Survey Results Provide Insights into Clients’ Retirement Funding Fears

Retirement savingsRich or not-so-rich, running out of money in retirement is a major concern for 57% of clients, according to results of the inaugural quarterly AICPA Personal Financial Planning Trends Survey. Initiated by the AICPA’s PFP Division, the new survey seeks regular insights from CPA financial planners, provides valuable feedback on client emotions related to finances and the future, and helps trusted advisors understand where their expertise can best address client concerns.

High levels of concern over adequate retirement funding, as indicated by the first quarter 2015 survey, suggest demand is up for retirement peace of mind--a priceless service that CPAs offering personal financial planning services are uniquely qualified to provide.

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A Simple Formula to Be More Innovative

LightbulbWhile companies that most effectively use disruptive technology continue to make headlines -- and profit -- many organizations have a heightened interest in innovation. Their staff are being asked to focus on future growth opportunities rather than defending the status quo; embrace failure through small and quick learning experiments; and reinvent business models to create value for their customers and themselves.

My colleagues and I on the AICPA’s Innovation team seek to drive member value by encouraging staff to work collaboratively to convert ideas into new services. We’re here to help foster a culture of innovation across the profession. 

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6 Tips to Tackle Your Firm’s Top Issues

Word cloud 2Throughout the year, I talk with practitioners from around the country to understand their pain points. They’re often relieved to hear that other firms are grappling with similar issues and the challenges they face are among the top concerns for the profession as a whole. These discussions help inspire the solutions my team -- the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) -- creates for our firm members. Another important source of information for practitioners and the AICPA is the PCPS 2015 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, which gathers information from practitioners nationwide to identify the concerns at the top of firm leaders’ agendas.

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Helping Your Clients in a Difficult Time: The Tax Treatment for Alzheimer’s

Elderly ladyMany CPA financial planners have had the heartbreaking experience of seeing a client, or a client’s loved one, end up in an assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care facility due to cognitive decline. Although this is a difficult time for the patient’s family, CPA planners and tax practitioners are in a unique position to help them understand the tax treatment and possible deductions for expenses incurred at these facilities.

Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia and a degenerative disease that leads to death, is one of the most common examples of cognitive decline. At advanced stages, the patient can no longer live safely on his or her own, and may have to move into a care facility. If certain conditions are met, the cost of living at the facility, including room and board, is deductible as a healthcare expense. For those aged 65 and older, medical expenses must exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income in 2015 and 2016 in order to be deductible. The threshold increases to 10% in 2017.

According to IRS Publication 502, qualified long-term care services include “… maintenance and personal care services that are 1) required by a chronically ill individual, and 2) provided pursuant to a plan of care prescribed by a licensed healthcare practitioner.”

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A Key Step that ID Theft Victims May Overlook

Background checkThis year, taxpayer identity theft took a maliciously clever turn: phony tax returns were filed that looked very much like the taxpayers’ previous years’ returns. Standard pattern deviation software would not catch this type of filing. How could this happen?

It turns out that rather than just using stolen names, birthdates, street addresses and Social Security information to file tax returns with made-up numbers, criminals used the stolen information to access the taxpayers’ previous returns to make up believable numbers to file for tax refunds. The criminals were successful in about 100,000 out of approximately 200,000 attempts to acquire taxpayer information on the Get Transcript section of the IRS website, which requires other personal verification questions that only the taxpayer is supposed to know.

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Tax Reform Fatigue Got You Down?

Tax reform_stressed taxpayerFINALLY! This is the year that we get tax reform done. More than 26 years since the last tax reform, the stars are finally aligned: the Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the Administration all agree the tax code is too complex and needs to be fixed. Oh wait, that was 2012, and surprisingly (not) tax reform did not happen, but Washington will get it done in 2013. No, of course that did not happen either. Clearly tax reform would not happen in 2014 because it was a mid-term election year, but just wait until 2015, that will be the year for comprehensive tax reform, because after all, we now have one party leading both houses of Congress. OK, maybe not comprehensive reform in 2015, but you just wait until 2017…that will be the year!

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CPA Exam Q3/Q4 2015 Score Release Timetables

The Q3/Q4 2015 score release timetable is now available. Score release timelines are updated biannually on AICPA Insights and on the CPA Exam website. For more information about score release and the scoring process, please visit the Psychometrics and Scoring page.

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

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Making a Bold Move to Improve Audit Quality

Like many of you, my background is in auditing. We launched our careers playing a vital role on an audit team. From those early days, with every engagement, we gained increased confidence in this complex discipline. We developed the understanding that our exemplary abilities to perform the audit are fundamental to the public’s trust in our profession.

In recent years, audit quality and audit relevance have become focal points for both public and private companies. It’s more important than ever for the profession to remain vigilant and uphold excellence. That’s why I’m proud that the AICPA has developed another plan, a bigger and bolder one than ever before to make this happen.

About a year ago the AICPA announced its Enhancing Audit Quality (EAQ) initiative, publishing a discussion paper, Enhancing Audit Quality: Plans and Perspectives for the U.S. CPA Profession, for member and stakeholder feedback. The paper, released last summer, spelled out our strategic thinking on how to improve audit quality. We received more than 860 comments from various constituents, and with that feedback we developed our 6-Point Plan to Improve Audits. I summarize the highlights of the plan in this short video.

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In the News: CPAs in the C-Suite See U.S. Economy Slumping

Business executives grew less confident about prospects for the U.S. economy over the past quarter. That’s according to the 2nd quarter Economic Outlook Survey, which polls AICPA members who serve as chief executive officers, chief financial officers and controllers. The survey found that while the majority (52 percent) of respondents still expressed optimism about the U.S. economy, there has been a significant slide in sentiment from the first quarter level of 68 percent.

EosThe CPA Outlook Index -- a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey -- fell two points in the second quarter to 72, the second consecutive drop. The index is a composite of nine, equally weighted survey measures set on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral and greater numbers signifying positive sentiment. 

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Sustainability Assurance: A Promising New Service Opportunity

StarbucksIt’s 7:05am and I just popped into my local Starbucks for my regular morning fuel: a venti iced chai tea latte. At this hour, the only thing “green” I am looking for is the Starbucks logo on my coffee cup. However, if I pause to take a look around the coffee shop, I notice there are actually quite a number of “green” initiatives happening all around me. Trash cans are split down the middle with half designated for landfill and half for recycling, the wall is covered with options for reusable mugs and the cup in my hand has the recycling logo on it.

Starbucks, like many other dominant players in almost every industry, has taken significant steps to make its business model more sustainable and records these steps in its Global Responsibility Report. Unlike U.S. GAAP-directed financial statements, these reports—often called “sustainability reports” have limited guidelines for form or content. They can include nonfinancial factors ranging from environmental stewardship to employee health initiatives, community involvement and ethical sourcing in supply-chain practices.

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Strategic Business Skills Are Not Just for the CFO Anymore


TalentA new era of business is dawning as organizations look for finance staff—from the C-suite to entry-level—with a broader mix of competencies that include the application of financial disciplines in the management of the business. Employers are looking for finance professionals with management accounting skills, business skills and the potential to be strategic business partners.

CFOs have plenty to worry about these days—but the one issue that continues to arise is talent. “It’s all about people,” said Nick Araco, CEO of the CFO Alliance in a recent CGMA Magazine article. “Most of the dialogue we’re having is going back to talent, regardless of whether we’re talking about strategy, or capital structures, or regulatory environments, the people side pops into every conversation.” The fact is, there is a shortage of finance professionals with business-partnering skills.

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Make it or Break it with IT Policies and Procedures

SecurityOpen the newspaper, and you’ll find no shortage of stories about sensitive corporate information getting into the wrong hands. How can you ensure this doesn’t happen to your organization? Solid IT policies and procedures. They are critical components of an organization’s umbrella IT strategic plan and are designed to prevent serious operational problems. In general, security policy and procedures include assessing your organization’s assets and holdings, evaluating them against threats or risks for exposure and having the right tools and techniques in place to manage those threats and risks.

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Got GIF? Financial Literacy in 140 Characters or Less

Feed the pigLast month marked my fourth Financial Literacy Month at the AICPA. It’s amazing how much the landscape and messaging has changed in just a few years. While our outreach and exposure for the program has grown, our actual messages to individuals have become shorter. We have moved from lengthy articles on our websites, to a few sentences on Facebook and now to singular images on Tumblr. In a world where younger audiences are looking increasingly to online sources for financial advice, how do we accurately communicate financial literacy lessons with just one animated photo and a few words?

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How to Help Clients Understand Retirement Housing Options

Retirement housingMany retirees see their home as a symbol of comfort and independence that they want to keep as long as possible. However, far too often, reality turns out differently. Most conventional homes present accessibility problems that impair the comfort and independence of elderly people, requiring expensive modifications or an unplanned move to an assisted living facility caused by a health crisis.

Whether you’re advising clients ten years into their retirement or helping middle-aged clients plan for their golden years, you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t bring up the sometimes uncomfortable discussion of retirement housing and end-of-life care.

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3 Things Not-for-Profits Need to Understand about their Finances

Father and Son pictureThere are roughly 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. Many of them are grassroots organizations run by well-meaning volunteers who are committed to the group’s mission, but who may not have knowledge of the numerous complicated rules governing not-for-profits. I learned of these complexities when I joined the board of an all-volunteer sports league in my community. I'm sure many practitioners can relate: because I am a CPA, of course, I was elected treasurer. In this role I gained a deeper understanding of not-for-profit finances. As a result, I've learned three things not-for-profits need to understand about their finances in order to run a more effective organization.

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Leveraging Technology to Keep Your Firm in Motion

Firm in motionWe all know that staying current and embracing the latest trends in business are key to running a successful CPA firm. Years ago, accountants relied on columnar pads and general ledger books, while working from 8-5 in the office. Today at most firms, those tools and practices are replaced by accounting and cloud computing software, with flexible schedules and virtual offices. CPAs continue to implement new tools and strategies to optimize the changing professional environment to best meet client and staff needs. Interested in learning more, I sat down with two trailblazers to hear firsthand about their experiences.

Alan Long, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is the managing member of Baldwin CPAs, based in Richmond, Ky. Alan explained that his firm has been an early adopter of technology.  For example, the firm has been paperless since 2002, in the cloud since 2004 and has supported a multiple monitor environment for nearly a decade. Baldwin CPAs uses electronic signatures for all engagement letters and consent forms, saving the firm both time and money. Additionally, all professional staff are given iPads, allowing them to be accessible while offsite.

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Nanny Tax 101: Managing Employer Obligations at Home

Nanny TaxesOne of the most important decisions working parents will make is deciding who will get the honor of taking care of their little one during the day. My husband and I decided to hire a nanny to watch our sweet little boy, Henry. We liked the idea of Henry getting excellent one-on-one care from an experienced caregiver, and daycare can present challenges for us in terms of picking up and dropping off our son each day – we may be parents, but our career demands still exist. Hiring a nanny worked well for our situation, but there are certainly administrative and tax responsibilities to consider when making this decision:

Nannies are household employees

Though most families want to consider their nanny an “independent contractor” to avoid costly payroll taxes and the associated administrative duties, nannies are household employees. The instructions for Form 1040, Schedule H are pretty clear on this matter.

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Who’s on Your (Fictional) Client Wish List?

Good WifeReady for some peace and sunshine in your life? In a recent blog, we speculated about TV characters who would make truly awful clients (Walter White, members of the Walking Dead, you get the picture). Now we are focusing on fictional clients who could really take the stress out of life. Which one of these would be your dream client? 

Here are our top picks:

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In the News: CPAs Provide Gift Tax Guidance and Cyber-Security Tips

Shutterstock_124401508CPAs serve as trusted advisers and provide their clients with expert guidance on a variety of topics. It’s no surprise that they are frequently cited by the media for their expertise in areas such as tax, financial planning and even cyber security best practices. I’ve summarized a few recent examples of CPAs helping people make informed decisions about their financial lives.

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Responding to Change: Update on the Next Generation CPA Exam

Cpa examThe AICPA is committed to ongoing evaluation and improvement of the CPA Examination. Thoughtful enhancements help maintain the relevance of the exam for the current practice realities for newly licensed CPAs. Last year, the AICPA launched a practice analysis, a comprehensive research project to inform the development of the next version of the CPA Exam. 

An important part of the practice analysis was an Invitation to Comment called Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination. The ITC was designed to address the changing landscape of the CPA profession and asked a wide range of stakeholders to weigh in on possible changes to the next version of the Exam. In September 2014, the ITC was issued to members, boards of accountancy, firms, academia, standards setters and regulators, and business and industry.

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5 Forward-thinking Client Solutions for CPAs

Forward thinkingAs with any service-oriented profession, it is considered a best practice for accountants to stay in touch with clients and provide solutions to their most pressing problems. CPAs can do this in a number of forward-thinking ways, even when their assistance doesn’t necessarily fall within the realm of services the firm provides.

For example, last summer, my firm, Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman staged a learning and networking event in partnership with the president of a not-for-profit industry group that was driving significant change within not-for-profit business operations. The area of change did not have anything to do with the audit or accounting services our professionals provide to hundreds of nonprofits annually. Rather, the purpose was to help not-for-profits face an emerging industry issue--one for which we had the right connections to allow for an informative and helpful session.

Not surprisingly, more than twice the usual number of clients and friends attended the event, including several from prominent not-for-profits we had never met before. Our audit and accounting events always bring a respectable number of participants, but this event delivered more because our approach meant caring less about whether the topic was a fit for our firm and more about whether it simply provided helpful information about a pressing industry need.

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CPAs Play an Essential Role in Improving the Financial Education of All Americans

As Financial Literacy Month draws to a close, it’s important to reflect on the essential role CPAs play in helping improve the financial knowledge of Americans.  Educating consumers about their finances is the volunteer cause of the CPA profession.  Through the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program (360), thousands of CPAs from all over the country volunteer their time to speak with consumers of all ages about their finances. Increasing our citizens’ financial education is critical to our country’s financial success, and the AICPA is leading the way for the CPA profession.

During my tenure as chair of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, CPAs across the country achieved much and celebrated many milestones in financial literacy.  I have been involved with developing and releasing several rounds of creative from Feed the Pig, the AICPA’s PSA campaign with the Ad Council, and, along with the rest of the Commission, participated in releasing the AICPA’s first consumer publication, Save Wisely, Spend Happily, authored by Commission member Sharon Lechter, CPA.  Commission members promote 360 and its related programs, and represent 360 before the media and national organizations. Our members are essential in promoting 360 with AICPA leadership, committees, state society leadership and key accounting organizations. I am proud of the work Commission members do and the leadership they provide.

 

 

CPAs in public service have also played an important role in the profession’s financial literacy efforts. On April 22, U.S. Representative and Congressional Caucus on CPAs and Accountants member Michael Conaway, CPA (TX-11) gave a speech on the House floor highlighting April as Financial Literacy Month. Representative Conaway noted the important role that CPAs across the country play in improving the financial literacy of Americans, and how, for over 10 years, the AICPA, members and state CPA societies have worked together through 360.

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5 Steps to Help You Manage Up

Managing up wordleHave you ever accepted a new project even though your plate was already full? Many of us have been in this position. We are so driven to succeed that we say yes to these new assignments without much thought. As a result, we find ourselves stretched thin, making us overwhelmed, discouraged and ineffective. This in turn affects our productivity, negatively impacts the firm or company and derails our priorities.

If you are a young CPA with aspirations—whether your goal is to take on a leadership role, move into management or simply make your current role align more with your vision of the future—there is an approach you can take that will help you get ahead without having to say yes all of the time. It’s called “managing up.”

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AICPA Celebrates 25 Years of Top Technologies for CPAs

TechnologyWhat was technology like 25 years ago? In 1989, when the AICPA conducted its very first Top Technology Initiatives survey (TTI), the most popular technologies discussed were the spreadsheet and, of course, something called the Internet.

It’s 2015; dial-up is a relic and cloud-based alternatives to physical backups are much more common. Today’s technologies thrive on a 24-hour, cloud environment that enables cross-platform collaboration.

The 25th anniversary North American TTI Survey conducted in 2014 expounded on this trend in the profession and broke down the top IT priorities in the United States and Canada, with more than 3,000 CPAs and chartered accountants weighing in on the most pressing issues affecting their delivery of service in firms, and in business and industry.

Here is a list of the top 10 U.S. initiatives ranked by priority. I will elaborate on the top IT concern below.

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Help Us Improve the “Service” in the Internal Revenue Service

Man on hold with IRSIt is no secret that IRS service during this past tax season plunged to a level that I can only describe as unacceptable.  The anecdotes from members keep coming in, and from what we hear, the predicted 53-minute average wait time to reach someone on the IRS Practitioner Priority Hotline is not so much an average as it is wishful thinking. That prediction came from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who said in November that the IRS will try “to do as well as we can. As well as we can is still going to be miserable.” 

Taxpayers trying to get through to a representative are not faring much better as discussed in recent news reports and shown in the chart below. In its annual report to Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate deemed this to be the most serious problem facing taxpayers. 

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The Importance of Financial Literacy Month

Fin Lit Month 2015 2In a few short months, millions of new college graduates will enter the job market with an average of $30,000 in student loans. Student loan default rates are rising as recent graduates struggle to pay down their debt. The reason? New graduates will have degrees that have prepared them for careers or graduate school, but most will not have the knowledge to make sound financial decisions. That is why financial literacy is so important.

April is Financial Literacy Month and this year the AICPA marks the occasion with a renewed sense of purpose. With CPAs as our champions, the AICPA has advanced the financial literacy cause for over a decade, and we will continue to provide leadership in improving the financial understanding of future generations. It is critical not only for their individual success, but for the financial success of our country. For more than 10 years, the AICPA, its members and state CPA societies have been leaders in financial literacy by providing free programs, tools and resources for consumers, educators and more.  The AICPA’s flagship 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program is the national volunteer effort of CPAs to help all Americans understand their personal finances through every life stage. The program combines grassroots advocacy with free public resources and tools for CPAs to educate Americans of all ages. In addition, Feed the Pig, the AICPA’s award-winning public service campaign with the Ad Council, provides tools and resources aimed specifically at Americans aged 25-34, an age group that is making major life decisions, often with little financial experience or guidance.

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Mine Client Tax Returns for Financial Planning Opportunities

Tax returnAs you transition from tax season and begin thinking about new business, you may find that some of your highest quality leads are right in front of you. Many CPAs tell me they want to begin offering financial planning as part of their practice, but just don’t know how to get started.

One of the best places to start is probably right in from front of you – your clients’ federal individual income tax returns. The return is your easily-accessible roadmap to their financial planning needs.

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Medicare, Blind Men and an Elephant

Blind Man and ElephantLearning about Medicare is similar to the story of the blind men and the elephant. The story of differing perceptions is said to have originated in India. In the tale, several blind men are allowed to touch an elephant, but each man may touch only one part. One man touches the tusk, one a leg, one the trunk and one the tail. After they are finished, they get together and discuss what they discovered. Of course, each man’s description of the elephant is different from the others. Each man is correct, but each man is also wrong.

Medicare is much like the elephant and the blind men. Each beneficiary has his or her own perception of what Medicare is -- or what it is not. One beneficiary may focus on the cost of Medicare, the monthly premiums, and the various co-payments and co-insurance that must be paid. Another beneficiary may focus on the freedom to select a physician or other healthcare provider without having to obtain prior authorization, while yet another person may focus on the prescription drug coverage and the problems in obtaining a particular prescription drug.

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Tax Season Wrap Up: How to Recharge, Regroup and Move Forward

BeachYesterday we asked CPA Letter Daily readers: “How do you celebrate the end of tax season?” More than a majority of the respondents stated that they would celebrate by either taking time off or planning a staff dinner, happy hour or party. Another 32 percent plan to continue working by moving on to the next task on their list. Here we share tips for how to rejuvenate, plan and prioritize the next steps for your practice.

Recharge

Figuring out how to rest can be stressful in itself, especially if you have a larger than expected backlog of work either from returns that still need to be prepared or non-tax work postponed until “after April 15.” Consider the following ideas to get your groove back:

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Broadening Our Definition of Financial Literacy

Micpa-logo-Here at the Michigan Association of CPAs, we’ve embarked on some projects that go beyond the traditional approach to financial literacy. We’ve had the fantastic opportunity to work with Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, CPA on several initiatives aimed at our most vulnerable populations, including Reinventing Mi Retirement and the Detroit Income Stabilization Fund Program.  

The Reinventing Mi Retirement initiative was introduced by Governor Snyder in June 2014, and it focuses on providing financial education to help Michiganders better prepare for retirement. The initiative officially kicked off in October 2014 with eight locations in Michigan offering free informational sessions for community members. CPA members participated at locations across the state to provide free financial checkups, helping attendees gain a better understanding of budgeting and financial preparedness. Attendees also received an incredibly thorough financial toolkit, which our members contributed to as well. The event came together in just a few months due to the strong partnership we have with the State of Michigan and the incredible commitment of our member volunteers. We look forward to new initiatives planned in 2015, including events targeting younger people who maybe aren’t thinking about retirement yet, but need to be!

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The Secret to Retaining Top Talent? Development

Professional developmentWhat keeps CFOs up at night? Quite a few things, as it turns out. Increased global competition, the volatile economy, cybersecurity risks and an overwhelming amount of big data—to name a few topics. But it’s another subject which consistently comes up in my conversations with CFOs and other finance leaders, that hits even closer to home: talent. Today’s finance departments have a real need for the right team with the right mix of skills and competencies, not only in accounting, but in business, leadership, communications and other non-financial disciplines.

I’ve spoken to many executives whose organizations don’t have the resources or funding (or neither) to provide the full range of learning opportunities to their employees. According to a study by Deloitte, “Leadership and learning have dramatically increased in importance, but companies seem less capable to address those challenges. While the importance of learning and development quadrupled compared with last year, companies have struggled to redesign the training environment, incorporate new technologies, or employ digital learning tools.”

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Potential State Tax Law Changes on the Horizon

In and out of focusAs we get ready to put away our snow shovels, gloves and winter coats, and take out the sandals and sunscreen (yes – we probably should be using it all year), Congress and many state legislatures are considering some important tax changes. The AICPA and state societies are closely monitoring these issues and ensuring that the profession’s voice is heard:

  • State Sales Tax on Professional (Accounting) Services

With states searching to either expand their revenue base or reduce reliance on income taxes, several states are considering proposals to expand their sales tax to cover professional services, such as those provided by CPA firms. So far this year, 11 states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia) are considering the issue. Recently, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) proposed a sales tax expansion that would include accounting services, but professional services provided to a business would be exempt.  The AICPA continues to work with state CPA societies and our profession partners to try to stop these proposals from becoming law.

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An (Instagram) Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Tips for CPAs

Instagram 2 ImageIn the world of social media, new applications come and go every day. With all the different sites and apps out there, it can be hard to figure out which ones to use and how to use them. Instagram has taken the social world by storm and created a footprint that rivals big names like Facebook and Twitter.

When Instagram launched in 2010, it was unclear how successful it was going to be. In December of 2014, Instagram announced that its worldwide user base passed 300 million accounts, putting it ahead of Twitter and proving that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s especially popular with Millennials, with 53% of people aged 18 – 29 using it every day.

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Due Diligence Reminders for Tax Extensions

Tax formOur hours get longer as we approach the downhill stretch of filing season, and it gets more tempting (if not mandatory) to file an extension for many clients. The proper preparation of an extension involves more than the entering of numbers on the extension form. And, the demands of filing season sometimes take over and quality control procedures and professional standards are overlooked in an effort to get everything filed.

This year will be especially complicated with Affordable Care Act items, a late start with extenders, many late documents from third parties and a culture that expects convenience and increasingly instant results. But the AICPA Code of Conduct, Circular 230, AICPA Statements on Standards for Tax Services (SSTSs) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) all still need to be considered in the preparation and filing of extensions for clients. The applicable standards include:

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Happy Financial Literacy Month

Fin Lit Month 2015Today, April 1, kicks off Financial Literacy Month. In addition to our year-round efforts, the AICPA, and CPAs across the country, participate in this annual event centered on improving Americans understanding of financial principles and practices. As part of this year’s festivities, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy has launched a newly redesigned website with an updated set of tools and resources to better help Americans understand their personal finances and develop money management skills at every stage of life. 

Here are some of the other great, free events and resources to help your friends, family and clients improve their financial knowledge. 

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Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop Empowers Minority Accounting Students

ASLW image 2The American Institute of CPAs recently announced that the application period for this year’s Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop (ASLW) is now open. The Workshop, now in its 21st year, is an invitational program for minority accounting students who plan to pursue the CPA license.

The Workshop will feature interactive programs, speakers and panel discussions aimed at improving attendees’ professional skills while highlighting the many career benefits of earning the CPA license. Sessions will cover issues such as strategies for passing the CPA exam, navigating corporate culture, financial literacy, and thinking like an entrepreneur

This year’s Workshop with be held from July 29-31 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, 700 Aliceanna Street, Baltimore, MD. Qualified candidates may apply from now until April 30, 2015.

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Snow White Meets the IRS and Other Fractured Fairy Tales

Fairy tale imageIf you have ever watched the television show Once Upon a Time (one of my favorites) you know that it offers some compelling twists on popular children’s stories. Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie was probably rolling in his grave when his main character, a lighthearted kid who just doesn’t want to grow up, emerged as an evil teenager, but at least a relatively happy ending followed. 

Watching the show and working for the world’s largest association of CPAs got me thinking:  what would our beloved fairy tales be like if a CPA were to write them and perhaps play a role?  Here is my best tongue-in-cheek guess. Let us know if you have others you’d like to share.

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Cathy Engelbert Makes History This Women’s History Month

Cathy-engelbert-cpaEvery March, Americans honor the contributions of both notable and ordinary women by celebrating Women’s History Month. Two pioneering women within the accounting profession were Christine Ross and Mary T. Washington.

In 1899, Ross became the first female CPA in the U.S. Nearly 50 years later, Mary T. Washington became the first black woman CPA in the U.S.  Since then, an increasing number of women have entered the profession, and today, half of all undergraduate and graduate accounting students are women.

Cathy Engelbert Writes a New Chapter

Now in 2015, there is a new reason to celebrate—on March 11, Cathy Engelbert, CPA, took the helm as CEO of Deloitte LLP, making her the first female CEO of a Big Four firm in the U.S.

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Reasoning with Reasonability

There is an abundance of terms and phrases that American’s use to make the act of savings feel less painful, like evaluating, bargaining, or prioritizing. But no matter how you phrase it, saving can be difficult for even the most responsible person, especially with matters that have a strong emotional component. For instance, when it comes to once in a lifetime events, like a wedding, people are much quicker to concede on their financial plan. In fact, according to The Knot's annual Real Weddings Study, the average cost of a wedding (excluding the honeymoon) reached an all-time high of $31,213 in 2014, up 4.5 percent from 2013. This is the fourth consecutive year of gains. 

Pig - MarriedWhile many argue that increased spending may reflect the improving economy, The Knot’s study showed that the increase in spending goes beyond inflation and was represented across all income levels and regions. Additionally, 45 percent of couples said they strayed from their wedding budget, and 23 percent said they didn't even have a budget to begin with. From a financial planning standpoint, it may seem unreasonable to spend outside your budget, but is it any more reasonable to ask someone to concede on such an important, emotional event? Where do you draw the line?

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Learning that’s Ready When You Are, Wherever You Are

Reading at airportBetween the demands of the job I love, my travel schedule (hectic even when the flights are hassle-free and on time) and my family commitments, there’s just not much time left in the day. Sound familiar? In our profession, sometimes “free time” seems like a non-existent commodity.

On top of all of this, I’m always looking for opportunities for learning. But when? And with so many great options for CPE coming from so many varied sources, wading through it all can be both daunting and time prohibitive. 

At the airport recently, I had a little time to kill before my flight and thought it would be the perfect opportunity for some CPE. Instead of searching several different sources, I went straight to the new AICPA | CIMA Competency and Learning website.

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Chicken & Waffles + Potato Chips = Innovation

Chicken and Waffle Chips2Ever heard of Chicken & Waffles potato chips? What about Dulce Almond ice cream? Frito-Lay and Ben & Jerry’s came up with these unique flavor ideas by soliciting opinions and contributions from large groups of individuals, a process known as idea crowdsourcing. Idea crowdsourcing is an excellent method to gather collective knowledge and gauge market interest.

Future-focused companies are increasingly turning to idea crowdsourcing to gain insights, gauge market interest and ignite innovation. They see organizational enhancements as well as external benefits like improved customer satisfaction. Here are a few more:

1.  Foster knowledge and solutions

Two heads are better than one, right? What about 20 heads? Or 200? Idea crowdsourcing taps into collective knowledge -- the wisdom of many individuals, teams, and communities -- to create a deeper understanding of issues while gathering tremendous insights. It diversifies cognitive and creative talent, providing better ways to solve problems.

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What Employers Assume about the ACA Can Hurt Them (and Staff)

Healthcare WordleThe Affordable Care Act is here to stay and continues to challenge CPAs with many unanswered questions and some mind boggling confusion. Every time I think I understand the ACA, rules change and interpretations contradict themselves. Despite the high frustration level, our own firms, our companies and our clients depend on us to guide them.

As a CPE discussion leader for the AICPA and others, I am continuously challenged by participants who complain about leaving class with more questions than answers on ACA. This situation is not about to resolve itself.

When the law was passed in 2010, the knee jerk reaction for many employers was: “We'll just cancel our health insurance plan and pay the penalties.” This is not a good answer. Take my own CPA firm as an example. We employ about 35 people and do not have to offer affordable health insurance since we have fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees. Although Full-Time Equivalent Employee is defined three different ways in the ACA, our firm is definitely exempt from penalties.

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CPA Outlook Index Finds Increased Optimism for US Economy, Lowered Expectations Elsewhere

The AICPA’s CPA Outlook Index (CPAOI) fell four points in the first quarter, the first time the Index has dropped in more than two years. The Index, which polls chief executive officers, chief financial officers and controllers, found these executives were tempering their expectations for profit, revenue and expansion in the coming year.

Optimism about those key performance indicators still remains high, but the survey found a decline in sentiment since last quarter. The one survey measure to rise from the previous quarter was sentiment about the US economy, which found that 68 percent of respondents are now optimistic about the U.S. economy, a new high for the survey.

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3 Hedging Strategies for Concentrated Stock Positions

Stock market graphTaxpayers often have a large percentage of their wealth tied up in a single stock, but a single stock portfolio is unfavorable for two reasons. First, it is risky to bet your financial future on the performance of a single company, and second, the volatility associated with a concentrated portfolio could be expected to substantially reduce returns.

In the research report The Enviable Dilemma: Hold, Sell or Hedge Stock, for example, the authors found that from 1984 to 2003, the annualized compounded return on the S&P 500 was 13%, while the annualized compounded return for the average stock was only 9.9%, nearly a 24% reduction.

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Rules and Resources for ACA Due Diligence

Due diligenceThe filing season is upon us and the question practitioners are asking themselves is “What due diligence steps are necessary for getting Affordable Care Act information from clients?”

The ACA provides a new challenge to practitioners in preparing 2014 returns, which will require more due diligence and effort to comply with these new rules.

The IRS, the AICPA, and others have provided many resources to practitioners on understanding the filing requirements of the ACA. In addition to these resources, practitioners should note the due diligence requirements under Circular 230, the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, and the AICPA Statements on Standards for Tax Services that provide enforceable standards for AICPA members:

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CPA Potential Nightmare Clients: Walking Dead or Game of Thrones?

Petyr BaelishCould you use a break these days? Many of us turn to the tube when we need a mental break, but eventually our minds drift back to the office. Perhaps you have considered what it would be like to have the characters from your favorite television shows as your clients. We put our heads together and came up with the following list of television characters whom we think would be challenging clients.

Walter White, Breaking Bad. Have you ever had a client who was, say, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, but you still felt there was something just a little off about him? White has built a meth-dealing empire in order to provide for his family in light of his terminal cancer diagnosis. Has he filed taxes in recent years? Are his financial statements in order? Does he have an estate plan? You might well be nervous to ask these questions, given the guy’s fairly hostile intensity. “I am the danger,” White proclaims at one point, and it would seem smart to believe him. 

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Big Data = Big Opportunities

MoneyballDid you see “Moneyball?” It was a fascinating look at how an underperforming professional baseball team used big data (player stats and figures) and computer-generated analytics to identify and hire high value players who were available at low salaries. To the surprise of everyone, it gave the once hapless team a decidedly competitive advantage on the playing field.

That’s the power of big data.

Today, big data is big news in the global marketplace, as organizations look for their own competitive advantages. Should we be surprised? Big data offers unlimited potential to change the way business is done, for almost any type of company. In a recent CGMA survey, almost nine out of 10 finance professionals agreed the revolution is not only coming, it’s already here.

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Are You Cheating on Your Spouse Financially?

Couple financesDo you have a secret bank account or credit card that your spouse doesn't know about? Do you lie to your partner about how much you really spend? The topic of financial infidelity, whereby spouses lie to one another about money, emerged as one of the surprising topics of discussion at a recent meeting of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission in Washington, DC. 

Commission members discussed a recent creditcards.com financial infidelity report that showed that about 20 percent of people admit to spending $500 or more without telling their significant other. According to the study, men are more likely to both spend more than $500 and have a secret account.

One way to prevent this is by setting aside some time with your partner (away from busy or stressful times) and having an open discussion about your spending and financial goals. Another solution offered was to have a joint account, but open separate accounts to make individual purchases. The key is having a trusting partner with whom you can have an honest and open dialogue about your finances.

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AICPA Announces 2015-2016 Legacy Scholarship Award Applications

The American Institute of CPAs recently announced that the AICPA Legacy Scholarship application is now available on ThisWayToCPA.com for the 2015-2016 academic year.

14089-331 AICPA Legacy Scholars Seal_color_FThe AICPA Legacy Scholars Program will provide more than 100 scholarships for the 2015-2016 academic year, totaling more than $380,000, to deserving undergraduate and graduate accounting students from across the nation. New this year is a more convenient, streamlined application process which allows students to fill out a single application for all four AICPA Legacy Scholarship awards.

“The AICPA has a long history of investing in the future of the profession by awarding scholarships to highly qualified accounting students,” said Joanne Fiore, AICPA vice president, professional media, pathways and inclusion.

Since 2011, the Institute has been awarding annual scholarships under the AICPA Legacy Scholars program umbrella, expanding the financial award to add a service component. The service aspect of the program is designed to help students develop the soft skills, including leadership and communications, needed to maintain a successful career. Scholarship recipients plan, promote and execute an eight-hour service project each semester. The service activity must relate to accounting, serve the community and be meaningful to the student.

“Our AICPA Legacy Scholars program helps students defray the cost of their education, while helping instill a commitment to public service that the accounting profession is known for,” Fiore added.

AICPA Legacy Scholars are Student Affiliate Members of the AICPA, a free membership option available to all currently enrolled college students. Each AICPA Legacy Scholar is assigned a coach to help guide the student’s service project and offer advice on questions related to the accounting profession. 

For more information, check out this short video 

  

The AICPA Legacy Scholars program comprises four distinct awards:

·         AICPA/Accountemps Student Scholarship

·         AICPA Foundation Two-Year Transfer Scholarship

·         AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship

·         AICPA Scholarship for Minority Accounting Students

Scholarship funding is provided by contributions from the AICPA Foundation, Robert Half International, Accountemps, the New Jersey Society of CPAs, the Accounting Education Foundation of the Texas Society of CPAs and the Virgin Islands Society of CPAs.

Students can apply online at ThisWayToCPA.com. The application deadline is April 1, 2015. For more information, contact scholarships@aicpa.org.

 

Due Diligence and ACA: A CPA Raises Some Tough Questions

ACA blog 1Editor’s Note: Last January, Janet Hagy, CPA (and AICPA Tax Section volunteer) wrote a popular blog about her concerns regarding new rules for health reimbursement arrangements and their impact on her staff. We asked Ms. Hagy to give us an update and also discuss the Affordable Healthcare Act compliance concerns she has as a practitioner for the current tax season.

What I have learned in the last year about the ACA adds extra concerns to this already complicated tax season. We have two major compliance challenges right now – coverage documentation and standalone health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). Otherwise, penalties, higher fees and more frustration could be waiting for many of us.

The first issue is that we as CPAs have sign-off on whether our individual clients had the required health insurance for each month in 2014 for all household members. We are probably not going to receive any 2014 forms 1095-B or 1095-C from employers or insurance companies substantiating what our clients tell us about their coverage, since these forms are voluntary for 2014 and do not become mandatory until 2015. 

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