Advising Same-Sex Married Clients After Medicare’s Rapid Changes

Same-sex coupleBy now, most CPAs should be familiar with tax strategies for same-sex couples, but due to a Supreme Court ruling in 2015, one possibly overlooked area CPA financial planners should address is the Medicare benefits available to couples in a same-sex marriage.

Before 2013, married couples of the opposite sex could qualify for Medicare benefits through their spouse, and before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling in 2015, state law still controlled whether a same-sex couple was treated as married. In layman’s terms, this resulted in inequality among same-sex couples, where some had full marriage rights because of the state in which they lived, while others were denied marriage rights because of their state of residence.

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360 Degrees of Financial Literacy Introduces Spanish-Language Resources

360FinancialLiteracyThe AICPA constantly searches for ways to enhance the 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program and provide a wider audience with knowledge that will start them on the path to financial success. For this reason, the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program recently launched a new consumer Spanish-language resource center to address the need to educate the growing number of Spanish-language consumers in the United States.

The resource center offers help in several areas, such as fraud, paying for an education, how to raise a saver, tips for online shopping and credit card information. In the next few months, we plan to provide more content for the resource center that touches on popular personal finance issues and questions.

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Alternative Investments and UBIT: Weighing the Options


Keep calmPart two of a
two-part series on tax consequences of alternative investments. Part one can be found here.

Not-for-profits need to weigh their options carefully if they are thinking of adding alternative investments such as partnerships, private equity funds, real estate investment trusts and hedge funds to their portfolios.  As part of a well-designed investment strategy, alternative investment vehicles have the potential to provide greater returns than traditional stocks, bonds or money market funds, with the added benefit that they can counter risk exposure in volatile markets.

However, these investments can trigger tax liability under the unrelated business income tax (UBIT, pronounced “you-bit”) rules, and the resultant taxes (and accrued interest and penalties, if discovered subsequently) can take a bite out of an organization’s budget.

So what can be done to take the bite out of UBIT? 

There are basically three options:

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CPA Exam Q3/Q4 2016 Score Release Timetables

The Q3/Q4 2016 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.

July august q3

 

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CPA Execs Grow More Confident about U.S. Economy

2Q16 CPAOIThe latest Economic Outlook Survey found CPA executives are growing more confident about the U.S. economy over the next 12 months. In fact, 37 percent of survey takers now express optimism about the U.S. economy, which is up from a three-year low of 28 percent last quarter. The survey, which polls CEOs, CFOs and other CPAs who hold executive positions in U.S. companies also found that expectations for profit and revenue both increased this quarter.

The AICPA survey is a forward-looking indicator that tracks hiring and business-related expectations for the next 12 months.

The brightest spot for the economy this quarter was likely the outlook on hiring, with 19 percent saying their organizations are ready to hire immediately, up from 15 percent last quarter. The percentage of executives who say their company needs employees but are reluctant to hire also increased from 16 percent last quarter to 18 percent.

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The Internet of Things is Already Here. Are You Ready For It?


Internet of thingsBy 2020, my house will have a smart refrigerator that will alert me when I am out of eggs or cheese. It will 'talk’ to my phone and ping me a list of items that I still need to buy as I'm leaving work and headed to the grocery store. On a macro level, cities will collect data on pedestrian flows and use big data to optimize energy use and traffic patterns. These are just a few of the 50 billion smart devices that we'll have by 2020.

AICPA staff recently gathered over coffee and discussed ideas and insights on the Internet of Things (IoT), a term you may start to hear being used more frequently. It refers to everyday wireless objects that communicate with each other over the internet and send useful information to consumers and businesses.

Truth is, many of these smart devices are already everywhere– and they are not just for the tech-savvy. You may already benefit from this technology without realizing it, like when you receive your online shopping purchases ahead of schedule. Retailers and distributors are employing smarter freight management systems that improve the efficiency of the shipping process.

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The Public Interest: Client Confidentiality Versus Disclosure of an Illegal Act

Muhammad AliThe late Muhammad Ali once said, “Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.” What about when a CPA learns that a client is not complying with laws and regulations? Should the CPA maintain client confidentiality (a paramount pillar of the profession), or disclose information to appropriate authorities in order to protect investors, creditors, employees and even the general public?

In terms of non-compliance, is silence “golden”? Or, is the “good answer” to protect the public by disclosing information that is concealed by the boundaries of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct (Code)?

Over the next several months, the AICPA Professional Ethics Executive Committee (PEEC) will consider updates to the Code to assist AICPA members in determining the best course of action in such scenarios.

Specifically, the PEEC will consider converging the Code with an April 2016 pronouncement by the International Ethics Standards Board for Professional Accountants (IESBA), which is an independent standard setting body of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). The pronouncement provides guidance to professional accountants who encounter non-compliance by a client, employer, those charged with governance, or by management or employees of the client or employer.

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5 Reasons Your Firm Needs Benchmarking Data


BenchmarkingRunning a CPA firm offers many satisfactions and more than a few challenges. It also involves asking yourself a lot of difficult questions - Are we on the right path to meet our short- and long-term goals? Are we competitive in our marketplace? Are we positioned to find the staff we need? When it comes to decision making—whether on day-to-day issues or long-term strategic planning—it’s a lot easier to find answers for those questions when you know how firms like your own are handling similar concerns. The PCPS/CPA.com National Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey offers the solutions you need, and its benefits are available to US and Canadian Public Accounting firms of all sizes. I encourage you to participate today. The CPA profession’s premier benchmarking study, it provides key metrics broken down by firm size and region that will help you understand where you stand in relation to your peers. Here are five ways your firm will benefit from the survey’s benchmarking data.  

Find out how other firms are performing. You may know you’re doing well, but there’s no way of estimating, for example, how your growth in overall revenues compares with those of other firms of the same size. Similarly, you may have improved your utilization and realization rates over time—or be trying to—but would you do anything differently if you could see how your rates stack up against those of other practices? Once you see the comparison side-by-side, you may decide to set new goals for any number of key performance indicators. On the other hand, the data may confirm that you’re on the right course, which can give you confidence in the way your firm is operating. 

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Four Critical Budgeting Steps Your Not-for-Profit May be Forgetting


BudgetFor any organization, budgeting can be more than just an annual exercise of putting numbers in columns. The budget is the financial interpretation of your work plan. It’s the tool you use to ensure that your finances are on track to meet your goals and that you are making the most of your financial resources— two achievements that are mission critical for not-for-profits. Based on work with not-for-profits over the years, I’ve identified 10 steps that should be a part of every budget process. Unfortunately, though, many organizations omit the last four steps, despite their importance to your process and, ultimately, reaching your strategic goals. Is your organization skipping some key aspects of the budgeting process?

Getting Started

Most organizations follow the first six steps of the budgeting process, so chances are you’ve got these covered:

  1. Put the budget in writing.
  2. Establish a team to oversee and champion the budget.
  3. Create a calendar and timeline for the process.
  4. Set guidelines to help ensure the budget mirrors organizational goals and priorities.
  5. Start drafting the budget.
  6. Have the budget reviewed and approved.

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The Powerful Impact of Women in Accounting and Tax

Superwoman CPAJane Doe, CPA, also known as Super Woman, woke up this morning at 5 a.m., jumped on her computer to address some urgent work emails, proceeded to pack her children’s lunch, get them out of bed (easier said than done), dressed, and off to school – and then worked all day, leading her team and conquering the business world. She runs from one business meeting to the next, finally stopping only to make dinner for her family, help her oldest child with his homework, bathe her two-year-old, and put both kids to bed. Oh, and she also helped her husband with his PowerPoint presentation, fed the pets and paid the household bills. It’s now 9 p.m., time to jump back on the computer and wrap up more business.

Does this sound familiar? We all know women like this in our accounting profession – and these women should be celebrated.

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Client Advocacy: Susan Tillery, CPA/PFS, Takes a Unique Approach

Susan TilleryWhat does an ancient biblical word meaning “holy spirit” have to do with financial planning in the 21st Century? Plenty, according to Susan Tillery, CPA/PFS.

Susan is president and co-founder of Paraklete® Financial, Inc., a fully-integrated personal financial planning (PFP) firm with offices in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. With more than 30 years’ experience in financial services, Susan sticks to one, basic tenet: placing her clients and their financial well-being first. We recently sat down with Susan to learn about her unique service model, business mentality and outlook on the profession.

AICPA: Paraklete operates on a fee-for-service model and your catchphrase is “An Advocate in Financial Services.” What is this model all about, and how does the advocacy tagline ladder up to your firm’s operations?

Susan Tillery: “Your Advocate in Financial Services” comes directly from the meaning of the name of our firm; Paraklete is the Greek word for advocate, counselor and one who walks alongside you, which best describes what our business model is all about and what we offer our clients.

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Are You Helping Protect Your Older Clients From Financial Scams?

Elderly man being scammedMost everyone, at least once, has received an email from a “Wealthy Prince” who claims to know of a massive inheritance in their name. If only you would wire $10,000 U.S. to unlock $10 million … Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. In order to get the inheritance, this “Wealthy Prince” typically requires you send your bank account information, social security number, birthdate and other personal information. This leads to a financial disaster.

Unfortunately, this is just one of an increasing number of financial scams that people have fallen victim to, especially older Americans. Recently, an American World War II veteran was scammed out of $43,000 due to a fake sweepstakes that told him he won $4.7 million and a new Mercedes-Benz, as long as he provided personal information and opened a bank account where the money could be deposited. The elaborate scam involved multiple bank transactions over an extended period of time, each with the purpose of gaining the victim’s trust. Unfortunately, once the money is wired, it is very difficult to recover.

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In Case You Missed It: Golf, Beyoncé, and the Next Version of the CPA Exam

BeyonceAnother busy tax season has passed and I can see the heads of CPAs have now risen from the grindstone. While your focus was on tax business and financial statements over the last several months, you may have missed some important news.

Golfer Jordan Spieth’s dream of winning back-to-back Masters sunk on the 12th hole, Beyoncé (or Queen Bey) released her deeply personal Lemonade album and set off a social media storm, the Villanova Wildcats upset UNC at the NCAA tournament, and the highly anticipated “Batman vs. Superman” movie could barely muster 27% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Oh, and along the lines of something important to the AICPA and the CPA profession, we announced details about the next version of the Uniform CPA Examination, which launches on April 1, 2017.

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Summer Reading Recommendations

Summer readingPart I

Nothing says summer vacation like a few good beach (or mountain, lake, backpacking… you get the picture…) reads. The AICPA Communications staff joined forces to present you with a diverse collection of books we think will make your summer vacation, wherever that may be, even more enjoyable.

Christopher Almonte, Manager, Communications recommends:

  • The Innovator: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson (2014)

From the author who wrote the biography of Steve Jobs comes the story of how computers and the internet were created.

  • David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell (2013)

Challenge how you think about obstacles, disadvantages and setbacks to reshape the way you think of the world around you.

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5 Steps to Transform Leadership Theory into Practice

LeadershipMost of us have read numerous books on leadership development theory, because they are excellent resources that offer valuable insights. However, you need to do more than just read and understand these books for them to have any real value. You need to be personally inspired and motivated to get the most out of such personal success literature. Basically, you have to walk the walk. Embody the teachings found in these books and demonstrate positive leadership behavior every single day. The question is: how?

As everyone knows, old habits die hard. Changing behavior is frustratingly challenging, even if the habits you are trying to adopt are positive. That’s why it’s extremely useful to have a roadmap. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Here are five steps that can guide you in successfully adopting positive leadership behaviors to transform yourself into an authentic leader.

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Here’s How This Millennial Learned How to Budget

Millennial budgetingIf you have some semblance of common sense, then managing your money should be a piece of cake, right? Unfortunately, as I have seen in myself and in those around me, that is not always the case. Financial knowledge is a topic that many people think should be inherent, but in reality, this is oftentimes not true. 

As a millennial, frequent life changes become commonplace, and it can feel overwhelming. Whether transitioning to a new job, moving to a new city or deciding to get married – it’s easy to get distracted by the excitement and let personal finance fall by the wayside. According to a recent survey, over a third of millennials (34%) said that saving money was their top priority this year – more than leading a healthy lifestyle (20%) or losing weight (14%). Yet, millennials’ spending habits may be one reason they struggle to reach their financial goals: 65% of the young adults surveyed said impulse shopping got in the way of saving.

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CPA Success Story: Angela Ho

Angela HoIn celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

For Angela Ho, CPA, CGMA, dichotomy has been a constant presence in her life: East and west. Public accounting and business/industry. Young and seasoned.

Born in Virginia as a first-generation Chinese-American, Angela experienced a childhood with one foot in the United States and the other in Hong Kong, where she lived for five years, followed by two years in Tokyo.

Her father’s international work assignments were “my earliest exposure to the business world,” Angela says. “I was surrounded by businesspeople starting at a young age.”

Sage Advice for a Career Path

When it was time to return to the United States for college, many of her father’s colleagues suggested accounting as a major. It didn’t take much convincing for Angela to investigate.

“I didn’t know much about accounting specifically, or the importance of financial statements,” she says. “But I took a fairly assertive approach to learning about becoming a CPA — going to career fairs, talking to Big 4 firms, and seeking out career services. As early as my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I was mapping out credits and requirements to become a CPA.”

Angela never looked back. Well, almost.

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Alternative Investments and UBIT: Knowing is Half the Battle

Part one of a two-part series on tax consequences of alternative investments



Income diversificationIn the aftermath of the Great Recession, charitable organizations emerged as increasingly sophisticated savvy investors. At a time when donations dwindled and endowments were shrinking, the not-for-profit sector sets its sights on income diversification, including alternative investment vehicles such as partnerships, private equity funds, real estate investment trusts and hedge funds. No longer just the bailiwick of elite institutions, alternative investments are continuing to grow in popularity. However, the tax compliance issues associated with these investments can sneak up on unsuspecting not-for-profits, many of whom are unaccustomed to paying federal income taxes due to their preferential, tax-exempt status.

When it comes to understanding unrelated business income taxes (UBIT), knowing is half the battle. I find that it is helpful to explain to clients the history behind the legislation that brought us to where we are today. The tax rules regarding UBIT are a result of legislation passed by Congress in 1950 to ostensibly level the playing field between commercial entities and tax-exempt not-for-profit organizations that would otherwise have a built-in market advantage when conducting similar businesses due to their preferential tax status. Organizations that engage in unrelated activities pay a tax on the income from those activities at corporate rates (or at trust rates for exempt organizations that are created as trusts) unless a specific exemption or exception applies.

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What it Means to Be There for Your Clients as They Age

Elderly couple review financesMost people don’t think they need to plan for getting older. That is, until they are forced to make unexpected, and potentially no-win, decisions, or, perhaps they fall victim to a scam that targets elderly people. In the best cases, the reality of aging means the person merely finds they can’t do something they used to do with ease. Unfortunately, in many cases, the reality doesn’t hit them until after they’ve experienced a problem.

Getting older can be a challenge to your clients’ personal and financial security if their physical and mental capacity start to wane. As their trusted adviser, you can help your clients safely ease into the later decades of their lives by organizing, simplifying and monitoring their finances, and building important relationships to help them address senior issues. As you gain more experience in this area of practice, you may find yourself identifying a range of later life planning services that can offer significant practice development opportunities.

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Showcase Your Expertise: How Digital Badges Will Shape Your Profile

MeatballsI make meatballs so delicious they’ll bring tears to your eyes, but only people who come to my house for dinner know that about me.  What if I want others to know? I can post photos to social media, but that really doesn’t demonstrate the depth of my expertise.

As a CPA, you face a similar dilemma when it comes to assessing and showcasing your expertise. Of course, your need to do so is far more important and the stakes significantly higher than my need to publicize my culinary skills.

As you progress in your career, employers and clients alike expect you to continuously build your competence and stay ahead of the learning curve on regulations, standards and other changes. But how do you prove it? 

AICPA digital badges can help. These graphical representations of significant achievements are linked to online descriptions that are fast becoming the standard for recognizing and publicizing your professional development.

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States Moving to Conform Tax Due Dates with Federal Law

ConformityAs you recover from yet another grueling tax season, the optimist (and realist sometimes) in me says next year will be better with fewer practitioner frustrations. After many years of AICPA tax policy and advocacy efforts, Congress enacted several AICPA-supported federal due date changes and a de minimis safe harbor of $100 of income/$25 of withholdings for corrected Form 1099s that take effect for 2016 tax returns (2017 filing season).

New Federal Due Dates

As described in detail in the AICPA summary chart, these federal due date changes should provide a more logical workflow next year. Starting with 2016 returns, business entity investors’ Schedules K-1 are due before the investors’ returns are due, and foreign account information (FBAR) is due (and can be extended) when the individual returns are due. Here’s a brief recap of the new federal tax return deadlines: 

  • Partnership and S corporation information returns are due March 15, providing investor Schedule K-1 information to their partners and shareholders (including corporations) before the investors’ returns are due.
  • Tax returns for calendar-year corporations, individuals, trusts and estates, and FBAR are due on April 15.
  • The extended due date for partnerships continues to be September 15, along with corporations (until 2026). The extended due date for trusts and estates is September 30.
  • The extended due date for individuals and FBARs (and starting 2026, for extended corporations) is October 15.

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Use a Flowchart to Illustrate Client Wealth Transfer Goals

You consider yourself to be proactive. By age X, you have a well-thought-out estate plan. Your will states that 80% of your wealth will be distributed to your two children, while 20% will be donated to a charity close to your heart. All of this is set in stone, right?

Once estate documents are drafted, some may feel confident that their wishes and intent will always be carried out; yet, this is typically not always the case. While estate documents are static, a client’s life is dynamic and ever changing. CPA financial planners are uniquely positioned to ensure a client’s wealth transfer goals are continually being met.

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Asian and Pacific Islanders Have a High Degree of Cultural Diversity but Need Greater Visibility

Darryl NittaMay is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a celebration established in 1992 to recognize the culture, traditions and history of Americans of Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry as well as their achievements and contributions.

Did you know?

  • The term “Asian Pacific Islands” includes more than 50 countries and ethnic groups
  • According to the U.S. Census, Asian and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing race in the nation
  • About 5.4 percent of the U.S. population is of Asian or Pacific Islander descent
  • As of 2007, there were 1.5 million Asian American-owned businesses in the United States—up 40 percent from 2002 (U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners – Asian-Owned Firms: 2007, released May 2011)

Creating Environments Where Asian and Pacific Islanders Can Thrive

Within the CPA profession, there are more Asian and Pacific Islanders represented than any other minority group, including Hispanics and African Americans. Also, the numbers overall are increasing. However, the increase is small, and more can to be done to recruit and retain Asian and Pacific Islanders as well as other minority groups. In our firms, we can help promote Asian and Pacific Islanders by:

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How to Talk to Not-for-Profit Boards About Their Responsibilities


Board of directorsAs a CPA and community volunteer, I’m often asked to talk to not-for-profit boards about financial and governance topics. My presentations often generate lively discussions. Some people are surprised to learn that although it is not necessary to be a financial or business expert to serve on a board, there are some broad fiduciary responsibilities that apply to all board members. Most nonprofits are formed as corporations under their particular state’s law (I’ll leave the nuances to the lawyers), but a cornerstone of these laws is that board members owe a fiduciary duty to the corporation they serve on. A fiduciary responsibility is defined as the obligation to act in the best interest of another party, and this pertains to all matters regarding the not-for-profit, including its financial oversight. There are three basic responsibilities that apply to board members: the duty of obedience, duty of care and duty of loyalty.

Duty of Obedience

When I explain that all board members can be equally responsible and liable to safeguard the not-for-profit’s assets and interests, the response I often receive is, “The entire board? Even commissioners?” or “But I’m just a commissioner. I shouldn’t be held responsible!” The duty of obedience means board members are accountable for internal laws (that is, bylaws and policies) and all applicable external laws and regulations. For instance, the IRS can hold each board member personally liable for failure to pay certain taxes incurred by the organization. It does not matter if they are the Chair or President or “just” a member at-large; generally, all board members have responsibility.

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Have You Taken a Look at The New Clarified Attestation Standards?


ClarityIf you currently perform attest engagements—or expect to next year—you’ll want to check out the new standard sooner rather than later.

Like other standards released under the AICPA’s clarity project, Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 18 (SSAE No. 18), Attestation Standards: Clarification and Recodification, released last month, incorporates drafting conventions that make the standard easier to read, understand and apply. The new standard differs from SSAE No. 17.  

SSAE No. 18 introduces a “Common Concepts” section that applies to all attestation engagements. Additionally, the standard includes sections containing incremental requirements and guidance for the three levels of service in the attestation standards. These are: Examinations (reasonable assurance), Reviews (limited assurance) and Agreed-Upon Procedures. SSAE No. 18 also contains sections with incremental requirements and guidance for four specific subject matter areas, including Prospective Financial Information, Pro Forma Financial Information, Compliance with Laws and Regulations, and Controls at Service Organizations.

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One Man’s Journey From Poverty and Neglect to CPA and Inspirational Speaker

A conversation with Frank Thomas, keynote speaker at the 2016 AICPA Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop

Frank ThomasOn May 18–20, about 100 minority accounting students will assemble in Durham, N.C., for the AICPA Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop. The annual event draws accounting, finance and tax majors from across the country for an immersion into leadership development, CPA Exam preparation and the infinite benefits of earning the CPA credential.

Frank Thomas, a renowned inspirational speaker, author of RISE: Even Death Can’t Stop Me and previously a practicing CPA, is this year’s keynote speaker. Insights recently spoke with Thomas about his journey to becoming a CPA, overcoming profound childhood obstacles and observations on the future leaders of the profession.

Insights: What memories stand out to you on your path to becoming a CPA?

Thomas: Becoming a CPA is not the easiest thing in the world. Take the CPA Exam for instance, it’s one of the most rigorous exams in the world. It’s a difficult exam to prepare for, and it’s a difficult career path. I just remember how incredibly challenging it was.

I say that as someone who grew up in a home environment that was not ideal. My brother and I were raised by a single mother who gave her best but faced demons of her own. Drugs, alcohol, you name it. We were forced to raise ourselves. So I always knew it was up to me to face challenges and that I had to work twice as hard to make something of myself.

Becoming a CPA was the road I took.

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Hitting it Out of the Ballpark with the IRS’s Future State

Baseball IRSBaseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.

-Yogi Berra

Spring time.  The first busy season is done – that’s when CPAs can catch their breath, relax a little, maybe even catch a baseball game. Speaking of baseball, CPAs are in a league of their own, no question about it, and our Tax Section helps get you there. Baseball also brings me back to my childhood when I was a huge Washington Senators baseball fan. But the future for the Senators was never bright; thoughts of the playoffs, let alone the World Series, were out of the question. But now with the Nationals in town, the future is much brighter.

I’m hoping that’s the case with the IRS as well.  Unlike Yogi Berra’s concept of accounting, the numbers have just got to add up for the IRS and, well, the IRS has dropped the ball in service.  We all know that, including the IRS. With two strikes against them in the realm of public opinion, the IRS has unveiled its Future State Initiative. You may know from reading my recent blog on IRS service levels that I thought the signs were starting to look good in terms of possibly starting to move the IRS service needle back in the right direction. 

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The One Career Move That Changed My Life

David Oransky - hi resQ&A With David Oransky, CPA/PFS

Pilot … sailor … entrepreneur … CPA financial planner. David Oransky, CPA/PFS, is open for an adventure in both his personal and professional life. Embodying the ‘can-do’ spirit and desire for ownership that defines the millennial generation, David left public accounting to begin a career in financial planning and now serves as principal and founder of Laminar Wealth. In order to help other young CPAs understand the career possibilities in financial planning I sat down with David to learn how one career-defining move changed his life.

 

Sarah Bradley: What is the one career move that changed your life?

David Oransky: It would have to be when I made the decision to leave my job and join a wealth management firm. I felt I was doing well in my role there, but realized my natural curiosity was in personal, not corporate, finance. When I gave my notice, partners and colleagues expressed concern about my decision. Looking back, I’m glad I listened to my heart. Today, I get out of bed every morning excited that I get to not only do work I find interesting, but also get to make a direct and positive impact on the lives of my clients.

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Not-for-Profit Section Celebrates One Year Anniversary


NFP team photoOn May 2, the AICPA’s Not-for-Profit Section marked its one-year anniversary. Today, as I write this article, our community is more than 3,600 members strong and counting.  As I reflect on my team’s work and that of all the tireless staff and teams of volunteers throughout the Institute who helped us nurture and grow this initiative, I am deeply grateful. I am also inspired by their commitment to providing high-quality specialized resources and learning opportunities for not-for-profit professionals.

About 52 percent of our current members are business advisers to not-for-profits, such as consultants, auditors and tax professionals. The remaining 48 percent are leaders working within the not-for-profit sector, including charities, human service agencies, faith-based organizations, associations, educational institutions and a whole host of other causes that are united by one common focus: achieving a mission to make a difference.

In the last decade, the growth rate of the not-for-profit sector surpassed both the private and government sectors. However, they face unprecedented challenges-- economic, regulatory and financial. Among fundraising organizations, competition for contributions is fierce. At the same time, the donating public wants accountability from not-for-profits. From a regulatory standpoint, state attorney generals are acting aggressively, prosecuting - and making an example out of organizations associated with or involved in wrongdoing. The resulting negative publicity does not just affect the entities involved, but can affect entire communities. It can trigger a ripple effect that becomes an impediment to attracting financial support for not only that specific entity but also related causes. Strong governance oversight and risk management are important for all businesses, especially not-for-profits because they live in the public eye.

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CPA Brand Research: The Good, the Challenge and the Opportunity

Brand infographicWhen most people think about a strong brand, Disney or Apple come to mind.  But when we at the AICPA think of a strong brand, we think of the CPA.  And we are pleased again to report that independent research confirms that CPA stands stronger than ever.

We are always pleased to hear from business decision-makers and investors that CPAs remain the most highly regarded and trusted business professionals, and we look forward to sharing that news with you.

The 2015 independent research commissioned by the AICPA again reveals a long list of affirming statistics about the value that the CPA brings to clients and the value the CPA credential offers the profession. The study also provides insight into global forces at play that both challenge the profession and point to areas of opportunity.

First, the good news: CPAs continue to inspire confidence across our key constituencies. Results of our focus groups, in-depth interviews and four nationally distributed online surveys, conducted by Applied Research & Consulting, show:

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Your Client’s Tax Return is a Gold Mine for Planning Opportunities


Gold mineNow that we’re past the April tax filing deadline, looking ahead to helping clients survive the upcoming 2016 tax year may very well be the last thing on your mind. Nonetheless, proactive CPA financial planners and tax professionals know that Form 1040 is a virtual gold mine with many nuggets of information to offer. The individual income tax return will not only yield opportunities to lower your clients’ tax liability and help them plan for their retirement, but is also beneficial for your practice.

You can expand your scope of services by adopting a more holistic financial planning approach. Portfolio managers, estate attorneys and insurance professionals focus on their specialized fields. However, a client’s CPA is likely the only professional on the team who is going to take the time to analyze the 1040.  This is nothing short of “having the window into everything going on in a client’s life”. For the practicing CPA financial adviser, it provides a natural springboard into deeper client conversations and provides opportunities to discuss new service offerings.

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When it comes to Financial Literacy, Small Steps Add Up Quick

Stacking cake

When I was just starting out my career, I was in the same boat financially as a lot of recent college graduates. My primary focus was making ends meet. For me, this meant making decisions about how much I could afford for rent and managing my day-to-day expenses so that bills got paid on time.

In the back of my mind, I understood that my student loans and a few thousand dollars in high interest credit card debt also needed to be addressed, and that paying the monthly minimum was a bad look. In those days saving for retirement and building up a nest egg was a nice, if seemingly unattainable idea, like summering in the South of France or playing professional baseball. Surely there are people who do these things, but I had no idea how they made it happen.

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Are You Cybersecurity Ready?

Cyber compliance

 

The interconnected digital world has been referred to as the wild, wild West. Hackers are eagerly looking to exploit the weakest line of code in mobile devices, applications and operating systems. And those are just a few of the types of technology at risk in today’s environment.

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” Cybersecurity is no exception. In a cyber “gunfight,” only the most prepared organizations can survive a security breach. To assist organizations in preparing for cyber incidents, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Cybersecurity Unit released Best Practices for Victim Response and Reporting of Cyber Incidents, out lining steps to take before, during and after a cyber attack or network breach. 

The DOJ document provides best practices and indicates that organizations connected to the Web should evaluate cybersecurity readiness by preparing prior to, in response to and for recovery from an intrusion.  

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3 Things You May Not Know About Not-for-Profit Board Leadership

NfpIt is an honor to serve on a nonprofit board. In fact, financial professionals often serve in a leadership role as treasurers or finance committee chairs within the board itself. Though board leadership is certainly a meaningful way to give back in your community, it is not without its challenges. Finance committee chairs and treasurers assume additional leadership responsibilities that go beyond the responsibilities of board members at-large. 

Here are three things you may not know about not-for-profit board leadership:

1. Listening skills are paramount and require constant improvement.

You will be working alongside professionals from other fields, typically those with expertise related to the organization’s mission. For example, if your organization serves homeless youth, you may work with professionals from the social-work field. To lend your expertise to business planning and strategy, you will need to spend time talking with your colleagues who are experts on the subject matter and understand the organization’s theory of change. With different viewpoints the board, as a whole, will make better decisions.

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The Benefits of Globetrotting as a Way of Life

PassportJapan, China, Turkey, Italy and the Czech Republic are just five of the 23 countries I’ve visited during my ten years as a CPA in the forensic services arena. In a world that has become increasingly connected, more and more CPAs will find themselves working with clients whose interests and connections lie in one or more countries around the world. Although I’m based in PwC’s Forensic Services practice in Washington, D.C., globetrotting has become a way of life for me.

I believe that international business experience can be a significant enhancement to a CPA’s skill base—and my travel has been personally enjoyable as well. If you’re interested in discovering new places and broadening your career opportunities, here are some things to keep in mind. 

Have your passport ready. When I started with PwC, I was immediately drawn to forensics. After completing some initial assignments in the United States, my Director asked if I had a passport. Since I did (and it was current), he immediately sent me to Dublin to work on a contract compliance engagement. Beginning with that first trip, I learned quickly that by being on the scene, I could establish a personal relationship outside of work with the U.S. or international staff.

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The CGMA Program: Adding the Right Tools to Your Career Basket

GlenneyLucky for me, my career has taken me through several different jobs in manufacturing, and one thing I’ve noticed across the board is that companies are increasingly looking for more diverse skillsets in their management accountants. For CPAs to meet the demand, we have to take a critical look at our own professional development to make sure we foster key talents like strategic thinking, communications, leadership and business partnering. A manager once told me that you have a “career basket,” and you need to fill the basket with the skills that will get you ahead. It’s not always easy to find the resources to develop and hone these skills, but it’s very necessary to getting—and staying—ahead.

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Prince’s $250 Million Mistake

PrinceWith songs like “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette,” Prince wrote the soundtrack of a generation.

However, his failure to write a will could spell trouble for his $250 million fortune. Last week, people around the world mourned the death of this gifted singer and songwriter, and many were shocked to hear that Prince didn’t have a will or an estate plan in place. Even though he was a notoriously hands-on negotiator who meticulously controlled the intellectual property rights of his song collection, this unfortunate lack of planning has left uncertainty for Prince’s heirs. The future inheritance process could cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, and state and federal estate taxes. Surprisingly, he’s not the first famous person who left this world without a plan.

Not yet famous with a quarter billion dollar estate to leave loved ones? It’s still important to draft a will and keep it up-to-date based on changing personal and financial situations. Here are a few tips to make sure you have an effective will:

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How to Clean Your Data and Make it Look Slick


HouseEvery day we are inundated with articles, infographics and news reports that quote statistics that we are just supposed to accept at face value. Consider online real estate prices. If you search in your local area, you will find varying figures for median price, price per square foot and return on investment. The volume and variance in data leads to many questions: Who is supplying this information? What types of property does it include? What period does it cover?

As accountants, this unsubstantiated reporting should make us uncomfortable. We are a profession that prides ourselves on transparency and disclosure. When that isn’t forthcoming, our red flags should go up. How can we trust what we are reading when we know nothing about the source and quality of the underlying data? With all the advances in technology, accountants are uniquely positioned to be the champions who set higher standards for reporting. By giving the audience access to the data, we achieve the ultimate transparency. It’s not as hard or expensive as you may think.

I recently challenged myself to create a case study that analyzed real estate sales in my community—Panama City, Fla. Like many other resort areas, our beachfront county experienced wild fluctuations in property prices over the past decade. I was curious about property values, whether they were selling at a gain or loss and if the values used for tax purposes were fair.

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Change: As Necessary as it’s Inevitable

Arleen Thomas Current Photo (2)At a state society member event in El Paso, Texas, an older gentleman told me about his daddy that had passed away 53 years ago, and if he were to come back today, he wouldn’t understand very much about the modern world. He wouldn’t understand the phone he had in his pocket, the computer he used every day, or the car he drove. But, he went on to explain, he would understand that times change and we have to let them.

The profound respect this gentleman had for his father continues to resonate with me as does the lesson his father imparted: Change can be scary and intimidating, but it is necessary — and it’s inevitable.

Consider for a moment what happens if we don’t embrace change. Consider Kodak. It didn’t fail because it did not create a product for the digital age. In fact, Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975. It failed because it didn’t embrace new technology and adapt to a marketplace with new consumer attitudes.

There are many other examples, of course. The point is flexibility and adaptability are integral to remaining relevant. You need to focus on your market, your surroundings, and what your customers need in order to succeed.

That’s what the AICPA and The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) have done with a proposal to create a new accounting association to represent and advocate for the entire accounting profession, while preserving the member bodies of both organizations. The AICPA Board of Directors, governing Council, Business and Industry Executive Committee and Government Performance and Accountability Committee have all endorsed the proposal and 52 state societies have passed resolutions of support. It also has broad support from finance and firm leaders across the profession. Now they’re asking for you to vote ‘yes.’

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Say “Yes” to Advancing Our Profession


Barry and timFor nearly 129 years, the accounting profession has preserved an esteemed reputation through a commitment to protecting the public interest and upholding the profession’s core values of competence, integrity and objectivity. Each and every day, CPAs live those values through the work they do for their organizations, employers and clients. You now have a new opportunity to further strengthen our profession and play an integral part in its vitality for the future.  

On March 24, the AICPA governing Council voted to proceed with a member ballot on a proposal that would enhance our profession and position us for continued success far into the future. The proposal already has strong support: 52 state CPA societies; leaders from many CPA firms of all sizes; finance leaders from businesses and organizations worldwide; and the AICPA’s Business & Industry Executive Committee, Private Companies Practice Section Executive Committee, Government Performance and Accountability Committee, Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, Pre-certification Education Executive Committee, and National Accreditation Commission. We urge you to vote “yes” as well.

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Tax Season Wrap Up

End of the roadCongratulations – you have made it through another tax season! 

Take the requisite time to mourn the loss of your time, sleep and missed social events.  Enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation with an activity of your choosing.  Then, if you have not already done so, take the advice of Kool & the Gang and celebrate!

No matter how many years pass, this song always manages to lift me up. So, whether this is your first or 50th tax season, it is an accomplishment and should be celebrated. Embrace the hard work that you have put in and give yourself a pat on the back.

Even as a perpetual optimist, I too fall victim to feeling down when I am exhausted, have hit a roadblock or have experienced a failure. In my many years in tax practice, I often came out of tax season telling myself this was my last. But guess what? By the beginning of the next tax season, I was hyped up and couldn’t wait for those first returns to come in the door.  

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Make Every Day Earth Day and Save Two Kinds of Green

Earth DayWhere I live in Queens, New York, recycling is mandatory. My husband and I keep a plastic sorting bin with two compartments—one for glass and plastic, the other for paper and cardboard—right next to our garbage can to make things easy…and messy, since our almost 20-month-old son thinks that the cardboard recycling is there for his entertainment. But a little mess in our living room is a small price to pay to help the planet. While recycling has become common practice in many parts of the United States, there are so many other things you can do that will help both the earth and your bottom line, and, in some cases, offer a tax break.

Water Conservation

  • Shut off the tap when brushing your teeth. Doing this twice a day saves up to 8 gallons of water.
  • Install low-flow shower heads in bathrooms.
  • If remodeling, consider low-flow toilets. These give the user the option of how much water will be used to flush based on the amount of waste.
  • Don’t buy disposable water bottles. Instead fill reusable water bottles.
  • Be sure sprinkler systems won’t go off when it has rained or during the sunniest times of the day and be mindful of drought conditions.
  • When running water to wash dishes, collect the initial cool water to water houseplants.

Potential cost savings: A family of four that upgrades and optimizes their water usage can save nearly $300 a year in utility bills and 32,000 gallons of water.  For more tips on water conservation and to calculate how much you might save, visit the Environmental Protection Agency website.

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The Growing Importance of Financial Literacy Month

Fin lit 2Every second, America’s trillion dollar student loan debt grows by nearly $3,000. This debt that people begin to carry at an early age often leads to more uninformed financial decisions, such as taking on credit card debt and other loans they can’t afford. Typically, this occurs because of limited access to financial education tools and resources. This alone points to the urgent need for financial literacy in this country.

The AICPA and state CPA societies across the country are leading the effort to address this growing problem through new programs and initiatives. April is Financial Literacy Month, and we continue to be diligent in spreading the important message of financial literacy to millions of Americans. Through the AICPA’s flagship 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program, the national volunteer effort of CPAs to help all Americans understand their personal finances through every life stage, we have combined grassroots advocacy with free public resources and tools for CPAs to educate Americans of all ages. Additionally, Feed the Pig, the AICPA’s award-winning public service campaign with the Ad Council, has provided 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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Elder Planning: Life’s Transitions After Retirement

Elder planningClients often fantasize about retirement; it becomes a sort of finish line for them. Get to retirement and you’ve made it. What they might not consider are the ways life may change once they’ve retired, and the financial, health care and other planning needs that go into preparing for the future.

Enter the knowledgeable CPA/PFS, who can go beyond retirement planning and assist with elder planning. There is a fine line between retirement planning and elder planning: While all financial planners help ensure their clients have enough savings to last until the end of their lives, elder planning also involves helping clients plan for life’s transitions after retirement.

You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that the same as retirement planning?” Not really. Elder planning goes beyond financial independence and retirement to touch all areas of financial planning, including investment strategy, health care, estate planning, risk management (insurance) and end-of-life care.

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IRS Form 990 is an Opportunity for Not-for-Profits to Shine


Mission

IRS Form 990 is the information return that is filed annually by most tax-exempt organizations, including charities and fundraising organizations. Just like any other return, it is vitally important to comply with the IRS requirements. What makes Form 990 unique is that it reports extensive information on operations, programs and governance and contains not just financial data, but written narratives and opportunities to provide supplemental information as well. Because Form 990 is available to the public, fundraising organizations that view it as merely another compliance requirement are missing a golden opportunity to shine a light on their organization’s accomplishments and attract support for their causes.

Here are some tips to help you or your clients make the most of Form 990 as a promotional tool:

Be mindful of your audience. With few exceptions, organizations are required by law to make their Form 990 returns available to the public. There are several widely accessible online databases, the largest being GuideStar, from which the public can easily access that information at no cost. Also, many online fundraising platforms, such as CrowdRise, Network for Good and Kimbia to name a few, interface with GuideStar’s database to provide would-be donors access to Form 990 information. When preparing your Form 990, consider who is reading your return: your constituents, including clients, customers and citizens in the communities you serve, and others who put faith in your organization. Also, consider your current and prospective donors. These individuals have the expectation that their participation and contributions of time and money are put to good use. Other groups and individuals who may read your Form 990 include community leaders who influence local policy decisions, other not-for-profits and the media.  

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Jay-Z Learned the Value of a Good "Blueprint"

Jay zWhen New York-based rapper/producer/entrepreneur Jay-Z released his critically-acclaimed The Blueprint in 2001, he cemented his place at the top of the music industry with an album that serves as a model for his music genre and those who came after him.

Much has been written about The Blueprint and its impact on Jay-Z’s career, with critics noting that it was a defining moment. The album became the foundation of a young man’s rise from just another rapper to that of a world-renowned musician, entrepreneur and investor.

Now, I admit that pivoting from Jay-Z to the next version of the CPA Exam might seem like a stretch. But think about the figurative title of The Blueprint and what the album did for future rappers. Now compare that to what the new CPA Exam blueprints (unveiled on April 4) mean to a candidate in their quest to become a CPA. Both serve as a valuable guide and resource.

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Americans Need Financial Literacy More Than Ever

Financial literacy monthAmericans are delaying major life decisions, including buying a home, marriage or retirement in increasing numbers—for financial reasons. According to a recent survey, as many as 51 percent of college students say finances, such as the high cost of student loans, play a major role when making important life choices.

This staggering statistic points to the need to educate and help all Americans make smart financial decisions. As Chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, I help spread the message about the critical need for financial educational programs. The AICPA, state CPA societies and thousands of CPAs across the country share a common responsibility for leadership and promotion of financial education through the profession’s flagship 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program and the public service announcement campaign Feed the Pig.

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Starting Here: On the Path to Assuring Sustainability Data


Esg2In terms of intangible accounting, there are no assets or liabilities more ethereal than those related to environmental, social and governance issues. Mother Nature does not send monthly balance sheets. An organization’s diversity and inclusion committee cannot easily sell its access to deeper talent pools on the open market. And yet, gaps in management structures can wreck value beyond any analysis.

As a result, an organization must account for these concepts with hard data to help manage and improve these often overlooked risks and assets. Furthermore, just as it can with an organization’s financial data, regular auditing (or “assurance” as it’s known by the CPA profession when covering subject matter other than financial statements) can strengthen environmental, social and governance data’s accuracy, collection process and reporting.

The environmental, social and governance assurance landscape

In 2014, more than 2,600 reports were produced applying the Global Reporting Initiative framework for sustainability reporting. And while the proportion of assured reports has been slowly growing, less than half of the reports published that year were assured.

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From the Frontlines: Kimberly Ellison-Taylor

Welcome to the AICPA’s series focused on bringing the perspectives of diverse CPAs to life.

Kimberly Ellison-TaylorAttitude. Aptitude. Appearance.

If I had to boil down the topics I focus on when I give advice to women in the workplace, the triple-A approach would be it.

Attitude, because people want to be around engaging, charismatic and nice people. Think about talent shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice.” Raw talent will get you far, but star power draws people in. The corporate world is the same. It is not enough to only be smart. Plenty of people who are smart have trouble growing their carreers and getting promoted. The difference maker? Confidence. Self-esteem. The ability to speak up and also work as part of a team.

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Benchmarking Helps Not-for-Profits Achieve Greater Impact


BenchmarkingWhen I was first introduced to the not-for-profit world, I knew there would be a steep learning curve. I read everything I could find on nonprofit finance, but it wasn’t until I got involved in a networking group of peer organizations that I felt totally at ease in my new role. When a peer recommended that I participate in a benchmarking study, I had no idea what to expect. It turned out that the experience was very valuable. The goal of the project was to explore ways to provide apples-to-apples comparisons and trending reports on key data. The overall lesson was that by comparing operating data and identifying areas where relative performance can be improved, we can make our organizations stronger.

Our group’s first attempt at providing data in a comparable measure was difficult. Fortunately, we had the advantage of meeting face-to-face to explain anomalies in the data and discuss the qualitative aspects behind it. A decade later, our results have been refined for the benefit of everyone in the group and our respective organizations. 

I frequently speak on the topic of benchmarking, and folks ask, “How do you get started?” Often, they do not realize that benchmarking is quite simple. It can typically be performed in six steps:

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