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26 posts from June 2017

Summer by the Numbers (With a Soundtrack)

Ever wonder how many hot dogs your fellow Americans eat on the Fourth of July? We've got answers.

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5 Steps to Building Your Personal Brand Online

Some brands are almost universally recognizable. With just a glance at their logo, you know precisely the level of service or the quality of product you are going to get.

BrandsWouldn’t it be great if your own personal brand could communicate the same trust and consistency? While top companies have huge teams (and usually more than a few agencies) devoted to the positioning and reputation of their brands, they all follow the same steps--steps you can easily implement into your personal brand today.

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8 Tips to Determine Your Not-for-Profit’s Year-End

Year-end planningNot-for-profits have a luxury that most other individuals and businesses do not. They’re allowed to select their fiscal year-ends for IRS purposes. Partnerships, sole proprietorships, S corporations and other legal structures, with limited exceptions, may not. These groups generally are required to use calendar year-ends for tax filings. Read on to find out what a not-for-profit should consider when choosing a year-end date.

How does a not-for-profit choose its year-end?

By default, many not-for-profits are organized with a calendar year-end, but not-for-profits should assess if this is the best choice. A thoughtfully chosen year-end may produce more meaningful financial statements, ease reporting requirements and even save the organization money. Before deciding on a year-end, organizations should consider the following factors:

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ICYMI: Protect Clients from Petya Cyberattack

RansomwareJust as people are starting to recover from last month’s devastating WannaCry ransomware attack, Petya, another malware worm, is shutting down networks across the globe. No one is immune, international businesses and governments alike have been hit by this new attack. Unlike WannaCry, which spread via the internet, Petya spreads through computer networks and shuts down entire hard drives.

It is imperative that you not only take proper precautions yourself, but also help your clients fortify their defenses against cyberattacks. You can learn more about how to do so with these recent AICPA resources:

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Where Will You be Financially in 40 Years?

Fin Lit gameWhat sounds more appealing to you – reading a bunch of boring facts online or playing a game to learn the same exact thing? You’d probably choose the latter. In fact, research shows a majority of millennials see clear benefits from playing digital games. Two in three (67 percent) say that games are important in helping them to learn how to create winning strategies and 7 out of 10 (70 percent) feel it aids them in learning how to solve problems. The proof is in the pudding, as they say – and that’s where gamification and personal finances come into play (literally!).

Today, the AICPA and the Ad Council launched a free digital game, Yesterday’s Tomorrow.’ The game is a new resource from Feed the Pig to help millennials build savings skills, a product of the idea Scott Garner submitted for the Feed the Pig Game Design Challenge. The challenge invited people to submit ideas for digital games to help educate Feed the Pig’s target audience. More than 70 ideas were submitted, and his concept was chosen to help educate millennials through gamification.

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Effect of Spending Habits on Retirement Planning

RetireesThe traditional approach to retirement assumes that retirees will maintain their pre-retirement standard of living as they transition into retirement, and then sustain that lifestyle throughout retirement. But a growing base of research that analyzes the actual spending habits of retirees, reveals a different story.

In reality, retirees tend to experience a slow but steady decline in real spending throughout retirement. Spending decreases slowly in the early years of retirement, more rapidly in the middle years, and then slows again in the final years, in a path that looks like a “retirement spending smile.” Even the uptick of health care expenses in a retiree’s later years are generally not enough to offset all the other spending decreases that typically occur in retirement. That’s important, because it means your clients may not need as much money in retirement as they think.

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100 Years of CPA Exam as Licensure Requirement

Adding machineA lot has changed over the last 100 years with the evolution of the CPA profession. Old fashioned calculators gave rise to Microsoft Excel. Stacks of financial statements have morphed into data in the Cloud. And many CPAs have expanded beyond auditing or tax services through the growth of specializations such as IT assurance, financial planning and business valuation.

Despite all the change, one notable constant has remained – the Uniform CPA Examination’s alignment with professional practice and the work of newly licensed CPAs. This alignment has continuously ensured that those earning licensure have demonstrated the requisite knowledge and skills vital to protecting the public interest.

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Summer Jobs: More Than Money in Your Pocket

Scooping ice cream

School’s out and many high schoolers and college students are taking summer jobs. Seasonal work can provide extra spending money for many teens or much needed funds for school expenses. But summer jobs aren’t just about earning a paycheck and learning how to manage the money you’ve made. These jobs provide valuable work experience and help youth develop professional skills and discover their talents. It’s an opportunity to take responsibility, learn time management skills and figure out how to get along with co-workers. Summer jobs also provide future employment references, mentorship and can even help teens succeed in school, according to Stanford researcher Jacob Leos Urbel.

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6 Money-Saving Tips You Can’t Afford to Miss

Money saving tipsThose fun, light-hearted GEICO commercials that ask if you are tired of paying too much for car insurance hone in on the idea of wasting your money –– paying too much for something or not getting enough.

As a CPA who is passionate about making my hard-earned money work for me, it’s important to take time to critically analyze what my cash is doing. Busy lives often lend themselves to costly complacency in one’s personal finances. Basically, we want bill paying done and our retirement planning intact with as minimal effort as possible.

At least once per year, I do a serious deep-cleaning scrub on my family’s finances. I look at what we’re paying and why, and I see where we need to do better. This “scrub” saves us thousands of dollars and I suggest each of you take a few hours each year to review your finances critically. Don’t let your money run itself; it needs you to keep it on track.

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New Liquidity Disclosures for Not-for Profits: Are You Ready?

NFP Liquidity DisclosuresUnder current financial reporting standards, not-for-profits are not required to illuminate clearly restrictions that affect the availability of liquid resources in their financial statements. But this is all about to change with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) new financial reporting standard (Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14), effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2017.

In this update, FASB clarifies that the nature of an asset isn’t the only quality that affects its availability. Specifically, liquid resources are quickly converted to cash and available to fund general expenditures within one year following the balance sheet date. Internal (board-designated) and external (donor-imposed) restrictions could mean certain sums of cash and cash equivalents may not be used for general expenditures. If a board designates an amount of cash to be set aside for a building renovation, for example, it cannot be used to buy office supplies.

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How Robots Can Help You Thrive

RobotTechnology is creating opportunities for the accounting profession, but the human factor is still key– that was the message at IdeaAcct, a session at the AICPA Engage Conference highlighting thought leadership and innovation in the profession.

Practical & Immediate Opportunities for CPAs in Artificial Intelligence - Dan Giffiths, CPA, CGMA

Because accounting is highly structured, it lends itself nicely to machine learning. Therefore, many people think that accounting and tax services are likely to be automated. Software already exists that can populate tax-ready financial documents just from an individual’s bank login information, and such services are available for as little as $100 a month. However, clients are willing to pay far more for advisory services drawn from that information. The value, Griffiths says, lies in the relationships and the advice that CPAs can provide. To take advantage of the opportunities, CPAs need to become friends with their tech colleagues. Good friends.

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How to Prepare for Your Organization’s Single Audit

AuditIt’s time for your single audit: Is your organization prepared? If you are a recipient of federal funds, to maintain your organization’s funding you must comply with the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards, known as the Uniform Guidance. Your single audit provides the federal government with assurance of your compliance, and being well prepared for the audit can help the process be more efficient. In this blog post, several CPAs who are either with organizations subject to single audits or who perform these audits themselves reveal valuable best practices that can minimize your worries and set you on the road to success.

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Beyond Bad Jokes: What We Learned from Our Dads

Pop culture would have us believe dads are all lawn obsessed, bad joke telling, tacky sweater wearing, voicemail leaving technological disasters. (Not mine, of course. My dad’s sweaters are perfectly acceptable, but he prefers to rock navy blue crew neck sweatshirts that have been aged to perfection.) But beneath their quirks (and I’ve yet to meet a dad without a quirk or 12) dads are often dishing out great advice or leading by example. In honor of Father’s Day, my colleagues and I share what we’ve learned from our dads:

SamanthaSamantha Delgado, Manager – Communications, PR & Corporate Responsibility:

My dad raised me to be independent and hard-working, always saying that if I want something, to go out and get it myself because “no one else is going to do it for you.” Most importantly, he instilled in me the importance of family, and being there for each other through thick and thin. Happy Father’s Day!  

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3 Trust Ideas for Reducing Estate Taxes

Bob Keebler spoke at the AICPA ENGAGE conference on “The Best Estate Planning Ideas Today.” Included in his detailed presentation were numerous points of interest beyond trusts. The following is a small selection from his 50-minute talk.

Because of the high limit on unified credit, many clients believe that estate planning isn’t for them. The truth, however, is much more complicated. Depending on the client’s state of residence, their positions in real estate or partnerships that might survive them and many other considerations, estate loss can be considerable. Your clients shouldn’t have to pay more than necessary in taxes on their estate, and as their trusted adviser, it’s your job to guarantee that the family’s wishes for their wealth are honored to the fullest extent possible.

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3 Solutions to Firms’ Top Challenges

Find the right peopleYour practice is thriving, but there are some issues that continue to present challenges. Are other firms like yours facing these issues, too? And what trends are other CPAs seeing that you ought to know about?

Practitioners can find the answers to these questions and more in the results from the 2017 Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) CPA Firm Top Issues Survey . This unique survey, which is conducted every two years, identifies the significant concerns for firms of various sizes and spotlights emerging challenges in practice management. Barry Melancon, President and CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, provided an overview of the survey results yesterday during his Professional Issues Update at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference.

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Kevin O’Leary Says CPAs Can’t Be Replaced. Take That, Mark Cuban.

Kevin O'LearyKevin O’Leary, businessman and co-host of the TV show Shark Tank, says the CPA’s role as a trusted adviser in the marketplace cannot be replaced by technology. That stands in stark contrast to the comments his co-host Mark Cuban made earlier this year.

Score one for Mr. Wonderful.

O’Leary, a keynote speaker at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference on June 13, joined me for a Facebook Live session and spoke with me off camera about how technology is impacting the accounting profession. His comments were on point.

“Half of the work the CPA does is to deal with people, to have relationships with people, and to decide how to work with their desires, their direction, and their vision for their business. That is never going to be replaced by a machine,” O’Leary said.

Technology is evolving faster than ever before, but so too are the needs of businesses. For example, while big data means greater accessibility to information, it also creates a need for the analysis and interpretation of that information. While advances in robotics may change some business operations, companies still need advice on how to run those businesses.

“The truth is that we are going to need CPAs more than ever. Their role is to try to figure out and mitigate risk at every stage, and to say, ‘If we do it this way, here is the tax implication. If we do it this way, this is the cost implication.’ The profession is going to continue to flourish,” O’Leary said.

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5 Technologies Transforming CPA Practices

Shutterstock_150531497One message keeps coming up at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference: technology is changing the profession, and CPAs have countless opportunities to incorporate it into their practice. Across conference sessions, conversations keep coming back to the ways practitioners can benefit from deploying to the cloud, embracing social media, providing cybersecurity-related services, using mobile devices and understanding big data. Here’s how: 

1) The Cloud 

In a recent Facebook Live session, conference presenter Jim Bourke discussed the many ways the cloud can improve a CPA’s practice. It allows staff from around the country to work together to serve clients. It houses data without the burden of purchasing dedicated servers and the infrastructure and personnel to maintain them. It gives CPAs access to client information anytime and anywhere. And it keeps that information secure. “Data is more secure on the cloud than it is sitting in your own office,” Bourke said. 

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Learning and Professional Development Go Virtual

An Update on the Future of Learning from AICPA ENGAGE

ENGAGE VR2017 is expected to be the year of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and digital assistants, according to Newsweek. Analysts at Gartner also included these technologies in their 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017.  It’s likely you are engaging with many of them already. Perhaps you have an Alexa device on your kitchen counter or you’ve asked Siri a question on your iPhone. If you’ve used Uber or Lift or clicked on a personalized Amazon recommendation, you’ve taken advantage of AI. But have you thought about how these emerging technologies will impact your learning and professional development?

The exhibit hall at AICPA ENGAGE has a plethora of tech demos including AR and VR. I stopped by to see what the AICPA Learning Design and Development team has been working on and got an opportunity to try their virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. This was my first time trying these immersive technologies, and I was eager to put on the VR headset to see what all the buzz was about.

Virtual reality (VR) gained popularity in gaming and is steadily moving into educational settings as the VR headwear becomes more affordable. My middle school-aged daughter has used Google Cardboard in her classroom, and VR is beginning to gain ground in professional development as well. The use of this technology engages multiple senses, which can help a learner retain new knowledge in a way that a text simply can’t. It makes it possible to interact with and manipulate content. VR also mitigates the distractions found in a traditional classroom and forces a student to focus. It is perfect for visual learners.

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3 Tax Technologies You Shouldn’t Ignore

Cloud technologyOMG CLOUD. Cloud, cloud, cloud. You’ve heard it. Repeatedly. By now you probably even know what it means. But running a successful tax practice is about more than acknowledging the technology du jour. It’s about knowing which technologies make the most sense for you, and using them to their fullest potential. But no matter your firm’s size, market or specialty, here are three tax technologies you shouldn’t ignore.

Cloud-Based Servers/Software as a Service

An IT department is a luxury many small- and medium-sized firms can’t afford. Even in larger firms, the demands of day-to-day management of client systems can overtax an IT department to the point where managing servers is a time-draining hassle, not to mention expense.

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4 Steps to Fortifying Your Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity 4Small businesses are “unprepared or poorly prepared for a cyberattack” according to 75% of the 307 insurance and risk management advisors surveyed through the Advisen and Experian 2017 Cyber Risk Preparedness and Response Survey. Unfortunately, no organization is immune to cyberthreats. These days, most companies should have some basic form of cybersecurity program in place. If yours doesn’t, or if you need a refresher, here are four steps you can take to establish a stronger foundation.

Step 1: Create a Comprehensive Set of Cybersecurity Policies

What resources does your organization have that are at risk? Think beyond the obvious. On-site computer systems, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are immediate suspects, but bring your own devices (BYOD) and wearable technology such as smartwatches can also be compromised. Determine what controls you need in place to ensure information is kept secure. Set your rules for communicating, working with, copying and distributing sensitive data; and document those rules and make sure everyone in the organization receives a copy. Necessary policies typically include an IT policy, information security program (including a risk assessment), employee acceptable usage policy, business continuity and disaster recovery plan, and an incident response plan. 

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The One Vulnerability Cyber Thieves Are Desperate to Exploit

PasswordCybersecurity attacks are becoming more pervasive and seemingly effortless to pull off.  Cybercriminals who can execute a successful attack are seizing credit card numbers, bank account information and even Social Security numbers. A 2016 study conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that the average cost of a data breach is $4 million. You can strengthen your organization’s cybersecurity risk management plan by addressing this one vulnerability: weak passwords.

The capture or reuse of passwords, or “static credentials” as they are often referred to in the IT industry, is standard practice for organized crime groups and state-affiliated attackers alike, according to the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report, whose list of contributors represents a “who’s who” of cybersecurity expertise worldwide, from both the private and public sectors. Likewise, passwords are used against all kinds of targets, from the largest organizations to individuals.

A common misperception is that cyber attackers have become so sophisticated that something as simple as a password is no longer effective. The tendency is to think that if federal agencies and multi-national corporations can be breached, there’s nothing individuals can do to protect themselves. This could not be further from the truth. Individuals have the most power in preventing attacks that exploit passwords, which is why a policy on passwords should be a key component of your firm or organization’s cybersecurity risk management program.

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Not-for-Profit Contributions: Counting v. Accounting

Counting moneyWhen is a contribution to a not-for-profit really a contribution? Many would say it depends on whether you ask someone in the accounting or development department. While the accounting office recognizes contributions in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), there are no required standards for counting and reporting fundraising receipts by the development office. The resulting differences create perhaps the greatest source of tension between the two teams. So what can be done to bridge the gap and foster a cooperative relationship that will best benefit the not-for-profit?

First, accept that what gets reported by each group will be different. And that’s okay, as long as the differences can be explained. There’s no need to hash out who’s right or wrong; just take time to understand each other’s math. What gets included, by whom, and when? Accountants need to explain GAAP in “non-accountant” language. Similarly, the development team needs to establish and share its consistent guidelines for reporting fundraising activity. Developing this understanding will take time and patience on both sides but is essential to forming a good working relationship.

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Social Media: The Conference Success Secret Weapon

Conference social mediaConferences give you the opportunity to network and become energized about the accounting profession and the direction in which it’s heading. Most people know the standard networking methods – attend receptions and collect business cards. But how can you make the most of the experience before, during and after the event?

Social media is present at almost every conference, giving you the opportunity to develop high-quality connections while staying in the loop on all the happenings.

Here are five ways you can utilize social media to make the most of your time and money:

Join the conversation.

As social media becomes omnipresent, if you don’t look to these platforms, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to join conversations about conferences and events. Follow the event hashtag on Twitter and Instagram or see if the organization hosting the event has LinkedIn groups you can join. By using these interactive forums, you can see who else is attending an event, set up conference meetups, and even reach out to influencers who may be on site.

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Coming Trends in Services to Individuals

CPAs are forward-thinking and relationship-oriented professionals. Taking the time with individual clients to think about their needs holistically has been a growing trend in the profession over the past decade, leading to the many new areas that now benefit mightily from the expertise and insight a CPA can offer. These are exciting times that bring new possibilities for firms that are willing to embrace them. The firms that do will find success, longevity and a satisfied client base.

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5 Tips to Help Identify Fake Financial News

The AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission Shares Insight on How to Beat the Real Threat of Fake Financial News

If it’s on the internet and in ALL CAPS it must be true! Whether it’s the GUY WHO TURNED $10,000 INTO $20 MILLION or the HOT TECH STOCK THAT WILL SHOCK YOU, you’ve probably seen some version of this fake news dozens of times a day. And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably clicked on one of these articles out of curiosity and quickly found yourself lost in a sea of misinformation. Sometimes it seems like you need to be a detective to decipher what financial news is real and what is fabricated. In this post, I’ll provide some information to help consumers be better prepared. Fake Financial News Infographic

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3 Tips to Help You Remember What You’ve Learned

TabletYou’ve probably heard the expression use it or lose it. It turns out this applies to learning as well as physical fitness. There is a force that gradually erases all the great insights and instruction you stored in your brain during a learning event called "The Forgetting Curve.” German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus first researched this concept in 1885. The curve illustrates the decline of our memory retention over time if we make no attempt to retain our learning. The further we get from the educational experience, the less information we remember.

The speed at which we forget information is influenced by various factors including the difficulty of the material, how meaningful the information is and how it’s presented. Stress levels and lack of sleep can also have a negative impact. Thankfully there are steps you can take to help you retain what you learned. Here a few of my favorite tips to help you remember.

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