Digital Estate Planning: More Than a Lifeline

Digital willWhether you think of our connected world as a benefit or as a time waster, there’s no escaping the complex red tape associated with providing access to our digital assets after we pass away. What lives online is neither easy to access nor is it clear cut as to who can get to it.

This is an important focus for all of us, our families and our companies, but it also provides an opportunity for CPA planners to understand digital estate planning in order to help their clients plan for their future.

Not having a digital estate plan as part of your clients’ wills is the same as not having a will at all. In other words, if there is no specific direction given to provide designees access to files, email and even social media accounts, the clients’ wishes may not be able to be carried out. Although there have been small strides made by some states in this digital space, a digital estate plan is absolutely necessary to avoid any questions or ambiguities. Idaho, Indiana and Oklahoma addressed legislation providing access to social media and blogging accounts, while Connecticut and Rhode Island have dealt with access rights to email.

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Changing the What, When, Where and How of Learning

Do you remember when there was one basic kind of accounting and all accountants did pretty much the same thing?

CompetencyNeither do I. But I do know that the demand for broad business knowledge is increasing exponentially. Finance and management disciplines – such as strategy, human resources, risk management and data analysis, to name just a few – are converging, and in today’s business environment, companies expect employees to demonstrate their competence in these areas. This means that CPAs and CGMA® designation holders who want to support their organizations’ growth must develop new competencies.

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4 Steps to Developing Professionals through Sponsorship

Women sponsorshipPromising professionals ascend through the ranks based on their knowledge and abilities, but many also benefit from the support and advocacy of other influential members of the organization—often referred to as sponsorship. It is important to note the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor talks with you about your career development while a sponsor talks about you. Sponsorship may be formal and methodical or informal, but by its nature is intentional and it can have a significant impact on assignments, visibility and advancement.  

In an effort to develop and retain staff, professional services firms across the U.S. are engaging in formal sponsorship, or dedicated efforts to ensure that everyone with leadership potential has access to a sponsor.

This blog post is the first part of a two-part series featuring one firm’s experience with intentional sponsorship.

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AICPA Accounting Competition Challenges Undergraduates

I’m a pretty competitive person. Whether it’s pickup soccer, playing against my friends in our fantasy football league, or a game of Yahtzee with my wife – I enjoy the thrill of competition. The process of giving it my all is one of the things that keeps me motivated in both my professional and personal lives.

In the spirit of competition, the American Institute of CPAs recently announced the opening of the 6th annual AICPA Accounting Competition. This year, the AICPA is challenging undergraduate students to think like management accountants as they help a business hone its strategic plan. This means students will be analyzing complex financial issues and business operations in the context of the market environment and recommending strategies for growth and sustained success.

The competition has a number of different steps. Fifteen teams will be selected from the first-round submissions as the semi-finalists for the competition. The top three teams will each earn $10,000 as well as an opportunity to present their cases to an executive panel of judges at the AICPA’s offices in North Carolina. Faculty advisors will accompany their teams to support them as they present. The teams will compete for a first place prize of $5,000, a second place prize of $3,000 or a third place prize of $2,000 to be awarded to their schools.

With the deadline for first-round submissions coming up soon (2:59 pm ET on September 28), I sat down with AICPA’s Erin Carson, Manager of Student Recruitment and Engagement, for more details on the competition and what students need to know to put their team in a position to succeed. 

Case Competition Pyramid Infographic-02

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5 Ways CPAs Can Add Value in the Event of a Cybersecurity Attack

Mission impossibleIt’s been 19 years since the first Mission Impossible movie sprang from 60s television and graced the silver screen. This summer, the fifth installment of the Impossible franchise premiered. When we first met Ethan Hunt, it was 1996 and the BMW Z3 made its debut as Agent Hunt’s stylish ride. Despite all the high-tech gadgetry depicted in the film, in real life, the Y2K debacle was the biggest IT security crisis businesses faced. Fast forward nearly two decades; driverless cars are a reality, and a car hacking crisis has put drivers of 1.4 million cars at risk.

Back when Mission Impossible first thrilled us with espionage and national security fantasies, cybersecurity was merely an IT concern. “It’s now a C-suite problem,” former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, said recently at the AICPA CFO Conference in Denver.

Given the frequency of cybersecurity attacks today, it is important for CPAs to understand their role in this arena. CPAs are well equipped to strengthen the process and evaluate cybersecurity risks. Below are a few examples of where CPAs can add value: 

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5 Ways Not-for-Profits Can Detect and Prevent Fraud

Internal controlsThroughout my career, I have worked with small businesses and not-for-profits, auditing their financial statements and helping them improve their internal controls. On one hand, I love working with nonprofits and discovering their mission and how they are working to improve society. On the other hand, I do not love discovering one or two people taking advantage of poor internal controls to steal from the organization. Many of my clients conduct their work with limited funding, and some rely on volunteers to perform key roles. When I discuss internal controls with my clients, they are often surprised to learn that small improvements can go a long way in preventing theft of assets and unsubstantiated spending, two of the most common types of fraud in not-for-profits.

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Change is Scary, but Can Inspire Progress

ChangeEarlier this year, the AICPA decided to phase out the “free/no CPE” option for attending section-sponsored webcasts. This “mixed model” was creating CPE compliance concerns so it was replaced with a selection of free events with CPE while maintaining the event archives for viewing content without CPE.

When the Taxation Team learned that the change would also apply to the Tax Power Hour (TPH), a monthly practice management webcast series, we were concerned about the impact it might have on our members. However, the team quickly came to realize this change was a blessing in disguise.

We had become complacent and had not really followed our own advice: always spend time working on your business, not just working in your business. We had stopped working on our business and were completely consumed with working in our business of serving members with new fresh resources. I’m falling on my sword with a public ‘mea culpa’ in the hopes that our members can learn from our mistakes with this valuable resource. As writer Phyllis Theroux said, “Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.

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In the News: CPAs in the Corner Offices Increasingly Concerned about U.S. Economy

Business executives are increasingly less optimistic about the state of the U.S. economy. That’s according to the 3rd Quarter Economic Outlook Survey, a poll of AICPA members serving as CEOs, CFOs and other senior accounting positions.

The survey, which was released late last week, found that respondents who were optimistic dipped below 50 percent--to 48 percent--for the first time since early 2014. The impact of worldwide economic slowdown and domestic regulatory concerns helped fueled this slide.

EOSThe CPA Outlook Index -- a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey -- fell one point in the third quarter to 71, the third consecutive drop from a post-recession high of 78 in the fourth quarter of 2014. 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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Help Shape the CPA Exam's Evolution

CPA exposure draftWhether you’re a recently licensed CPA or seasoned veteran with decades of experience, think back to when you first took the Uniform CPA Examination. Were you sitting at a computer in a modern test center or packed into a large hall with pencil and paper in front of you? Everyone has their story, but regardless of how or when you took the Exam, this rite of passage is the great equalizer for all CPAs. Passing the Exam means you have the knowledge and skills required for initial licensure as a CPA.

Since the Exam was first used in the licensing process nearly 100 years ago, alignment to professional practice has been its hallmark. Over that time, the AICPA has led the Exam’s evolution, ensuring its content consistently captures the needs of a dynamic profession that regularly faces changes in technology, business practices, and standards. 


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Deflategate, Binkygate & Disclosing Open Tax Years

DeflategateNot many things capture our collective attention like investigations into controversial cases. The NFL’s investigation into underinflated footballs, or the ongoing allegations of corruption in FIFA, to whether or not David Beckham is a shoddy parent for allowing his daughter to continue to use a pacifier at age 4 are just a few examples. The accounting profession has its investigations into controversies too. A recent example is the investigation the Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA) conducted about the applicability of the disclosure requirement of open tax years associated with FASB Interpretation No. 48, Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes. The CPEA issued a report on this investigation in March.

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Are You Prepared for a Cybersecurity Attack?

Cybersecurity 1Is your firm or organization prepared to respond to a cybersecurity attack? What about your clients? A cybersecurity breach could occur at any time. No organization is too small to come under attack, so it is best to be prepared. When a breach occurs, companies without a plan may waste valuable time trying to organize a core team and put a strategy in place. Below are steps that you should consider as you develop a cybersecurity response plan.

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Keeping the Business in the Family

DallasThe fate of a family business can be tricky when the owner is no longer able to remain at the helm. Is there an obvious successor? Is there a succession plan in place? Encouraging your clients to think about succession planning for their businesses is difficult; none of us want to think about the day we can no longer work. However, when the business is a closely held family business, the discussion as to whether to leave the business in the family is often more emotional. After all, we’re talking about a different kind of relationship than we have with our staffs or colleagues.

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How Our Partnership with CIMA Challenged My Thinking and Changed My Perspective

International perspectivIn 2012, the AICPA partnered with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) to develop the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation. Since launch, more than 150,000 individuals have obtained the designation, making it the most popular management accounting designation worldwide and setting the new standard for global recognition of management accounting.

The joint venture between the AICPA and CIMA provides our organizations, respective leadership teams and employees with a unique opportunity to learn and grow, develop and nurture relationships with interesting and inspiring colleagues, face challenges and step outside of comfort zones from time to time. Additionally, as the relationship between the AICPA and CIMA grows, I’m seeing directly how partnerships allow us to capitalize on each other’s strengths and combine them to serve members—or clients—with excellence.

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Back-to-School: How to Pay for College

529 plansSleepless nights are an unfortunate reality when you become a parent. And nothing can get parents tossing and turning like thinking about how they will pay for their son or daughter’s college. For the very financially minded, this worry may arise as soon as you find out you’re expecting. Others may not start to worry until much later. No matter your child’s age, the staggering cost of college is likely to become a concern at some point. Consider this: a four-year education at a private college is on track to cost $323,900 by 2033. Might as well give up now, right? Wrong. You can build your child’s college fund slowly and steadily as you go from changing diapers to handing over the keys to the family car. The solution? A tax-deferred savings plan.

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5 Misconceptions Small Business Clients Have about Risk

CGMA REPORTWhen small business owners want or need to address risk, they often turn to their CPA as a trusted adviser for guidance. Risk is a significant issue for companies of all sizes; in a recent CGMA report, “Global State of Enterprise Risk Oversight, 2nd Edition,” the AICPA and its partner, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, examine the challenges facing large and small companies and consider how investment in enterprise risk management can strengthen an organization’s resiliency and agility. 

When organizations, particularly small ones, search for ways to minimize risk, there is a tremendous opportunity for CPAs to provide value. That’s because many companies misunderstand or underestimate the risk factors they face. Here is a look at five misconceptions that your small business clients may have about risk. 

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3 Late Night Comedy Trends that Mirror the CPA Profession

Jon StewartTwo weeks ago, Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, tearfully stepped out of the studio after 16 laughter-filled years, passing the baton to relatively unknown South African comedian Trevor Noah.

Like many Boomer-aged CPAs across the country, late night hosts have been stepping away from their microphones and focusing attention on the next phase of their careers. Not long ago, Jay Leno handed the reins of the Tonight Show over to the lovable Jimmy Fallon. More recently, Late Night’s David Letterman named his successor—the already-established Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report.

Late night television’s transition to a new generation would not be possible without attention to three very significant trends – all of which reflect what is happening in the CPA profession: leveraging technology, supporting emerging leaders and presenting a diverse and broad perspective. These trends offer lessons on how the CPA profession is on the verge of evolving over the coming years.



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Planning a Fundraising Event? 5 Steps to Avoid Pitfalls

Fashion showIn the summertime, many of us who work with not-for-profits and their philanthropy efforts are gearing up for our fall fundraisers. Thanksgiving and holiday giving season is an ideal time to hold special events to raise money and recruit supporters for our causes, but the planning starts now.

Before joining the AICPA, I worked at a community foundation that carried out a variety of events, including golf tournaments, festivals and charity balls, across my home state of North Carolina. Our most successful event attracted hundreds of people for beachfront food and wine tastings and cooking competitions. Today, I serve on the board of a volunteer center that holds an annual fashion show featuring couture gowns by local designers that are inspired by the work of not-for-profits in the area.

While fundraisers like these are fun and have the potential to raise a lot of money for your cause, it’s important to be aware of the regulatory and financial concerns. As you plan your fundraisers this summer, here are some steps you can take to avoid pitfalls:

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AICPA Trends Report finds Accounting Enrollments Reach an All-Time High

TRENDSLast week, the AICPA released the 2015 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report. The report found that enrollments in undergraduate and graduate accounting programs increased in the 2013-14 academic year, and combined to cross the 250,000 threshold for the first time. On the recruiting side, accounting firms hired a record number of accounting graduates in 2014, representing a seven percent increase from the previous survey.

In addition, there was optimism from both universities and firms that the growth of the accounting profession will continue. Ninety-seven percent of bachelor’s programs and seventy percent of master’s programs stated that they expect their enrollment to be the same or higher within two years of responding to the survey.

Building upon the record levels of hiring, 91 percent of firms reported that they expect to hire at the same or an increased level in the following year. Larger firms are particularly optimistic about future hiring levels. All firms employing more than 200 CPAs reported their hiring will either increase or stay the same in the next year. This indicates that job prospects for current enrollees in accounting programs, as well as recent graduates, remains extremely bright.

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Back to School: The Hidden Costs of Applying to College

Money and graduation capThe cost of college—continuously rising, constantly scrutinized and always in the news—is nothing new. For students enrolling in 2015, the average projected total cost of education (tuition and fees) at a private four-year college is $134,600 and a public four-year college is $39,400. The most expensive four-year colleges (think Ivies and other top-tier universities) are already $272,000, or $68,000 a year. These numbers are enough to make even the most financially prepared parents gasp. But, before you get to actually paying for college, a host of expenses must be taken into account.

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AICPA Member Spotlight: Sarah Hughes

Sarah HughesThe AICPA has many talented members with unique stories. This new Member Spotlight series will showcase the stories of members throughout the organization. We sat down with Sarah Hughes, CPA/PFS, executive director of EY’s Private Client Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For more than 15 years, Sarah has worked on her clients’ holistic personal financial and business planning needs. Below she shares some of her knowledge and experience

AICPA: In 2001, you were a tax accountant for a local firm; what motivated you to move to EY?

Sarah Hughes: The regional firm that I worked for was where I really learned the fundamentals of taxation on partnerships, S corporations, individuals, tax-exempt organizations, estates, and other areas. I found myself gravitating toward the individual trust and estate planning area, and relatively speaking, that was a small area of focus at the regional firm. EY had, and still has, a large group solely dedicated to these areas, so I have the support and am able to focus on a part of the accounting profession I find really interesting. Many of my clients are also connected to family-owned and private businesses; the background I brought with me to EY has helped in these areas as well.

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Due Date Changes– A Way Station on the Journey

Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.
― Lewis Carroll

JourneyIt started like most things we do: AICPA members needed it done. One after the other, after the other, and on and on, we heard from members who were tired of receiving complicated K-1s on October 13, 14 or even 15. “Please help us” they asked, so we turned to our Tax Executive Committee and said: “what makes sense?” And so, a multi-year, imaginative effort to craft a solution ended in a “way station” of success on July 31 when President Obama signed into law the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R. 3236).

The law provides for a more logical flow of a broad array of returns. The main idea was to have flow-through returns completed before the returns in which the information is reported – Forms 1040 and 1120; give folks enough time to breathe and digest the flow-through information. And so calendar-year partnerships are due March 15 and calendar year C corporations are due April 15. Partnership returns are due a month earlier than they had been, but six-month extensions are now available. Other fixes were made, too, to Forms 990, 1041 and 5500. Also, the due date for FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR) moves from June 30 to April 15, but for the first time, taxpayers will be allowed a six-month extension.

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Educating Your Clients About End-of-Life Care Costs

End of life careNo one wants to think about death, much less how much it will cost. But as the population ages and life expectancies rise, it is likely that your clients will need to think about and prepare for their later years, including the possibility of age-related illness. End-of-life care is a financially and emotionally complicated topic, but starting the conversation with your clients long before they might face age-related illnesses is an important first step.

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Making the Next Tax Season a Better One

Tax lessonsReflections on Tax Season

As we head into the second part of the 2015 filing season (with the 2016 season not far behind), some thoughts come to mind. Many practitioners felt as though recent tax law changes and related guidance was vague, late and not well supported. As a result, the 2015 filing season was more demanding than previous seasons, with uncertainty surrounding the final “repair regulations,” complex financial products and late receipt of client 1099s and brokerage statements.

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5 Financial Tips for Newly-Employed Young People

PitbullSummer. A time for barbeques, trips to the beach, ice cream and, for many teenagers and young adults, their first jobs. What better time, then, to educate the newly employed about sound financial practices, before they’re tempted to spend all of their hard earned income having a good time?

For many Americans, the pursuit of fun is more of a priority than saving money. Just turn on the radio and you’ll hear any number of songs about frivolous consumerism. In the case of one of this summer’s ubiquitous songs, Time of My Life, the rapper Pitbull (né Armando Christian Pérez) celebrates the disastrous practice of spending money he doesn’t have:

“I knew my rent was gon' be late about a week ago
I worked my [butt] off, but I still can't pay it though
But I just got just enough
To get up in this club
Have me a good time, before my time is up
Hey, let's get it now”

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3 Answers to Common SSARS No. 21 Questions

Peyton ManningThe National Football League’s Denver Broncos will have a new head coach in the upcoming season, Gary Kubiak, a former quarterback and later assistant coach for Denver who most recently was offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. Kubiak brings a new offensive playbook featuring zone blocking schemes and play-action passing to his new team.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been playing at an All-Pro level for the vast majority of his career. Now he will need to learn Kubiak’s system – and quickly. It’s a challenge for Manning, but he knows that his new coach’s system has proven successful and can improve the Broncos’ chances of winning games.

Despite its lack of physical aggression, the accounting profession has quite a bit in common with these developments in the world of professional football. Consider this: Like Manning, you’ve been doing your job as an accountant at a high level for quite a while and you know what you’re doing when it comes to compilations and write-up work at your clients. Now Statement on Standards for Accounting and Review Services No. 21 has been issued and represents a new playbook for accountants in public practice who prepare financial statements.

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“Courteously” Connecting with IRS Service Needs

Phone cut offWords have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

                        —Edgar Allan Poe

Courtesy disconnect. You may have heard about it. The telephone hold times during this past filing season were so long that the IRS hung up on callers when the hold time reached two hours. Callers were warned they were about to be dropped — hence the courtesy disconnect. 

We heard from so many members about IRS service issues that we conducted a survey of all AICPA members to find out what exactly was going on  correctly — and to give everyone an opportunity to be heard. The survey, conducted right after busy season, included a question about courtesy disconnects. Ten percent of respondents were courteously disconnected once; 12 percent twice; and 17 percent disconnected three or more times. Give our members credit, though. Thirty-nine percent indicated they were too busy to hold on for two hours so they courteously disconnected themselves. 

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Taking a Staycation? A Few Tips for Making the Most of It

Couple relaxing at homeFinally, a week cleared off your work schedule and you are staying put. Now you can tackle all the weeds, catch up on your reading, take the dog to the vet, repair the fence, see a movie, buy that new appliance or laptop, organize your files, clean out your car, closet or basement, get to the dentist and go visit Mom or Dad.

Easy there, tiger!  Remember the “cation” part of this? Being productive is rewarding, but a week goes by fast and a staycation warrants some rest and relaxation. I know, I just took one and I learned from the last one, which ended on a frustrating note because I felt that I tried to do too much, with only bits of fun sandwiched between the errands and organizing.

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3 Key Health Care Components Explained

Health careHealth care coverage issues are continually evolving and are extremely complex. Clients turn to their CPAs for advice when choosing a health care plan that suits their needs. With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling ensuring that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is here to stay, CPAs should take this opportunity to explain three key areas of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to help their clients avoid missteps. These areas include enrollment periods, provider networks and qualifying events.

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Risk Management: Increasingly Important and Vastly Underused

Risk managementAs the economy becomes more complex, organizations find themselves confronting an increasing array of risks that can significantly—and negatively—affect their businesses. To understand how organizations around the world manage emerging risks, the AICPA and CIMA, in conjunction with NC State University, surveyed more than 1,300 executives worldwide and released the CGMA report, Global State of Enterprise Risk Oversight: Similarities and Differences in Opportunities for Improvement.

Some of the key findings from the report highlight the need for the development of risk management leadership—particularly in light of the many types of risk an organization might face. Sixty percent of organizations acknowledge that they face an increasing number of risk issues, yet less than 35 percent have a formal enterprise risk management (ERM) program in place. In this same vein, 70 percent would not describe their risk management oversight as mature, and 40 percent or less are satisfied with risk exposure reporting to senior management.

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Baby on Board? 7 Tax Tips for Expectant (and Hoping to be Expectant) Clients

Connor 10 monthsIn simpler times, all you needed to welcome a new baby into your family was love and an empty drawer in which he or she could sleep. In 2015, babies are expensive and modern parents need a lot of gear: diapers, cribs, strollers and car seats—not to mention child care. The list can seem endless. And, it all adds up fast. When my husband and I were expecting our son Connor, now 10 months old, our first trip to Buy Buy Baby left us dazed and concerned about how we would afford all of it.

The good news is, there are more ways than ever to offset the considerable costs related to having a child. If your clients are expecting or planning to have a child, the seven tax tips below might help.

Infertility Treatments

For couples facing infertility (roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population), costs can start mounting long before the much-coveted positive pregnancy test. In fact, couples who require medical assistance to conceive often get hit with a one-two punch—the emotional pain of infertility and the fear of not being able to afford treatments.

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Fueling the Accounting Profession Pipeline: What Will it Take?

Mscpa pipelineI recently attended the AICPA’s Spring Council session in Washington, DC where I had the pleasure of going to a fascinating session on fueling the accounting profession pipeline. I’ve had some time to reflect on what I think the research means in terms of active steps that CPAs and state CPA societies should take to ensure there is a bright, talented and diverse applicant pool available for new and experienced hires.

Below are three main areas that research indicates impact an individual’s decision to commit to a career in accounting, as well as suggestions for how we can leverage these areas to help foster the greatest number of young professionals entering the accounting field.

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3 Factors to Evaluate the True Cost of Retirement

Money treeRoughly 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 14-and-a-half years. And many of them are preparing to retire. For some, this prospect is daunting—how much money do they need to maintain their current lifestyle? Can they afford to retire? The answer, very often, is “it all depends.”

From an asset perspective, these are trying times to retire. Yields on bonds and forecasted returns for equities are low, significantly affecting the safety of a withdrawal strategy. Many financial planners note the safety of the “4% Rule,” in which a retiree withdraws 4% of his or her initial balance upon retirement and then increases the amount of each withdrawal over 30 years—while factoring in inflation. The market has shifted, however. If we use a model that better approximates our current market and incorporates forecasts, a lower initial withdrawal rate—3%, for example—would be necessary to achieve the same financial outcome.

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Wanted: Guidance for Bitcoin Tax Compliance

BitcoinOne of the most popular crypto-currencies available today is Bitcoin. Launched in 2009, this digital currency is similar to real currency in that it holds value which can be used to buy goods and services. More noticeable, however, are some of the key differences between Bitcoin and real currency:

Bitcoin operates independent of a central bank;

Bitcoin does not have legal tender status by any government; and

Bitcoins are treated as property by the IRS for tax purposes.

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6 Tips for Becoming a Thought Leader on LinkedIn

TypingWith the rising prominence of social media, becoming an influencer isn’t as hard as it once was. Social media levels the playing field, giving everyone an outlet to speak their minds.

In the past, LinkedIn had a restricted number of users permitted to publish articles to LinkedIn Pulse. These elite few were named Influencers. Recently, however, LinkedIn has opened this experience to anyone with an account, calling it Long-Form Post Publishing.

Taking advantage of long-form posting can establish you as a thought leader or influencer in your field. It gives you the opportunity to share your professional expertise without taking on the responsibilities of starting a blog or using other publishing platforms.

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3 Tips to Help Millennials and Baby Boomers See Eye to Eye

Millennials and boomersIn less than a decade, Millennials (born 1981-1996) are expected to make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. Simultaneously, nearly 65 percent of CPA Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) say that they do not expect to retire at age 65, but will work beyond that age, according to a 2012 AICPA poll.

As a result, these groups will likely work side by side for the foreseeable future. Because of this, it is critical for Baby Boomers and Millennial CPAs to find common ground in order for their organizations to succeed. One key to developing a strong relationship is focusing less on differences and more on understanding each other’s unique skill sets.

But, perhaps there’s something even more important than that—understanding the motives behind why each group does what it does.

For instance, Baby Boomers may be aware that many Millennials are delaying marriage, and believe it is primarily because attitudes have changed. However, 34 percent of Millennials say financial reasons are  holding them back. Additionally, most Baby Boomers are aware that many Millennials carry a heavy student debt load. But they may not realize college tuition and fees have increased 559 percent since 1985, making it nearly impossible for most students to fund their education without assistance.

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Ice Cream Provides 5 Reasons to Incorporate Sustainable Practices

Perry's Ice Cream Black CherryNo dessert is more time and energy intensive than ice cream hand cranked in an old fashioned, salt-lined churner. When you’re making it at home using this method, a gallon of ice cream is an all-day event made with love and a small gang of helpers. Now, imagine producing more than 12 million gallons. Those making ice cream on such a large scale have a number of additional variables to consider and may choose to incorporate sustainable practices into their business model.

Many companies are embracing the triple bottom line. Rather than solely focusing on financial information, organizations committed to sustainability are taking social and environmental aspects into account as well. Under this model, success is not only defined by a business’s annual profit. The well-being of employees, the environmental impact of the company’s activities and contributions to the community are also part of the overall equation representing the organization’s value.

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The Modern CPA Profession: Connected and Comparable

Tommye-with-Australian-Colleagues-300x225In my eight months as chair of the AICPA Board of Directors, I’ve done a lot of travel and gained perspective on the size of our country and our planet. But beyond that, I’ve learned how business is becoming much more interconnected and how CPAs fit into a broader business ecosystem made up of other professions, clients and stakeholders. A recent trip to the other side of the world showed me just how connected our profession really is and made me optimistic about its prospects for the future.

After traveling to the World Congress of Accountants in November and countless domestic trips since, I found myself back aboard an airplane in February for a whirlwind journey to Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand, for meetings with CPA Australia and the Chartered Accountants Australia/New Zealand, respectively.

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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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