502 posts categorized "Guest Blogger" Feed

Taming your to-do list

Shutterstock_1135852721“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” ~Peter Drucker

Two things trip up most leaders’ attempts at managing their time. The first is the fact that the best systems and best intentions quickly run into dynamics in the real world: You’ll get interrupted, there will be an unforeseen obstacle or crisis, you’ll go through motivation and energy ups and downs, and so much more. Translating your intentions into practice often fails through small compromises you feel you must make in your day to day activities. The second is that most principles in time management focus on how you spend your time, but that philosophy just puts you on a “hamster wheel” that doesn’t move you forward. It isn’t about how you SPEND your time, it’s about how you INVEST your time.

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5 podcasts for your summer road trip

Shutterstock_407042977Taking a family road trip is one of the rites of passage that we all go through during summer. The kids have their iPads and books, the dog has his bone, and that just leaves the adults to find ways to make the long hours go faster. You can either click the radio buttons a thousand times to find a station remotely tolerable, you can listen to the kids fight about who is touching who, or you can find an alternative.

Enter the podcast

A podcast is a great way to make the miles fly by. Of the more than 550,000 podcasts you can listen to, you’ll find educational, entertaining, or just plain random content. Did you know that there is a 51% chance that a flipped coin will land on the side that was facing up when it was flipped? A fun fact and I learned it from a podcast!

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I jumpstarted my productivity in 15 minutes – and you can, too!

ReadingIt was early January 2014. The Kansan plains were covered in a crunchy layer of frozen grass, the overcast sky giving little indication that the ice would soon melt. Staff at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Lloyd – a small accounting firm – were eager to step in from the cold to start their day. But this day would start differently than others. No one opened their laptop. No one phoned clients. No one crunched numbers. Instead, everyone, from partner to administrative assistant, had their heads down in a nonfiction book of their choice. They read uninterrupted, untethered from technology, for 15 minutes. You see, this firm had taken the first step in a journey that would evolve from an experiment into a successful on-the-clock reading program. And that reading program would evolve them too. 

Admittedly, The First 15 reading program took some time to get off the ground because, although everyone agreed to the merits of reading, no one had time for it. That’s when Chet Buchman, managing partner and eventual architect of the reading program, suggested paying for people to read on the clock. “You can’t control what people have going on at home…but you do have the ability to influence what happens when they’re on the clock.” 

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Is hiring a CPA worth it in 2018?

GettyImages-863565040When people hear I’m a CPA who specializes in tax, the question invariably comes up — what do I think about the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (also known as “tax reform”)? I’m not one to talk about politics, so to be neutral, I say “it’s certainly an exciting time to be a CPA in tax.” No question, many of the provisions of tax reform bring added complexity to areas of the law that were not simple to begin with. 

Some individuals will continue to feel comfortable using tax preparation software, but there are circumstances where “you don’t know what you don’t know,” requiring you to call in the help of a CPA. A great CPA can provide much more value than just the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your forms are correct. They can provide planning and tax advisory services, consultation, business and international accounting, forensic accounting, business valuation and more. 

Read on to learn four reasons why it’s worth hiring a CPA.  

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8 tips to help recent grads establish financial independence

Shutterstock_309048455School's out for summer! And, for some, school is out for good. In honor of America declaring its independence, here are 8 tips from the American Institute of CPAs' National CPA Financial Literacy Commission to help recent college grads declare their own FINANCIAL independence now and for the future:

1. Have a plan to repay student loan debt. While paying off significant debt takes time, establishing and sticking to a plan will put you on a good path toward your financial independence. The AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website has free resources to help create a plan to reach your financial goals.

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An insider's look at avoiding ethical violations

GettyImages-590617706Ethical dilemmas can occur at any time during the career of a tax practitioner. Sometimes, the practitioner doesn’t even know they did anything wrong. As a former IRS Office of Professional Responsibility attorney, cases just like that would come across my desk.

A vast majority of these cases came from simple misunderstandings of ethical responsibilities — practitioners were not aware they were violating Circular 230 or the practitioner just had a bad day and made a one-time mistake. Review these stories and learn a little more about how easy ethical violations can happen if you aren’t paying close attention. (Note: details have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved).

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7 risks small businesses need to consider

Shutterstock_481198423Except for an expanding waistline, what could be risky about ice cream? Ask the small business owners overseeing an ice cream shop on the boardwalk that caters to summertime beach crowds. They’re a small, family-run business and their main revenue is generated in the months of June, July and August. The income from those months must sustain them through the slower months. What happens if they aren’t prepared for an event that affects their shop? Will their business survive? That’s where you come in.

Risk, schmisk?

Risk is a relative term to your clients. Some risks are minor and easily handled in the moment; for example, an employee fails to show up to work. Other risks pose an existential threat to the business, such as an accident, natural disaster or fire.

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4 tips to smart budgeting for new graduates

Shutterstock_690887317What if you put together a budget but forgot about income taxes that would be deducted from each paycheck? That’s what happened to me when I graduated from college, so I can tell you: It would be a disaster! My first paycheck was a huge shock, since I was taking home much less than I had expected. But incorporating a few easy budgeting tips can help set you up for a path to prosperity and avert potential disasters.

Start early. Right after graduation, create a budget before committing to long-term expenses – like rent – so you start with a clean slate. The largest part of any budget will likely be housing costs. A good rule of thumb is that they should not add up to more than 30% of your salary. For example, if you make $50,000 a year, your total rent should be no more than $15,000 a year, or $1,250 a month. If you live in a high rent area, then 30% may not be realistic for an entry-level salary – which means you may have to scrimp on other items or find roommates.

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4 ways to jumpstart the career you really want

GettyImages-180409192Some career paths move in a straight line. Others take twists and turns. Opportunities sometimes crop up when we least expect them, and we have to weigh the pros and cons to determine our next steps. If you were asked ten years ago to accurately describe your career path over the next decade, could you? I know I couldn’t.

I started my career at a large firm in audit and now I’m on an entirely different path that I would have never predicted. The winding road that led me to where I am today was built upon a series of experiences and intentional decisions along the way. Could your career course use more direction? Here are some tips to get on track, based on my own personal experiences throughout my career:

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Public vs. Private Blockchains: What CPAs should know

GettyImages-917325314The word “blockchain” has been tossed around as if all blockchains are the same. Real-time access to information, increased transparency and encryption are standard benefits of any blockchain. However, there are two different types of blockchains: public and private, both of which are important for CPAs to understand so you can decide which option is better for your organization or firm.

Public blockchains

The idea of a public blockchain is what most people think is, and what technology purists would consider, the “real blockchain.” Completely decentralized and open to any individual or institution to join (known as members in blockchain parlance), the most well-known example of a public blockchain is the one that runs Bitcoin.

While a purely public option does include many of the benefits associated with blockchain technology, these same attributes can make implementing a blockchain less than ideal for business purposes. By allowing anyone and everyone to join a public blockchain, the approval and consensus process can take too long for it to be it useful for the volume of daily transactions. And depending on how data is approved, the electrical cost can be too expensive for practical use, considering the sheer volume of information processed by most organizations.

 

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5 TV shows to teach your kids about business

Shutterstock_702291805Entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer founded Me & the Bees Lemonade when she was just four years old. At age 12, Mikaila won funding from Shark Tank investor Daymond John. Now 13, her product line is available at Whole Foods Market stores. Mikaila represents a growing movement of young entrepreneurs throughout the country.

Children are watching their entrepreneurial parents every day and they’re picking up on best practices. Kids are much further ahead in their understanding of the business world than what we, as parents, realize.

You can help your kids get involved and start thinking about business. Here are five TV shows you can watch with your young children this summer. All shows are age appropriate and have an element of excitement to get your child’s business ideas flowing:

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4 best practices for working from home

IStock_59008810_XXLARGEI’m more relaxed than I used to be. Some days you’ll find me working after midnight. Others I’m cranking out emails at 5 a.m. This year I’ve made it to all but one of my kids’ daytime events. I exercise more, too. If any of this sounds familiar, you might work from home like I do.

From a tech perspective, most professionals can do their jobs from home. But there’s far more to working from home than technology. If you work from home, are considering working from home or manage employees who work from home, I hope the following suggestions help you set up a strong work-from-home strategy.

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Needed now: female financial planners

GettyImages-748335013Mind-blowing. That is the word that pops in my head whenever I see the statistics on women needing financial planning and the corresponding number of women planners available to provide those services. The numbers tell a story that needs a new ending:    

  • Women age 65 and older are three times more likely than men to be widowed, and 46% of women over 75 live alone.
  • 55% of women between 25 and 34 prefer working with female financial advisors.
  • Women represent only 15.7% of the financial planning industry
  • Only one third of women surveyed by Prudential in 2015 said they were either on track or ahead in their retirement plan.

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College grads: How to save for retirement when you can barely pay your rent

RetirementGraduated from college. ✓

Got a good job. ✓

Started saving for retirement. WHAT?!

I know what you‘re likely thinking: “I have plenty of time to save! Why would I start now?” I get it, the idea of saving for anything, let alone your distant retirement years, seems crazy. You’re not alone. You might be shocked to hear that only 46% of non-retired Americans believe they will reach their retirement goals and 20% don’t believe they ever will.

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Post-busy season spring cleaning tips

Spring cleaningAs another busy season fades away, you have likely started seeing the email auto-responses and vacation pics on social media of colleagues who are finally getting some much-needed rest. Following the bulging work weeks, tax law changes, phone calls from clients and other demands put upon CPAs during spring, a vacation is well-deserved.

However, you should be wary of setting cruise control while coasting through the summer downtime.  Although it’s easy to do and often ideal, sailing into the active fall season without some spring cleaning at your firm is not a good idea. Taking time to address any obstacles that your firm faced during busy season will generate major benefits down the line.

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Give feedback that feeds performance

Listening
As a training and leadership development consultant for accounting firms, I’ve found that providing feedback is one of the top challenges for management. When it’s done well and promptly, giving performance feedback can yield huge benefits – more productivity, better relationships, and more loyal, engaged employees. However, providing consistent, timely and honest feedback is something many managers struggle with.

The performance review is a prime example of inconsistency in how many supervisors provide feedback. In written reviews managers often address issues that they’ve avoided in face-to-face discussions. By the time the employee reads the review, they feel blindsided. Without a dialogue, how can they share their perspective? How can they fix a problem they never knew existed? This pattern applies to many, if  not all, other industries, to the point that major companies such as General Electric are scrapping annual reviews altogether.

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Offbeat vacation ideas for the adventurous CPA

TravelBusy season is officially over.

You’ve been powering through all season. Returns are in, and extensions are filed. And most importantly, your clients are happy because you’re a powerhouse CPA. Now that you have free time on your calendar, it’s time to take your superhero-self on vacation.

Deciding where to go on vacation can be challenging, which is no surprise, considering many Americans spend up to 10% of their household income on vacations every year.

That means your vacation should be memorable and offer experiences and sights you’ve never encountered — perhaps because you didn’t even know they were there.

Take a gander at these offbeat vacation ideas to get your creative mind going and help you prepare for your best post-busy season yet.

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7 tips to have an influence on future standards

StandardsStandards are amended, and new ones are issued. But did you know that it is possible to express your opinion—and even make a difference—in the standard-setting process? If you’ve never done so before, here are some tips based on my own experience.

Your opinions are welcome! Standard setters actively solicit comments – not only from those who are directly impacted by the exposure draft but also from any other interested parties. They do read and carefully consider all comments submitted.

The explanatory memorandum is a helpful guide. With any exposure draft, you’ll want to understand the key issues and what they mean. Exposure drafts generally come with explanatory memoranda that offer a quick introduction to the proposed standard. It can tell you, among other things, the key issues addressed and changes proposed. Many explanatory memoranda include questions to consider when drafting your response.

 

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Send the right message without saying a word

Body languageSend the right message

Actionable Professional Body Language Tips

Do you remember the last time that someone changed your mind at work? What did the person say that convinced you to change your thoughts? Was it the words they said or how they said it to you?

In professional settings, the nonverbal messages people process consciously and subconsciously change the way they perceive messages. Are you a person that conveys positive and powerful non-verbal cues in your interactions with others? Body language plays a crucial role in how people respond to your words and retain the information you transmit.

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How to take the stress out of debt

Infographic_Millennial_Debt_AICPA (002)If you’re like most Americans, you probably have debt. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a recent telephone survey of 1,004 U.S. adults conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs, nearly three-quarters of Americans are living with debt driven by factors like everyday expenses, a lack of income, mortgage costs and student loans. More concerning is the number of Americans whose debt is making them anxious, keeping them up at night and causing problems in their relationships.

I sat down with Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, to talk about how financial planning can help Americans whose lives are negatively impacted by debt.

Jonathan Lynch: For many Americans, living with debt is a mental as well as financial burden. In fact, because of their debt, three-in-ten Americans admit to stressing about everyday financial decisions. For those who feel overwhelmed by their debt, what steps would you suggest they take to take back control?

Dr. Sean Stein Smith: The first thing to realize is that if you are worrying about debt, you are not alone, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t matter how much money you make – there are steps you can take to get back in control.

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6 guilt-free food ideas for busy season

Farmers marketSnacks continually rank near the top of everyone’s favorite workplace perks. Having food available in the office during busy season is an even bigger plus. Celebrate World Health Day by offering healthy alternatives, because worrying about gaining weight or blowing up unhealthy indicators like blood pressure and LDL cholesterol is stress we just don’t need right now!

Consider these tips for serving healthy snacks in your office this busy season:

  1. Set up a snack box. Build your own snack box using a serving tray with drawer organizers or a large basket. You can pick these up at a neighborhood retailer or order them online. If you’re short on time, vendors such as Naturebox and Snack Box Pros (also available from Office Depot and Sam’s Club) offer pre-assembled healthy snack boxes or allow you to build your own from their menu (see healthy snack tips below for help with selections).

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The one game changing skill you should focus on for success

Competitve intelligenceWhy is it that some people rise to higher levels of success than others? Is it simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time? Or are some people born with certain qualities that make them more capable of success than others? When comparing star performers with average ones, a consistent unique strength does emerge, but it has nothing to do with intelligence, education or natural-born talents. The “it factor” these super stars possess is called emotional intelligence (EQ). Recent studies show 90% of high performers at work are also high in EQ. Additionally, people with high EQ make about $29,000 more per year on average than those considered to be low in EQ. The great news is this game-changing skill can be learned by anyone willing to focus.

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One topic investors agree is critical to decision making

Water leafCape Town’s Day Zero has been postponed—for now. That’s the term being used to describe the impending extreme water crisis in my native South Africa. I’ve seen how it affects the people who live there, as they scramble to hold off what seems inevitable. My friends in Cape Town only shower twice a week and save their shower water to water their gardens. Local pools around the city are empty, hotels can’t wash linens as often as in the past and the agriculture sector has been hit.  The severe water shortage threatens employment, tax revenues and municipal credit ratings. The trickle down (a term that has never been so literal) reaches business owners and investors as they consider the rising costs of a resource they once took for granted.

 

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Introducing our newest heroes: “The (CP)A-Team”

CPA TeamPop culture seems to be obsessed with the 1980s.

Remakes of popular blockbuster hits are now the norm for movie-goers. From “RoboCop” to “21 Jump Street” to “Footloose,” today’s entertainment is all about nostalgia.

So, it’s no surprise that television’s favorite action drama, the “A-Team,” would make a comeback. Updated for 2018, the reboot is coming to prime time. And this time, the fearsome foursome is taking on the single greatest threat to our security: cybercriminals.

Airing at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on your television or tablet is America’s newest special task force: “The (CP)A-Team.” Each half-hour episode features the all-CPA unit as they travel the world detecting and responding to cyberattacks and data breaches.

Cyberattacks are on the rise. Personal information is swapped for pennies on the dark web. Ransomware is lurking in the shadows of your desktop. And one team perseveres against it all to expose cyberthieves and other scoundrels.

In 2002, this crack team of auditors met on the job. Fresh out of college and stepping into the vast world of accounting, they found in each other a bond that nothing could shake. Once they graced the cubicles of Metro Zero, New York City’s finest financial institution. Today, they survive as practitioners with a purpose: protecting millions from the loss of sensitive personal and corporate information.

Jane “Caesar” Jones is a master of disguise. She is most commonly seen portraying beauty school dropout “Mrs. Bentley,” a salon owner who uses weak passwords and unsecured wifi devices as part of a ploy to entice small-time hackers. As the leader of the group, it was Caesar’s idea to go rogue after discovering Metro Zero shared client data. Now on the run, she and her team aim to level the playing field and repair the damage done.

Nick “N.N.” (Negative Nelly) Nichols is the muscle for the (CP)A-Team. N.N. is always in a bad mood but is the first on the scene when things get hairy. Armed with only a laptop and personal hot-spot, N.N. attacks hackers before they can reach your server. A reformed hacker, his secret past is known to only Caesar.

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7 things every nonprofit should know about restricted assets

Restricted cashYour nonprofit is on a mission. Like any other business, your work requires careful accounting and financial reporting. Unlike other businesses, your not-for-profit organization has special requirements on the use and reporting of restricted assets.

As an auditor specializing in the nonprofit sector, I get a lot of client questions about restricted assets. The following are some of the most common issues we encounter and tips for dealing with them.

  1. Fundraisers can create unintended restrictions. Donors like to support programs and projects near and dear to their heart. Your fundraising staff is skilled at designing heartfelt appeals. If you’re not careful, overly specific fundraising language can create restrictions that limit your ability to operate. Keep your accounting staff looped into the fundraising communications planning and approval process to avoid problems down the road. When in doubt, run it by your auditor.
  2. “Restricted cash” may include more than you think. Many nonprofits present cash and cash equivalents that have restrictions in multiple line items on their statements of financial position. In some cases, these line items are labeled something other than “restricted cash” or “restricted cash equivalents.” 

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Blockchain could be your solution to spreadsheet fatigue

Block chain 2Over 25 million Americans are still dealing with repairing airbags from one of the largest series of recalls in U.S. history. Car owners are waiting months for repairs – and many are unable to drive their cars while they wait for them to be fixed. Talk about inconvenient, expensive and frustrating.

Now imagine if airbag recalls didn’t have to be such a mess. Blockchain offers an intriguing solution.

Blockchain is a distributed ledger system that can be put to work managing our supply chains. Think of a big spreadsheet or Google doc that you use to record every transaction in a supply chain – from manufacturer to end user. Now imagine that every supplier, manufacturer and seller in the chain has access to that spreadsheet at the same time as you and is updating it with verified information in real time. Except, unlike a Google doc, you can’t retroactively alter information on the blockchain – making it extra secure.

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Lead with inspired authenticity: chuck the checklist and find your why

Paper cranes leadershipHave you ever made your own “leadership skills checklist”? If you have, it probably included things like “active listening,” “decisiveness,” “delegation,” and “motivation,” to name a few. As accountants, we love to create checklists that can get us to a well-defined outcome – so why would we treat our efforts to become great leaders any other way?

The thing is, if we are only checking off skills on a list, are we really developing into the best leader we can be?

I believe the answer is a resounding NO!

To become the best leader we can be, we have to get past our skills checklist and dig into who we are and what drives us. If we can stop worrying about checking off skills and instead focus on our true purpose, we can lead our teams with authenticity and inspiration.

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Nonprofit risk management 101

JengaNonprofit organizations are, by definition, on a mission. In pursuit of their missions, they may engage in risk-reward scenarios that for-profit businesses can’t afford to tackle. To further their cause, many nonprofit leaders accomplish more with less funding than seems possible. Unfortunately, limited resources create risk exposures. This may lead nonprofit management and boards to believe they can’t afford a risk management program. But they can’t afford not to.

Public trust is foundational to nonprofit organizations’ sustainability. Left unmanaged, risks can result in all sorts of losses: donors, employees, members, patrons and grants. Often, it’s not until a critical event occurs that risk management moves up the priority list.

In our experience (although risk management can seem overwhelming — especially for smaller organizations), it’s worth the time and resources.

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How your organization handles personal data is about to change

GDPRIf your organization or client handles personal data of any person residing in the European Union—even if the organization itself isn’t located there—pay attention. The way you store and manage that data may need to change significantly.

Enforcement of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was ratified in 2016, will go into effect May 25, 2018. The GDPR was created to allow individuals to have greater control over their personal data and provide consistency across the EU member countries when it comes to data privacy rules. According to EUGDPR.org, personal data is defined as “any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’ that can be used to directly or indirectly identify the person. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information or a computer IP address.”

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4 new opportunities blockchain could create for auditors

Blockchain 2In case you haven’t heard, blockchain technology has the potential to change the auditing profession. A new whitepaper co-authored by the American Institute of CPAs details what opportunities could emerge for auditors.

Not sure what blockchain is? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s a digital, distributed ledger that contains every transaction since its creation. Once transactions are entered, they can’t be changed or deleted. Every user on a blockchain has an identical version of the ledger, and all copies are updated automatically when a new transaction occurs. Each entry refers back to the previous entry across all versions, creating a “chain” of information.

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3 myths about tax extensions

Tax extensionSometimes filing a tax extension can be a benefit to your clients, but only if they are clear on what an extension means —and what it doesn’t mean.

If you’re a tax CPA, you’ve probably come across a client who chose not to file an extension because they misunderstood how it would affect them. On the other hand, maybe a client was happy to go on extension but for the wrong reasons.  

Below are three myths that your clients may have about extensions that you can proactively dispel.

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5 busy season food cravings and how to feed them properly

Ice creamSuddenly, in the middle of a client meeting or complicated tax return, you want — no, need — chocolate, or maybe French fries and fried chicken. There’s no doubt food cravings grow under stress. But they can also hit when we feel good or for seemingly no reason at all.

These guilty pleasures can be a great morale booster during busy season. Yet too much indulgence can lead to unhealthy weight, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems! Cravings can’t be eliminated entirely but knowing your triggers and developing strategies for feeding them in healthier ways can help.

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3 ways new software enhances CPA exam experience

ManLookScreenIf you took the CPA exam any time before 2004, images of an arena or hotel ballroom and No. 2 pencils and scratch paper still hold a prominent place in your memories. For those of you who took the exam after the American Institute of CPA’s launch of computer-based testing in April 2004, it was a much different experience. This important move helped the AICPA become a model for high-stakes testing, known for our ability to manage, deliver and score exams faster and more efficiently for candidates. 

Since computerizing the exam, we’ve remained focused on our ability to provide the best possible test experience. Some recent projects include the exam’s move to a web-based application for better test delivery, as well as a new item type (Document Review Simulation) that offers a more realistic simulation experience. 

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Empowering women to be financial powerhouses

Women financial planning

While preparing to host a webcast on women and money for a client company recently, I was asked why I thought we needed to have a separate webcast just for women – doesn't money work the same way for everyone?

The fact is that yes, money is money. But the way we relate to money, combined with differing life expectancies and career factors, means that we need to approach the "why" behind exercising healthy financial behaviors a little differently.

While everyone has questions about money, here are 3 common questions that I hear from women clients, and how I typically advise them to approach those concerns. What better day to think about this than on International Women’s Day?

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Calling all CPAs – you should run for office

ElectionYou know that feeling you get when you’ve helped a client in a concrete way? Perhaps you saved them money on their taxes, identified waste or even fraud. Maybe you designed a plan to take their children through higher education, helped them save for retirement or protect themselves from loss. Possibly you advised a small business startup, or helped a larger company report on their cybersecurity controls.

What if you could take that feeling — and your service — to the next level?

When you’re a CPA, you have a solid understanding of the many issues that power government: taxes, their assessment and collection and the rules that govern them; small business challenges and needs; financial literacy and responsibility; and myriad details of budgeting, responsible record keeping and the impacts of financial decisions.

CPAs’ expertise gives them a distinct advantage over other candidates, making them uniquely qualified to serve as thought leaders in government. As the country ponders the effects of the first major tax overhaul in more than 30 years, now more than ever, there’s a need for tax and fiscal expertise in our public servants. Who better to serve the community and protect the public interest than CPAs?

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Now accepting applications: 5 tips for mid-season hiring

Help wantedIt’s the middle of busy season, and you’ve just realized you could use a little more help. Maybe you underestimated your firm’s capacity, or a staff member unexpectedly needed to leave. When it’s all hands on deck to manage client needs, mid-season hiring is a curveball no firm wants to face. Here are a few ways to prevent such departures and prepare for the unexpected.

An ounce of prevention

Of course, one of the best ways to handle mid-season hiring is to prevent departures. 

While people will leave, and not always at the best time, a firm should try to create a fun office culture so employees won’t want to go anywhere else. This means creating a family-like atmosphere in hopes that staff members are less likely to leave “family” in the middle of a busy time. To make the firm more inviting, consider:

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Forensic and valuation pros: 4 ways tax reform affects you

Tax reform 2Tax reform affects more than just taxes. It has lasting implication for all CPAs and introduces some uncertainty for financial forensics and business valuation. Depending on who your clients are, you may feel this more than other CPAs.

If you concentrate in estate and gift tax valuation, now is a good time to start looking outside those business models by leveraging the opportunities that have come up since the new law was signed.

In a recent interview, Don DeGrazia, CPA, ABV, CFF, partner with Gold Gerstein Group LLC, explained the P.L. 115-97, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, makes the federal estate tax temporarily go away for many tax payers. While state estate or inheritance taxes are still in effect, they don’t provide nearly the same volume of business.

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A behind-the-scenes look at the CPA Exam

Behind the scenesMost CPA Exam candidates can rest assured knowing the time and energy they’ve spent leading up to exam day has prepared them for what to expect. Reviewed content and structure, section by section in the Blueprints? Check. Practiced with the sample tests to learn the exam’s functionality? Check. Confirmed test windows, how scoring works and made that test day appointment? Check. Understood the importance of language in the exam and what goes into the wording of each question? Che...wait. What?

Understanding what goes into the development of exam questions may provide extra insight for test day when you sit for the exam, which surely adds to your confidence. Read on to explore some of the behind-the-scenes considerations from creation to approval, fairness in the wording, as well as knowing with certainty that each multiple-choice question has only one right answer.

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Start your audit off right with data analytics

When planning an audit, how do you approach your preliminary analytics? Many auditors perform a variance analysis. They compare current year account balances to the prior year to identify any unexpected fluctuations. While this procedure often yields relevant insights, did you know performing audit data analytics (ADAs) can be even more effective at identifying potential problem areas? ADAs can be quick and painless, and you probably already have the tools on hand to perform them.

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The one thing stopping you from making better decisions

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It’s been several years since your last dodgeball game in the high school gym, but you may remember it like it was yesterday. Nervous energy hangs in the air during those moments when the captains choose their teams. No one wants to be picked last.

Human nature is at play, compelling Captain Kim to choose Mark instead of you. Maybe it’s Mark’s athletic ability, or maybe it’s because he lives on Kim’s street and she is more familiar with him. Kim’s unconscious bias drives her toward one classmate over another. For the person whom Kim picks last, it might sting a little.


Without realizing it, every day in our professional lives, we make choices similar to Kim’s. It’s not always pleasant for everyone involved. All humans have a hardwired need to belong. If we don’t check our unconscious bias and unknowingly show favoritism, we risk alienating our colleagues and staff. That can affect engagement, productivity and team cohesion.


The good news is that you can train yourself to become mindful of your unconscious bias and strengthen your relationships in and out of the office. Try this practice I call the Three Rs.

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Engagement letter stories — when they hurt and when they worked

Engagement letterAs a risk management professional at CNA, professional liability insurance carrier for nearly 25,000 CPA firms, I am often asked if engagement letters are worth all the effort. The answer, based on my personal and CNA’s claim experience, is a resounding YES!

I’ve experienced firsthand the value these letters bring to the table. When an engagement letter is used, and a claim arises related to that engagement, the losses are typically less severe (meaning less expensive) than if an engagement letter had not been used. But what means more (especially to a CPA) than more money in your pocket? Many professional liability insurance carriers provide premium credits or other benefits for firms that use engagement letters.

If it’s not enough to just trust the numbers, consider the following experiences of CPA firms that have or have not used engagement letters.

One that hurt — no engagement letter meant higher risk

A CPA was engaged to prepare income tax returns for a small business and its owner for many years. The owner regularly spoke with the CPA about his plans to sell the business and ultimately retire. One day, the client did just that and moved away.

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Blockchain was made to solve 1 problem. Here’s what that is.

Blockchain“Blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. Unless you want to buy drugs on the internet,” said the instructor in a technology training I recently attended.

While not the first time I had heard such a comment, it was disturbing that a hundred of my fellow practitioners were being misled. Ignoring or dismissing blockchain does the accounting profession no favors. Instead, let’s consider the problem that the technology solves. This will provide a basis for later understanding possible applications to our work.

 What is the problem blockchain is trying to solve?

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, set out to solve how we transfer a digital asset between two peers without an intermediary. While there are many applications of this transfer, let’s look at it in the context of money.

Imagine you are selling a bike online. You don’t actually know the person who is buying your bike, so you have no way of knowing if the buyer actually has the money to pay for it. You have to trust an intermediary like PayPal for this information. PayPal is crucial to the transaction because it verifies what you cannot – whether the buyer has enough money in their bank account to make the purchase.

The asymmetry of trust in this transaction is known as the Byzantine General’s Problem. Imagine we have four generals planning to attack a city. At least three of the generals must attack at the same time to overpower the army holding the city. However, the only way they can communicate with each other is via messenger, and they do not know if one of the generals is a traitor. If a general were traitorous, he could modify the attack message and cause the other generals to fail. The only way to overcome a traitorous general is to provide the history of all messages sent and evidence they have not been altered. If the generals see that one of their peers has sent a message different from the others, they would know the general is traitorous and disregard his message. If more generals are good actors than bad in this attack, the correct message will be obvious.

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10 tips to tackle the CPA Exam during busy season

Busy season juggling If your time already seems extra valuable during busy season, try studying for the CPA Exam at the same time. Many do it, however, as they power forward to earn a credential that will significantly enhance their professional lives. If you’re about to jump into juggling the demands of busy season and test preparation, here are a few tips from CPAs I talked to who’ve been there, done that and earned their CPA.

  1. Plan your time.

CPA Leighton Smith, who is a finance director at Microsoft, calculated the time he thought he’d need to study each quarter. He then tracked his actual weekly progress and made adjustments as needed. “I didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” he says.

  1. Stretch the workday.

To keep on track, you’ll have to wake up early, get to bed late and study on the go. “When I took the metro to work in the morning, instead of reading or listening to music, I worked with flash cards that I had made the night before based on my reading,” says CPA Jeff Wilson, advanced QuickBook ProAdvisor at The W2 Group, LLC. During his 30-minute commute each way every day, CPA Caleb Bullock, business development manager at Somerset CPAs and Advisors, listened to lectures. “I did it every spare minute,” he says.

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10 busy-season exercises CPAs can do at their desks

Busy season means tough choices—dividing daily life into essentials and non-essentials. Food: essential. Sleep: essential. You know exercise is important, but is it essential? Research shows that completely dropping your exercise routine for just a few weeks can put you at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke. But findings also show that even short periods of exercise can reduce those risks while boosting productivity and reducing stress. But how? If you don’t have time for a full routine at the gym or outside, deskercise!

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Social security benefits hacked: A cautionary tale

Social Security hackIf you or your clients are at or nearing retirement age, you need to know that hackers are targeting social security accounts. I found out the hard way. My career as a CPA Personal Financial Specialist was devoted to advising individuals and families on their most important financial goals, including tax, retirement, estate, risk management, investment and retirement planning. After decades of helping my clients navigate and manage these important decisions, imagine my surprise when I received a letter in the mail shortly after my 67th birthday congratulating me on initiating my Social Security benefits. The trouble was, although I had entered the glory years of retirement, I had not yet applied for Social Security benefits, opting to wait until age 70 to receive my benefits. Further digging uncovered the unfortunate fact that a thief had received $19,236 of my benefits. I was dumbfounded.

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Personal financial satisfaction extends record run…but for how long?

Americans are experiencing unprecedented levels of personal financial satisfaction, the highest in the 24-year history of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi). After seven consecutive quarters on the rise and a second quarter in a row setting at an all-time record, the average Americans’ personal financial satisfaction has been steadily picking up steam. With financial satisfaction climbing to new highs, some can’t help but wonder when this rise will end.

First, some background. The PFSi is a quarterly economic indicator that measures the financial standing of the average American. It’s calculated as the difference between two sub-indexes: The Personal Financial Pleasure Index, which measures the growth of assets and opportunities, and the Personal Financial Pain Index, which calculates the loss of assets and opportunities. The Pleasure Index is made up of four factors, the largest contributor being the PFS 750 Market index. The Pain Index is also comprised of four factors, with the largest contributor being personal taxes. Most recently, the Pleasure Index (69.2) greatly outweighed the Pain Index (42.3) bringing the PFSi to a positive reading of 26.9, the highest reading since 1994.
 


AICPA Q4 PFSi

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Busy season cheat sheet: 8 considerations to make it easier

Busy season finish lineTime is always a precious commodity during tax season, but especially so this year. On top of starting to prepare 2017 tax year returns, CPAs are working to figure out exactly how the tax reform law affects clients.

Before you start pulling your hair out, take a deep breath and remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “This too shall pass.” Then, check out the AICPA resources that not only make preparation a bit more convenient, but will also help you impress your clients by answering their questions before they even ask them.

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Take a timeout: 9 do’s and don’ts for a good work break

Take a breakYour neck and back ache from hunching over your desk. Your eyes burn from staring at a monitor. You don’t want to stop because the clock is not your friend today. Yet stopping can, in fact, make the clock your friend. 

Taking a break on the busiest of days (and, of course, this is the busiest of seasons for tax CPAs) can be hard to do. I get it – while working on a deadline, I hyper focus and hate to put myself on pause. But I make myself do it because I know from experience that it will ultimately lead to greater productivity.

You don’t have to take my word for it, science says the same thing. Consultants monitored people’s productivity using an application called DeskTime and found that the best performers worked for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Not too surprising, considering that scientists have learned that our brains are better at solving complex problems when given a chance to relax. Think of that “aha” moment that comes to you when you’re in the shower or picking up dry cleaning. 

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5 items you need in your firm’s owners’ agreement

OwnershipWhat’s in your owners’ agreement? I recommend creating these critical documents when the firm is first formed and updating them as needed. An effective agreement can enhance decision-making and productivity, and it’s also the foundation for a successful changeover to new internal ownership. Even in a merger or acquisition, the decisions set forth in an owners’ agreement can set the stage for a smoother and more rewarding transition. Here are some significant issues that should be addressed in any agreement.

Firm governance. When you establish policies on who will run the organization and how it will be run, it can enhance efficiency and profitability. No matter how independently each partner may handle his or her work, there are many advantages to having common agreement on some key issues, such as:

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5 things I wish I knew when selecting an ERP system

ERPAccounting professionals in the not-for-profit sector wear many hats. We often have the blessing and curse of selecting and implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. If you have undertaken this herculean effort before, you’ll probably never forget the education you gained throughout the experience. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, there are some things you should consider to help your not-for-profit or your not-for-profit clients avoid mistakes. Here are five key lessons I learned when selecting an ERP system for my organization.

  1. You get what you ask for. It’s important to be specific about what you want to do and how you want to do it so you can find out if vendors can accommodate your needs. If the business requirements you specify are too generic, you may be surprised to discover significant gaps in the system’s capabilities too late in the game. For example, saying you need the ability to make electronic payments may be too generic. Instead, indicate that you need the ability to automate batches of electronic payments via EFT and wire. In this example, the added clarity ensures the system can not only make electronic payments but also process them via EFT, and that payments may be initiated through automatic batches rather than manually, one by one.

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