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16 posts from July 2017

Nonprofit Challenges: Accounting for Gifts-in-Kind

VolunteersMany not-for-profits receive gifts-in-kind—noncash donations—to supplement their programming needs. When used properly, gifts-in-kind can greatly extend the cash resources of not-for-profits, as they often consist of goods and services the organization would otherwise have to purchase.

Not-for-profits that receive contributions of in-kind goods and services should report them in compliance with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) fair value measurement standard (ASC Topic 820).

Easy enough, right?

Not necessarily.

This blog post covers significant challenges that not-for-profits face when applying the accounting standards and related guidance for gifts-in-kind.

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6 Reasons to Specialize in Employee Benefit Plan Audits

Employee benefit plansSince Torrillo & Associates, LLC, (of which I am the managing member) opened in 2004, our local 15-person firm has been dedicated almost entirely to employee benefit plan (EBP) audits. We began doing these audits early in our careers, and when we were ready to go out on our own and realized what a great specialty they would be for a small firm, we became even more passionate about them. Specialization has proven to be an excellent choice for our firm because we’ve been able to distinguish ourselves in a complex area. If you’re wondering if this niche is right for you, take a look at some of the benefits we’ve enjoyed.

Our time and energy are focused. Before beginning our practice, we had worked on EBP audits at a Big Four firm, so we were aware that this was a highly specialized field. However, by working in this particular niche, we were able to invest all of our energy into becoming experts, focusing our training needs and giving us an advantage in the marketplace. We spend a lot of energy keeping up with new developments in our niche. Our firm’s quality control director and I volunteer our knowledge for AICPA and state CPA society technical projects and committees, and we send our staff to local and national EBP conferences. When taking on work, we stick to what we know and reach out to other experts when necessary, including the AICPA, the Department of Labor (DOL) or our network of ERISA and fiduciary advisors and investment advisors.

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How to Build Your Back-to-School Budget

Back to SchoolEven though the beach is still calling, it’s almost time for students to think about the days when they’ll be loading up their backpacks, charging those computers and setting alarms for earlier than 10 a.m. – because the new school year will be here before you can say ‘fall semester.’

If that sound stressful to you, you’re not alone. On top of all the stresses associated with learning new material, meeting new people and challenging yourself intellectually, there is also a significant financial cost associated with the start of a new academic year. Regardless of whether you’re a parent thinking about your children’s back-to-school budget, a college student living away from home, or a full-time worker attending night school, the challenges are similar.

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What Unlikely Pairings May Teach Us About Innovation

Innovation 2The last few years have been inundated with major acquisitions, each creating buzz from within and beyond the business world. To name a few, in June of 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn (which had already acquired online learning site Lynda.com the previous year). Fast forward to last month when Walmart announced it would buy Bonobos – a mostly-online men’s upscale clothing retailer – and Amazon announced it was set to buy Whole Foods Market.

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Scenarios in Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments

Estimated tax paymentsWhen people learn you’re a CPA, one of the first things they assume is that you “do taxes.” Often, they have a “quick tax question.” If you are a tax practitioner, you know a quick tax question is an oxymoron. It’s nice, however, to be able to translate some of our CPA lingo into easily understood information, both for clients and friends. One issue that stands out to me is: when and why does it makes sense to consider making quarterly estimated tax payments? 

Individual estimated tax payments – a primer

The government likes to get their money on a regular schedule. For most people, that means withholding from a paycheck. But if that’s not your situation, the IRS has estimated tax penalties in place that preclude you from waiting until April 15 every year to pay the balance due. In order not to be subject to those penalties, during the year you must pay at least 100 percent (or 110 percent depending on your level of income) of your previous year’s tax liability OR at least 90 percent of your current year’s tax liability. And unless there is a special circumstance where your income fluctuates during the year, those payments are expected to be paid in quarterly installments. 

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3 Meh Ways to Promote Your Firm—and 1 Great One

CPAPoweredWe all get used to doing things a certain way. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. But over time, we lose sight of whether what we’re doing makes sense. Is it effective? Is it worthwhile? Does it take more time and energy than it returns? It’s worthwhile to take a hard look at how you market your services and ask tough questions.

Every day, CPA firms across the country rely on ideas for promoting their services that might not present the best value. Call them old habits or if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it syndrome, but the result is the same: results that are “meh.” What more could you do to promote the very real value you bring to clients on a daily basis? Let’s start with what you might be doing now that may not be effective.

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Is Watching Shark Week Deadlier than Actual Sharks?

SharkAs a child, I loved watching movies about summer vacations. To someone from a low-income household whose summer adventures were circumscribed to the occasional elementary school-run day camp, the idea of vacationing was exotic – regardless of whether the family went to Walley World (National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation) or to a charming Massachusetts beach town like Amity (JAWS). Even the latter, where an insatiable Great White swallows poor beachgoers whole, seemed preferable to languishing away hours reading comics in my sweltering bedroom, ignoring my mom’s relentless nagging to ‘go play outside.’

 Although many cast JAWS aside as simply a horror movie, to me, it’s always been much more. It’s a classic-if-not-quintessential man vs. beast odyssey, not much unlike those found in Greek mythology. But whether you classify the film as horror or adventure, JAWS undeniably plays to certain fears. Galeophobia (the fear of sharks) is akin to a fear of the dark in that it taps into an anxiety of being unable to see those things which may harm us. In terms of sharks, however, this fear is largely misguided.

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Rethink Your Not-for-Profit’s Chart of Accounts

Client meetingPart I

By now, most professionals who serve not-for-profit organizations in governance or financial accounting roles have gained a basic understanding of the impending changes to the not-for-profit financial reporting model. This two-part series focuses on implementation and offers actionable recommendations to help not-for-profits prepare for the impacts of the new guidance. 

Look at the New Standard through the Lens of Your Chart of Accounts

The Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB) Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities, will impact several line items in the financial statements of not-for-profit organizations. To accurately and efficiently reflect those changes, it’s important that not-for-profits create a plan to adjust their chart of accounts during 2017 or 2018.

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Winning the Value War

Value propositionAre you looking to expand your practice beyond financial statements and tax returns? If so, providing more personal financial planning advice and support, which will help clients plan for their financial future, may be the key to successful expansion. But how do you express the value you’ll provide to your clients? Here are some value propositions that CPAs can use to both describe and demonstrate value of those services.

Step One: Recognize the Difficulty of Selling an Intangible Value

In the world of investment advice, defining a value proposition is relatively straightforward because the return on investment (ROI) can be easily measured. And tax savings from effective tax strategies is similarly concrete.

However, when it comes to financial planning, defining a value proposition becomes far more difficult because it involves selling an intangible service and the results are hard to measure.

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Myths about Personal Financial Planning Services

MythsThere is a good chance you have visited a physician for a routine check-up. At that appointment, your doctor asked many questions – inquiring about your diet, exercise, stress, and health history – and ran diagnostic tests to assess your overall health. Your physician may not have solved any problems at that appointment, but you undoubtedly valued and were willing to pay for an objective professional to assess your health status.

Why is it, then, that many CPAs doubt the value of offering similar diagnostic and planning services to assist clients in identifying potential problems and improving their overall financial health? Broadening your services by asking the right questions, understanding your clients’ financial situation and delivering advice (or making referrals to trusted specialists) is not only valuable to your clients – but also to your practice.

Before you tune out by citing common objections, allow me the opportunity to debunk some of the common myths about personal financial planning (PFP) services.

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Not-for-Profit Gifts: Thanks or No Thanks?

Shutterstock_304427672Not-for-profit organizations are always thankful for the generosity of their donors. Sometimes, however, they must consider whether a proposed gift should be accepted. A gift of $100,000 in cash is easy to immediately direct toward the not-for-profit’s mission. On the other hand, a donation of real estate worth $100,000 may come with additional expenses and effort to sell the property before the proceeds are available to support the organization’s mission. Having a formal gift acceptance policy can help define when an organization should, or should not, accept a proposed gift.

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3 Reasons to Embrace Cloud-Based Technology

CloudNew technologies offer ambitious professionals the chance to advance their careers, and their firms, to new heights. They can be especially beneficial to women and, indeed, any CPAs who want to set themselves apart professionally and preserve a healthy balance between their work and personal lives. In my own experience, I’ve used my cloud technology knowledge to expand my opportunities, accelerate my progress, boost my worth to clients and reinforce my relationships with them. How does the cloud enhance opportunities for CPAs?  

  1. It can expand practice development options.

Cloud-based technology makes it possible to store and access data online where it can be accessed by authorized users from any computer. It’s the tool behind client portals that allows clients and firms to update and collaborate on data they share access to. You can use it to distinguish yourself and your firm.  

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Reconciling Tax Reform and Reconciliation

Congress is not an ATM

-Robert Byrd, Former US Senator

Tax reformThe year is halfway through, but it doesn’t feel like we’re halfway to tax reform. Don’t get me wrong – tax reform might still happen. But as one Hill staffer said to me, “Health care is sucking the oxygen out of Washington.”

I’ve talked about the connections between ACA repeal-and-replace and tax reform several times on the video updates found on the Tax Reform Resource Center. In a nutshell, repeal of the ACA-related taxes, such as the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT), before tax reform is undertaken, would make the tax reform baseline score less expensive.

The work on tax reform continues nonetheless, and the AICPA has testified at both a House Small Business Committee hearing and a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing. We’ve also supported the INVEST Act of 2017 (S. 1144). This tax reform legislation, introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD), would simplify certain tax rules for small- and medium-sized businesses and their owners.

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Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Bills

RMDCPAs are the frontline in mitigating the impacts of Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

CPAs have the opportunity to be proactive in helping their clients take advantage of the tax break for charitable IRA rollovers, technically known as QCDs (qualified charitable distributions). After my IRA update session at the AICPA ENGAGE conference, this topic generated the most questions of everything I discussed. It’s an easy provision to follow, and it’s even easier to know exactly which clients qualify.

The topic of QCDs is an important one for CPAs, because it’s an opportunity to provide real value to clients who are unaware of the provision. One of the most heavily emphasized messages from the ENGAGE conference was how to offer competitive services in the future. The answer always came down to relationships based on knowledge resulting in higher value services. QCDs fit perfectly into this.

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Small Firms Make a Difference in Unexpected Ways

Small firmI recently heard a moving story about an acquaintance’s father who passed away unexpectedly. Married to his childhood sweetheart for more than 60 years, he was a dedicated father and husband. He had been the manager of his family’s accounts. Upon his death, his widow and family had to set aside their grief to grapple with urgent financial issues, including funeral expenses and insurance matters. Fortunately, a trusted advisor was able to help. The family’s CPA, a small firm practitioner who had known the family for years, was well acquainted with their finances, and immediately came to their aid, offering his technical expertise. The CPA restored order to the family’s accounts and eased their worries. They had peace of mind knowing their CPA was prepared to protect their interests during and after a highly emotional and stressful time.      

Stories like this one unfold every day in CPA firms across America. Whether they’re advising startups on growth opportunities or helping individuals handle life changes, small firm CPAs have a profound impact on their clients, supporting them as they strive for their goals, build for the future or deal with crises as they arise.

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Helping College Graduates Reach Financial Independence

Financial independence“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” –Mark Twain

Ironically, the knowledge college students gain while studying for their careers is only one aspect of the education they’ll need to succeed in securing a healthy financial future for themselves. Learning how best to manage their finances and make wise decisions requires both individual effort and solid expert advice. That is where CPAs can serve as educators to help their clients – the parents – share tools with their recent college graduates to help them achieve financial success.

Getting started can seem overwhelming, but having an accurate idea of how much it costs a recent graduate to live monthly or annually is an essential first step. Suggesting clients’ children use simple money-tracking apps such as the one available at mint.com, where individuals can examine every aspect of their financial life in one place, can be helpful. After entering some basic information about their income and expenses, users can get a quick overview of their overall financial health.

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