I’m a pictures-and-words kind of guy. Numbers never loved me. They were my bully in school. To this day, the sight of long columns of numbers causes me all manner of gastric discomfort. So when I started my own business and realized there would be bookkeeping involved, naturally I addressed the challenge by running to my CPA.

Now, I have to pause here a moment to say my CPA is the most patient guy in the world. A sample of things he said to me over the years:

“No, Adam, you can’t deduct Warcraft.”

“What do you mean you LOST the checkbook? Don’t you use Quicken? Wait—you DON’T TRACK EXPENSES???”

“No, a 1099. Not a W2. No, that’s a K1—no, not a K9, a K1. Look, just hand me the box of papers and I’ll figure it out. Go home.”

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Update on Taxes and Terrorism: Why Clients’ Data Could Become Vulnerable

Data breachSince this article was initially published in December 2015, the FBI has attempted to compel Apple, Inc. to defeat its own encryption for the purposes of accessing the information on the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, perpetrator of the mass shootings in San Bernardino in December of last year. Apple has thus far refused to obey a federal court order to provide access to the phone, based in part on a first-amendment argument that code-writing constitutes free speech. A federal court in California will hear arguments on March 22, but promises from both the Justice Department and Apple, Inc. to appeal any decision against their respective cases mean the dispute is unlikely to conclude at that time. The case is certain to have far-reaching implications for the nature of digital security both here in the United States and abroad.

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Changes to Lease Accounting Have Been Announced. Are You Ready?


LeasesRegardless of the type of business that you are in, there is a good chance that you have been involved in a lease transaction. Whether you have rented space in an office building or leased vehicles or manufacturing equipment, you have most likely been exposed to lease accounting in one way or another.

While you may not have been required to recognize these leases on your company’s balance sheets in the past,  with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new leases standard, the accounting is about to change. In addition, you will want to pay close attention as the new standard applies to all type of entities— including public, private and not-for-profit organizations.

Under the new standard, lessees are required to recognize assets and liabilities arising from all leases, except for agreements that have a lease term of 12 months or less. Generally, lessor accounting will be similar to current GAAP; however, both lessor and lessee disclosures will change.

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6 Ways Women CPAs Can Accelerate Their Careers


WomenMarch is Women’s History Month, a worthwhile time to consider the many contributions that women have made to our country’s progress. In fact, this is also an interesting time in the history of women in the CPA profession. Given the retirement of the large Baby Boomer generation and the fierce competition for talent, it’s clear that the profession is evolving to create more opportunities and to attract and retain a more diverse range of professionals.


And that’s good news for women, because the accounting profession is a great place for us to be right now. The career opportunities for women are endless -- both in public practice and management accounting. How can you take advantage of these opportunities to find the success you’re seeking?


Here are a few tips for making the most of the options I believe are awaiting female CPAs today.

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5 Cybersecurity Precautions for Small CPA Firms

Cybersecurity small firmsWith busy season off to another running start, it’s important to remember that cyber attackers are busy too. With readily monetizable information on hand that can be sold easily on the black market, your practice is an especially attractive target for attackers.

Frequent news reports of breaches at large organizations and government entities might lead you to believe you don’t stand a chance if targeted. Fortunately, this is not the case. The following basic precautions can significantly reduce your risk and mitigate damage if you experience a cybersecurity incident.

  1. Locate, classify and separate information by risk level. The highest risk information for most firms is going to be financial account information such as bank routing and account numbers, credit and debit card numbers, and usernames and passwords for online account access. This information should be protected with a high level of security and stored separately from other client records. Because industry safeguards typically require names of authorized users, billing addresses, employer identification numbers and Social Security numbers to gain access to accounts, a system that stores information used to authenticate account numbers separately from the numbers themselves can mitigate losses should a security breach occur.

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What’s a Hooraycation, and How Can I Go on One?

GalapagosGetting Away from it All After Busy Season: Trips for Any Budget

As busy season finally draws to a close, your senses dulled by long nights staring at a monitor and routing through piles of disorganized receipts, you might understandably be thinking about taking a well-earned break. Recharging your batteries, getting acquainted once again with those people who share your house and enjoying a few days of relaxation mean different things to different people, but in the end it always comes down to budget. Here are three family-friendly vacation types you can plan today, designed for modest, moderate and extreme budgets.

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