411 posts categorized "Guest Blogger" Feed

Don’t Let Clients’ Retirement Fall into This Trap

TrapHave you ever been at a party where the owner of a company was bragging about how he used a 401k to start his business? Or heard a story about how a couple’s individual retirement account (IRA) is invested in real estate and that’s going to allow them to live in the lap of luxury when they retire?

They’re talking about self-directed retirement vehicles. And much like real vehicles, when they are driven improperly, the result can be disaster.

What Are Self-Directed Retirement Vehicles?

Self-directed IRAs and self-directed 401ks are increasingly popular. While the usual custodians of IRA and 401(k) accounts will only allow certain investments (e.g., stocks, bonds, etc.), a self-directed IRA or 401(k) allows the owner to invest in such things as real estate, precious metals, businesses, etc. and make all the investment decisions. Profits from the investment build up tax-free until the owner reaches retirement and begins to take distributions, usually when the owner’s tax rate is much lower. Sounds good, right? What could go wrong?

Well, actually, a lot can go wrong. As a matter of fact, if you have clients in one of these situations, they could lose substantial amounts, if not all, of their retirement income. How can this happen and what can you do to help?

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7 Tips to Get the Most out of Your Next Accounting Technology Event

Tech conferenceThe biggest benefit to attending an accounting technology event is the convenience of having many vendors, thought-leaders and your peers in one location that also provides CPE credits. These events provide the perfect opportunity to problem-solve, learn and investigate technology during a condensed timeline. Whether you have a project planned or if one is on the horizon, being able to talk to your peers and multiple vendors at your next accounting technology event is a convenience and may shorten your investigation time.

Consider these tips to get the most out of your next accounting technology event. 

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11 Things You Need to Know About Your Millennial Co-workers

MillennialsMove over, Gen X; millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Look around your office and you’ll likely see that one in three of your coworkers is a millennial (born between 1977-1995; a.k.a. Gen Y). Currently there are over 83 million Gen Yers in the United States, and that number is expected to grow. As this generation continues to mature and enter the workforce, understanding millennials and what motivates them has never been more important.

For the first time in U.S. history, four generations are working together, and the age gap between co-workers can be as wide as 60 years. You’ll find traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers working side by side in many offices. Each of these generations has defining traits that are shaped by a variety of factors. These factors include parenting styles, economic trends, technology advancements, historical events and lifespan. This results in different work and communication styles, career goals and values.

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Valuing Contributions to Major Advancements in Medicine

HeLa cellsHow do you place a value on human cells that have changed the entire trajectory of cancer treatment and have paved the way for medical breakthroughs in diseases like polio, HIV and HPV?

The best-selling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – now also an HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey – examines how, in 1951, cancer cells were harvested during a biopsy of an African-American woman without her knowledge. Those cells, known as HeLa cells, are the oldest and most commonly used human cell line in biomedical research and have had a significant impact on medical research and advancements in treatment for decades.

The story of Henrietta Lacks raises moral and ethical questions about patients’ rights. To start, the Lacks family was unaware their mother’s genetic tissue was taken and being used for research. Further, they never received any form of financial compensation for the profits gained by the medical community for more than 65 years. To this day, Lacks’ eldest son continues the family’s fight for compensation.

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5 Silent Killers of a Financial Plan

Silent killer“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

As it turns out, poet Robert Burns was onto something. All too often, CPAs and advisers construct tax, estate, retirement, risk management and investment plans that are either never implemented or are misaligned with their clients’ values. Some common missteps could keep a client from adopting a well-crafted financial plan, thus diminishing the value you add to the process.

Let’s take a look at some of these silent killers and how to avoid them before another financial plan goes awry.

Unrealistic Expectations
Perhaps the most common (and avoidable) mistake is building a financial plan on highly aspirational, or worse, totally unrealistic expectations. A sound financial plan is only as good as its inputs, so it’s important to ensure that you are forecasting an appropriate rate of return, inflation rate and honest gauge of spending and cash flow needs. Digging into the client’s cash flow today can help determine a realistic spending level in retirement.

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Will a New EBP Audit Proposal Enhance Quality?

Shutterstock_502885915Enhancing quality in various areas of the audit and various kinds of audits is a top priority for us at the AICPA. We recently issued an exposure draft entitled Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA. Its goal is to provide a report that clarifies audit procedures and the responsibilities of auditors and management, thus improving quality and transparency. The Auditing Standards Board (ASB) is encouraging auditors and preparers who are involved in audits of the financial statements of Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans to familiarize themselves with this proposal, and we are very interested in receiving feedback on the proposed changes. Comments should be sent to Sherry Hazel at Sherry.Hazel@aicpa-cima.com by Aug. 21.

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How One CPA Got the Chance to Edit the Journal of Accountancy

Lindsay StevensonHave you ever wanted to try something completely opposite from your everyday norm? Maybe BASE jumping from a mountain or zip-lining through the jungle? For me, writing and journalism have always been that out-of-the-ordinary experience that would be radically different from my everyday CPA-related work. (Don’t judge; it can be as exciting as BASE jumping in some circles!)

So when the team at the AICPA’s Journal of Accountancy (JofA) reached out and asked me to join a small group of young CPAs to guest edit the May 2017 issue, I jumped at the chance.

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Bingo Balls, Atomic Elements and Passing the CPA Exam

Bingo ballsThe number 75 has various meanings around the world. It can sometimes denote a diamond anniversary. It’s the age limit for a juror in England and Wales. Science junkies know it as the atomic number for the chemical element Rhenium. And here in the U.S., it’s the number of balls in a standard game of Bingo; something which I’m sure fans of the game are quite aware of at their Friday night get-togethers.

But, the number 75 holds no greater significance in this world than for the 100,000-plus of you who sit for the Uniform CPA Examination each year. Achieve that number or higher on any of the four sections of the exam, and you’re one step closer to licensure.

A common misconception for those new to the CPA exam is that 75 is a percentage or number of questions answered correctly. No, you don’t get a “C” on the exam if you score a 75. It’s simply the passing mark that signifies you have demonstrated the minimum knowledge and skills necessary to protect the public interest as a CPA.

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Thriving with Autism: One CPA's Story

Tom IlandAccording to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in every 68 American children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A newer government survey boosts the prevalence of this condition to one in 45 children. Though the frequency of autism remains debatable, it’s undeniably among the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the U.S., with diagnoses having increased 119.4% since 2000.

Now, pivot to the inevitability of Generation Z, post-millennial youths constituting 20% of the workforce by 2020. When you consider the staggering prevalence of autism in this particular age group and combine those occurrences with the even more daunting unemployment rate of people with autism, the implication for our economy’s future is alarming.

Enter: Tom Iland, who at 13 was diagnosed with autism. Affectionately called The Calculator by his junior high schoolmates, Tom discovered at a very young age that, despite certain shortcomings, he was a wiz with numbers. Among his many mathematical talents, he can – in no more than a second – provide the sum of a word by adding its letters’ corresponding numerical values:

If A=1, B=2…Z=26, then autism = 83.

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Documentation: A Key Ingredient for Audit Success

Pound cakeYou’re trying out a pound cake recipe, but when you pull your pan out of the oven, you realize the cake didn’t rise. Instead of being fluffy and moist, it’s flat and dense. You double-check the recipe and stop short when you see baking powder on the ingredient list. You left that out because you didn’t have any and you figured it wouldn’t matter. You did everything else perfectly, so how could leaving out this one ingredient have such a big impact?

You may never have thought there could be a similarity between baking and auditing, but in both cases, leaving out one key ingredient can ruin the outcome. You’d be amazed how often it happens.

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Why Playing Games is a Brilliant Move

GamesWhether you’re rolling the dice to move past “Go” or speeding around curves like Mario, numerous studies show playing games of almost any kind stimulates thinking. Board games, chess, word games, games of strategy and the like are obvious choices. But did you know shooting hoops, playing interactive video games, golf, even playing charades in your living room, are all brilliance-builders too? Name the game and chances are it helps you think better and think faster, but note that different types of games enhance different parts of your intellect.

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Advice From Your Peers – 6 Tips to Acclimate to A New Role

Joining a new teamThere’s no doubt that starting a new role, whether in the same company or a new one, can be stressful. Between learning the culture of the organization and remembering all the new names, your first few weeks can be overwhelming. Half the battle is learning the inner workings of your new teammates – so how do you manage this?

To find out how CPAs deal with this life change, we put out a call for responses on AICPA social media channels; here’s the advice we heard.

David Pope, CPA, CGMA

“Learn the personalities and the culture of the team. Watch for cues about the motivational drivers for each member and develop an understanding of what you can expect from each. This will help you to integrate quickly and to know when to push and when to back away.”

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Getting Started with Innovation

InnovationInnovation and Accounting may sound like an odd pairing. But they don’t have to be!

Innovation is often used to describe the act of doing something new, creative and risky. This definition - especially the part about risk - may not align with traditional accounting ideals. But consider this, if you are not the disruptor, you will likely get disrupted. Innovation may seem risky, but ignoring it could prove fatal.  Given the magnitude and speed of change throughout the world, innovation is a necessity for your career, your clients and the profession. Done well, embracing innovation can help reduce risk as you cast a keen eye on what lies ahead rather than hold on to the past. Let’s explore three simple steps (plus a bonus step) to get started with innovation.

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6 Ways to Up Your Networking Game

Networking blog post (002)I used to be afraid of networking. As an avowed introvert with a moderate case of shyness, too often I would pass up opportunities to meet and connect with people. Much later in life I would discover that networking was an acquired skill and was well within my reach. I let go of my fear of rejection when I realized that networking was not about me, but was about building relationships and finding ways to be helpful to others. I can do that. You can too.

Networking, at its essence, is the simple but profound activity of creating, freshening and strengthening an array of mutually beneficial professional relationships with a diverse cross-section of people. Here are a few tips that will help you up your game, especially when meeting people at events or in large groups.

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4 Simple Ways to Squeeze in Exercise During Busy Season

ExerciseDuring tax season, accountants become accustomed to burning the midnight oil. Our long days turn into nights and nights into weekends. In the midst of our busy routines, it’s hard enough to balance career, family and a multitude of other obligations, let alone give adequate attention to physical exercise.

Carving out time for regular exercise is vital. Not only does it come with a variety of health benefits, but it also helps your mind work more efficiently. By investing in yourself and devoting energy to daily exercise, you will reap the rewards of better physical and emotional health as well as enhanced cognitive function – something we all need in order to conquer the busy season.

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FASB New Not-for-Profit Standard: Maintaining Auditor Independence

Shutterstock_314848547 (1)Although the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new not-for-profit financial reporting standard (ASU 2016-14) does not go into effect until 2018, it includes significant changes that both not-for-profits and auditors should begin preparing for now.  

ASU 2016-14 will require several modifications to the existing framework of the financial statements as well as new required disclosures related to liquidity, availability of assets and board-designated net assets. Further, it may require organizations to revise certain policies and procedures, update financial reporting practices and make net asset accounting adjustments. All of this could seem overwhelming. 

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Here’s the Skinny on Driver’s License Information for State Tax Returns

LicenseAs you have probably heard, several states have added a request or a requirement for a driver license number (or other state identification number) to be entered into the tax software system for the return to be electronically filed. As practitioners, you likely understand the reasoning for the request – this information helps states confirm the identity of taxpayers, which aids in reducing identity theft. However, the logistics of obtaining the information and explaining this requirement to your clients may prove to be difficult.

Here are some frequently asked questions (and answers) to help you with this issue.

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Passing the CPA Exam: One CPA’s Journey

As many of you know, the journey to becoming a CPA is like no other—interesting, challenging, stressful, but nonetheless so rewarding in the end. Such was the journey of Shakor Jukes, CPA. An AICPA Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop (ASLW) alumnus and currently an Audit Associate at RSM US LLP, Shakor credits his success to family, faculty, ASLW and his pure determination to succeed.

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What the Personal Financial Planning Body of Knowledge Means for You

Shutterstock_431851066Early in 2016, I heard tax icon Sid Kess speak about how important it is for CPAs to understand what housing alternatives our clients might need to consider as they grow older. I thought, well that’s an interesting aspect of our work that I hadn’t considered, and began to educate myself about the options and opportunities in the communities I serve.

That advice couldn’t have come too soon: within a month, my dad began expressing concerns about taking care of his home and asked to look at some local housing alternatives. While I had made myself aware of a few, I quickly realized there are so many choices that I didn’t have time to explore them all. Unfortunately, my father’s health declined rapidly and we had to move him three times: from his home to senior living; from senior living to a nursing home; and from the nursing home to hospice care where he passed away.

What this really brought home is that the work we do as CPAs is not cut and dried, and goes beyond what many people envision when they think of our profession. It’s probably also more than many budding CPAs—and those long in the profession—think we do. But the fact is that we must continue to deepen our knowledge and expertise as our clients’ needs expand and grow.

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7 Benefits of Cybersecurity Penetration Testing

Shutterstock_388491619Security breaches are prevalent in today’s business environment and reports indicate that these threats are not going away any time soon. As a result, organizations need to take steps to safeguard their confidential data and other sensitive information. Smaller-sized organizations like small businesses and not-for-profit entities are particularly vulnerable. A recent study by Symantec found that 43 percent of phishing campaigns affected small businesses in 2016, a significant uptick compared to 2011 when just 18 percent of attacks targeted small businesses.

Even organizations with limited resources have affordable and effective options for protecting valuable data. I recommend penetration testing, a type of cybersecurity vulnerability assessment, to my clients working in the not-for-profit sector. Many of my not-for-profit clients feel compelled to conduct cybersecurity penetration testing when they consider how accepting online donations may create vulnerabilities for not only for themselves but also for their donors. Potential donors may feel more comfortable donating online once they hear that the organization has safeguards in place to protect their information. Penetration testing is performed by an outside, third party and can be tailored to the needs, or concerns of the organizations.

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Get Ready to Face a Trifecta of Accounting Standards

Shutterstock_401287885The Big 3 Accounting Standards Updates (ASUs) ─ ASU 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, ASU 2016-02, Leases, and ASU 2016-13, Financial Instruments – Credit Losses ─  from the Financial Accounting Standards Board pose significant challenges for CPAs. And, as their effective dates loom near, more and more practitioners are coming to realize the substantial level of work involved in applying these standards.

The Center for Plain English Accounting, the AICPA’s national A&A resource center, is receiving and answering quite a few inquiries about how to apply these standards. We recently celebrated our third anniversary of providing our members with valuable guidance on a wide array of accounting, financial reporting, auditing, compilation, review and preparation topics. Recently, we have been especially focused on providing our members with in-depth and practical implementation guidance on the new revenue recognition, leases, and credit loss standards. Below are three implementation questions and answers that we’ve selected to share with you.

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ID Theft: Two Prevention “Hassles” Worth Your Time

ID theftEven if you aren’t personally a victim of identity theft, as a CPA you still bear the burden of combating it on behalf of your clients. More often than not, for tax practitioners, the big cost is your time.

Recently, to help combat thieves, the IRS implemented various authentication measures, which emerged from the Security Summit. While many of these measures may not be noticed, some are quite visible. One measure, two-factor authentication for e-Services, has already prompted comments and complaints and another, the optional W-2 pilot program, is not being used much by practitioners and I suspect time has a lot to do with that too.

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Elder Financial Abuse: How CPAs Can Help – Part 1

Advising seniors

Scenario 1: Your usually chatty elderly client Nancy has become quiet and refuses to speak with you without her son Chris present. When they come in together, she is timid and acts nervous, while he is combative and secretive about sharing bank statements and other financial information. When you insist, you see discrepancies and unusual cash withdrawals, or other activity that he claims are for “household expenses, which are none of your business”.  

 

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Tax Reform in the 115th Congress?

Shutterstock_184356782 (1)Tax reform has been actively studied and discussed for the past six years by the 112th, 113th and 114th Congresses. At the start of the 112th Congress in 2011, Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI), then chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced the first in a series of hearings on fundamental tax reform to simplify the Internal Revenue Code and improve economic growth and job creation. Since then, Congress has held over 80 hearings on tax reform. In addition, several congressional study groups were formed and various proposals introduced. Yet, despite President Obama and congressional leaders supporting a lower corporate tax rate for international competitiveness purposes, tax reform did not occur in that six-year span.

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What’s in a Name?

Name TagI recently had the privilege of speaking on financial planning to 150 CPAs at a Washington Society of CPAs conference. I began my remarks by asking how many in the audience considered themselves financial planners. Only two raised their hands.

That surprised me. I know that many CPAs help clients with some aspect of financial planning, from tax, retirement and estate planning to succession planning and wealth management. And, frankly, who better to help clients negotiate their financial futures than CPAs? Clients already rely on us to provide trusted advice on other financial matters.

The sparse response got me thinking back about my own experience coming to terms with the term “CPA financial planner.”

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5 Ways to Drive Small Firm Growth

Shutterstock_550988503CPA firms across the country are thriving, according to the 2016 PCPS/CPA.com National Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey. This unique study is the largest and most comprehensive examination of firms’ financial health and practice management approaches and solutions. To enhance the survey’s usefulness, the results are broken down into seven defined CPA firm segments, from small practices with less than $200,000 in annual revenue to large firms with $10 million or more. The latest survey found that firms are indeed doing well, with many practices making the strategic decision to reinvest profits back into the firm to build an even stronger foundation for the future.

Small firms appeared to have a particularly bright future. Firms with less than $200,000 in revenues who completed the survey reported growth of almost 11%—up from 8% in 2014. What trends or decisions are powering small firm growth? Here are some key insights based on the survey findings:

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Earlier Date for Information Returns Brings Penalty Risk

Time for ActionWe are all now facing a new Jan. 31 deadline for filing Forms W-2 with the Social Security Administration and 1099-MISC (when reporting nonemployee compensation payments in box 7) with the IRS. The earlier deadline will allow faster matching of W-2 and 1099 information with tax returns, which helps combat identity and refund theft. Unfortunately, when something is done to combat identity theft, it sometimes means extra work for practitioners, and with this new rule comes increased risk of penalties for not timely filing so we urge you to act quickly.

 

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Reflections on 2016: Diversity, Inclusion, Our Nation and Our Profession

Kim DrumgoAs December draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the many ways difference and respect have been brought to the forefront in our communities and on the political stage this year. I’ve witnessed tragedies and heard disturbing rhetoric that have left many in our nation feeling unsettled, and even fearful. We cannot ignore these realities because they help shape our strategies for the future.  And while it may be difficult for some, we all must do our best to continue to move forward and lead with clear vision. It’s important to recognize that respect, inclusion and difference made real advancements in 2016, and will continue to do so in years to come.

With this in mind, I’d like to take a moment to highlight several accomplishments in the accounting profession that I am particularly proud of, as well as accomplishments within AICPA’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives.

 

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Keeping it in Perspective: A Woman’s Take on the Profession

Financial planning adviserIt’s amazing how much things have changed. Back in 2004, I was recruited by my adviser and changed my career from forensic accounting to financial planning. I can clearly remember my first day in the firm’s Monday morning training; I was the only woman in the group and the firm owner addressed us as, “Guys… and gal.” I imagine his limited experience with women in this role (the firm had only employed a few other women advisers) caused him to want to tread lightly. His effort to include me was sincere, but in the process he made me feel different. It may not be surprising to hear that many financial planning firms simply do not have a large number of female advisers on staff in 2016, but they were even more scarce in 2004.

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Three Tips for Effectively Managing Remote Teams

Working remotelyWith business continuing to expand globally, leaders need to exercise new management skills in order to effectively engage an increasingly remote and diverse workforce. <click to tweet> In an article for CGMA Magazine, Dan Griffiths, CPA, CGMA, director of strategy and leadership at Tanner LLC, says, “One challenge of managing decentralized workers is giving them a sense of inclusion. Their in-person interaction is limited, but there are ways to make them feel like part of the team.” Read on for three tips from profession leaders on effectively managing remote workers:

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Unclaimed Property: When Does the Auditing Go Too Far?

Money and lockYou know those gift cards you never got around to using? It’s possible they are now being counted as revenue by the state. Same goes for uncashed payroll checks and other financial instruments that were never claimed or used. States’ interest in unclaimed property as a source of revenue continues to grow. CPAs need to be extremely alert to state abandoned and unclaimed property (AUP) laws (which continue to evolve) and AUP reporting requirements to limit surprises related to an audit.

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Find the Answers to Your Practice Management Questions

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Do you have questions about the best practice management direction for your firm? Should your firm consider value billing? Is your firm’s revenue comparable to other similar-sized firms in your area? How much are other firms investing in technology? The 2016 AICPA PCPS/CPA.com National Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey has the answers. The profession’s largest benchmarking poll on practice management topics, which is conducted every two years, offers unique perspectives on the latest trends within seven defined CPA firm segments, from small practices with less than $200,000 in annual revenue to large firms with $10 million or more. The comprehensive data spotlights best practices for firms, identifies challenges and highlights how firms are tackling them. Practitioners can use the survey data to compare their own approaches with those of firms in the same region along with those with similar revenues. They also can compare their firms to others across the profession. Let’s look at some of the insights the latest survey has to offer. 

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Leave Yourself Behind When Working With Clients

Financial planner advising clientI once attended a workshop in which an established adviser shared a story from a conversation he’d had with one of his clients. The client was a young, affluent widow who decided she wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream to buy a condominium in her favorite city in Europe. While she could well afford the $2 million price tag, something was keeping her from pulling the trigger.

The adviser asked, "What is it that is really bothering you about this purchase?" After some deeper probing, she finally shared her issue: "It's just that I keep hearing my mother's voice in my head." (Her mother had died many years ago).

"And what is your mother saying?" he asked.

"She is saying that I am being frivolous with my money."

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Five Experts Advisers Should Follow

Social media 2 When I think about why I love being a financial planner, the first thing that comes to mind is the relationships I have with my clients. A close second is the community of other planners around the country who are some of the brightest and most engaging people I know. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to meet and learn from so many of these people. I could write an entire book about everyone who has impacted my career, but here are five who I think you should know:

  • Lyle Benson (@LyleKBenson) - Anyone who has been lucky enough to work alongside one of their parents will understand why I have my dad at the top of this list. I've been learning from him my whole life, but I'm certainly not the only person in our industry who has felt his impact. For years, he has been actively involved in the AICPA PFP Section and has put forth tremendous amounts of time and energy promoting CPAs who do financial planning. He is a driving force in our profession.
  • Bob Veres (@BobVeres) - Bob is a true visionary in the financial planning world, and he has an uncanny ability to see the future. He's a passionate advocate for financial planners and isn't afraid to ruffle feathers to make sure the general public knows who we are and what we stand for. He hosts the Insider's Forum each year, and his monthly newsletters are available to all AICPA PFP section members.

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5 Things You May Not Know About IRS Form 990

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With over 300 pages of instructions and 300 possible questions to answer, the IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax is a complex and extensive form. It is filed annually by most exempt organizations, including charities. Here are five things you may not know or may have forgotten about Form 990:   

  1. It is a misnomer to call Form 990 an “income tax return.” There is no income tax calculation in the core Form 990 or within any of the accompanying schedules. The fact that it is not an income tax return becomes very important when attempting to apply the Internal Revenue Code to the filing of Form 990. Generally, where the Internal Revenue Code and the related regulations only reference an “income tax return,” the code or regulation in question will not normally apply to Form 990. It is very important, however, to remember that organizations subject to unrelated business income taxes (UBIT) file a separate Form 990-T, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return, which can be subject to the Internal Revenue Code and the regulations related to the filing of an income tax return.

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Six Tips for Valuation Experts in High Stakes Divorces

Man signing divorce papersThe headlines announcing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce were just the latest in a slew of stories about celebrity splits. In fact, there are more than 800,000 divorces and annulments in the United States each year, according to government statistics. Based on my experience performing valuations in many high-profile divorces, much of the advice I’d offer to my fellow practitioners applies whether you’re working with Brad and Angelina or the divorcing, high-powered owner of a local business. Below are my top tips:

  1. Determine what’s at stake and how location matters. The assets in a divorce will typically include cash, retirement funds or a home. Often, the largest asset at stake is a closely held business. That can be a professional practice – if one or both partners are, say, a lawyer, physician or accountant – or an operating entity, such as a retailer, wholesaler, manufacturing business or a farm. The complexity of the engagement can be affected by the jurisdiction in which the case is being heard and can depend on state law. Be prepared, as the legal environment may produce unexpected complexities.

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6 Ways to Ease Audit Workload Compression during Busy Season

Shutterstock_270607559With the start of busy season just around the corner, planning is on most practitioners’ minds. I have recently spoken with many professionals about ways they jumpstart their upcoming audits. Outlined below are some activities to begin now that will make your busy season a little less hectic.  

Ask your clients to fill out background information forms. If there have been changes to their management, ownership structure or board of directors, ask clients to document them before busy season begins. Also, if your client has entered a new market, they should note these changes as well. You can provide your clients with the prior year documentation and transfer information to the new form as soon as it is available.

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Top 3 Takeaways on FASB’s New Not-for-Profit Standard


Shutterstock_276224309Are you nervous about implementing the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new not-for-profit standard? At 270 pages in length, it is understandable that one would find it daunting and would be unsure of where to begin. Even though the standard does not go into effect until 2018 for most not-for-profits, you and your clients need to be thinking about the standard and your implementation plan now.

To start my education, I reviewed this AICPA Insights blog post from FASB member Larry Smith that provides an overview of the new standard. I also recently attended the webcast, “Applying FASB’s New Not-for-Profit Financial Statement Standard,” which was hosted by the AICPA’s Not-for-Profit Section team. I learned some practical tips and received information I can share with my clients.

Here were my top three takeaways from an implementation perspective:

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5 Essential Controls for Charities during the Holiday Giving Season

Shutterstock_395826034For not-for-profit leaders, strong controls for fraud are especially important during this time of year. The unofficial kickoff of the charitable giving season occurs on Giving Tuesday, which takes place the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday here in the United States. In my state, Minnesota, we have a “Give to the Max Day” to encourage giving to nonprofits and schools before Thanksgiving.  A 2015 Charitable Giving Report produced by Blackbaud noted that of the not-for-profits surveyed, 17% of their contributions were received in December.  

Here are five things small organizations can do to protect themselves and ensure that the influx of contributions received this holiday season support programs, not fraudsters:

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3 Potential Financial Reporting Errors Found at Not-for-Profit Organizations

Shutterstock_388167307As a CPA who has been in public practice for many years, I know the challenges that not-for-profit organizations face in financial reporting, and, more specifically, in applying generally accepted accounting principles.

Financial statements provide a compelling picture of the not-for-profit entity’s activities. However, in my experience, there are potential financial reporting concerns not-for-profit organizations need to be aware of to make sure that picture is conveyed properly. Here are three errors that come to mind.

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Tax Due-Diligence Checklist for Sharing-Economy Clients

UberPeople have been sharing services and property, and generating money from it, for years. For example, someone with a spare bedroom might have posted a note on a bulletin board at the local grocery store or advertised in the local paper to find a tenant. But do we understand the tax implications of the shared economy? That’s where CPAs come in.

Today’s technology allows for easier publishing and access to a wider pool of people for matching offers and acceptances. Using Airbnb or similar sharing websites, the owner with a spare bedroom will find that short-term rentals are relatively simple to arrange. Yet that same owner is unlikely to know the full tax consequences of this convenient rental, so it will be up to the tax preparer to ask the right questions.

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Why CPAs Should Learn about Integrated Reporting

Shutterstock_217047778Integrated reporting <IR> is receiving a growing amount of coverage worldwide lately, from both academics and from the accounting profession, and this trend shows no sign of slowing down. Books, research articles, presentations and other publications that highlight the potential opportunities of integrated reporting are becoming commonplace. The International Integrated Reporting Council has developed a plethora of resources including case studies and reports that provide a solid introduction to this topic. But a fundamental question remains unanswered. In terms of day-to-day implementation and data that can be acted upon, what exactly is an integrated report, and what does it mean for the CPA profession?


What is it?

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Four Steps to a Happier, Successful “Business” Retirement


Shutterstock_339672998As CPA financial planners and advisers, we spend a considerable amount of time addressing the technical aspects of IRAs, 401ks and defined benefit plans. We work to convert enterprise value into retirement assets. We consider diversification, funding strategies and tax implications.

Those issues are important, but it can be the personal and emotional aspects of helping your clients retire from their businesses that set you apart from other planners. Here are four critical steps to help you be a better partner to your clients who own a business.

Step One: Adjust the Conversation

The first step, and for many retirees the hardest one, is the mental adjustment of retiring after decades building a business and creating value. Then, one day, they sign a contract and turn those work responsibilities over to others.

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5 Tips for Becoming a Firm of the Future

Shutterstock_362297912 (1)Here’s a familiar scenario: A firm has been in business for decades, achieving success using a tried-and-true formula of providing high-quality work and great client service. As a new generation takes over and market demands change, however, the firm’s partners begin to wonder how they can grow the practice while maintaining the winning attributes that have made the firm what it is. They worry a major change will distract their team from the important business of serving clients—and eat up too much time and money.

That’s the situation my firm faced about five years ago. As the recession was coming to an end, the firm, which has been in business roughly 70 years, had about 25 people and around $3.5 million in revenues. Our culture had long been to work hard and play hard. We’ve held on to the spirit of camaraderie and the family environment our founders built, but as we moved forward into the millennium we hadn’t developed the internal structures we would need to manage growth. However, by making some strategic decisions, over the course of five years we have grown to a firm of 35 people and $5 million in revenues.

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3 Steps to a Secure Financial Future for Your Divorcing Clients

DivorceAnyone who has ever been through, or witnessed, a divorce knows that the pain of separating isn’t just emotional—it’s also financial. CPA financial planners may often feel at a loss as to what advice or guidance to offer distraught clients.

Let’s say your client Kate, age 50, calls in tears to tell you that her husband of 25 years, a high-level executive, wants a divorce.

“He wants to avoid using attorneys,” she says. “He made me an offer yesterday: He keeps all his retirement savings and I keep mine. I get the ski lodge; he gets the apartment in the city. We split cash and investments. I really don’t want to make him angry, but my own retirement will be so small. Is his offer enough?”

We all want what’s best for our clients and answering this complicated question will take some research. However, the most important factor is to avoid any conflict of interest. If you were advising the couple before the split, you may need a disclosure, a waiver or even a new engagement letter.

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5 Ways to Make the Most of Mentoring

Shutterstock_341095673A successful mentoring relationship, like all relationships in life, is about give and take. But in order to be successful, both mentor and mentee need to give genuine input. It isn’t as simple as the mentor giving and the mentee taking. Considering the value of mentoring, what can mentees do to guarantee they’re getting the greatest advantage from the relationship?

Be sure to opt in. Everyone’s schedule is busy, and mentoring may seem like something that’s easy to delete from a crowded calendar. It’s a mistake to underestimate the importance of support, however. Among other things, a mentor can help you assess your priorities, which can ensure your time is spent wisely and more productively.

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3 Steps to Maintain Independence When Preparing Financial Statements

Shutterstock_302730485Consider this scenario: A longtime tax client of yours approaches you. They are interested in starting an online gaming platform with a colleague and have already landed a significant contract. The future of this business appears bright. A local bank has agreed to extend them a $75,000 line of credit, contingent on certain ratios and providing monthly financial statements and copies of all tax filings. You client asks you if you would be interested in performing nonattest services on their behalf. They are looking for a CPA to prepare the new venture’s monthly financial statements for the bank so the bank can monitor compliance with its ratio requirements, while the client maintains the books.

The current loan covenant only calls for a complete set of financial statements, classifying the engagement as a nonattest service. You do not need to be independent to prepare your client’s financial statements, however, based on the new venture’s growth trajectory, you believe that at some point in the future, attest services will likely be needed. Because of this, you decide to take certain steps to maintain your independence in case your client’s needs change, and you are asked to provide a service that requires independence down the road. Below are three steps you take to maintain independence.

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4 Key Facts about the New FASB Not-for-Profit Standard

Shutterstock_413674186Are you ready for significant changes to the financial statements of not-for-profit organizations? 

The Financial Accounting Standards Board recently released Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14 Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities.  ASU 2016-14 is the result of a multi-year FASB project conducted to review the financial reporting model for not-for-profits that has been in place for approximately 20 years.  As a result of the review, the FASB identified several areas of the financial reporting model that needed improvements or updates to provide better information to those that rely on the financial statements issued by not-for-profits. 

The full standard spans 270 pages (view it here) but it is not as daunting as it may seem. Here are four key facts about the new standard to keep in mind:

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7 Key Communication Points for Your Clients with Extended Returns

SevenAs the final extension deadline of October 15 (for individual clients) approaches, it is hard to believe it is almost time to flip the calendar to another year. Although finalizing your client’s 2015 Form 1040 is the most pressing item on the agenda, it’s important to focus on year-end planning. The good news is that with the tax legislation signed last December, tax planning should be easier since many provisions were extended through 2016 (or longer) or made permanent.  However, this is a presidential election year, and there is uncertainty about how a political change might impact tax reform and/or legislation.

Let’s focus on the good news (and what we can do for our clients). Here are seven topics to discuss with your clients as you wrap up their 2015 returns that will provide them the extra client service that they expect and deserve.

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Drones on the Horizon for CPA Firms in 2017

DroneNew federal regulations mean CPA firms will have easier access to an unexpected tool for audits and inspections: flying robots.

Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, have a wide range of commercial applications, including law enforcement and rescue operations. CPA firms are finding ways to use drones to audit and inspect land, agriculture and facilities as a safer and more cost effective alternative to manual inspections.

For the past several years, commercial drone use has been mostly limited to larger firms because of a burdensome and costly Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval process. But on August 29, a new FAA rule took effect that broadly authorizes commercial drone operations in the United States, giving CPA firms of all sizes an easier path to incorporating drones into their operations. For example, the new rule allows the commercial operation of drones under 35 pounds, whereas previous regulations mandated that commercial drone operators had to apply for a special license from the FAA.

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