Thursday, August 16, 2018

What does the Supreme Court ruling on online sales tax mean for small business owners?

The Supreme Court ruled in June that states have the authority to require businesses to collect online sales tax on purchases even if the business does not have a physical presence in the state. Previously, businesses were only required to collect sales tax in states where they operate physically. Though some major online retailers like Amazon were already collecting sales tax nationwide, the decision has implications for small to midsized businesses that must adapt to remain compliant.

It’s not all bad news for business owners. While small businesses with an e-commerce presence may now be looking at a significant incremental compliance obligation, smaller brick-and-mortar operations who have always been required to collect sales tax are hailing the decision as providing long-overdue competitive equity. There are also some upsides for online retailers:
• You have some time. It takes time for states to react to such rulings and make the necessary changes to enable the collection of a new tax. While some states have been readying their processes in anticipation of the ruling, most will have work to do before enacting any major changes. In the meantime, it’s wise to get in front of this by locating the tools you need going forward.
• Some states already have enacted, or will likely enact, thresholds above which the tax will be triggered. Thus, if your activity in a particular locale is below an ordained dollar or transaction level, you may be exempt.
• The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement. Twenty-four states currently participate in this agreement, which in addition to standardizing some of the supporting tax calculation and submission protocols also provides for free sales tax compliance software for retailers under certain circumstances.Though the Supreme Court’s decision has been made, there are areas that small online retailers will still need to keep an eye on:
• Retroactivity: Some states may be tempted to look to collect these taxes not only going forward, but retroactively.
• Federal standardization: Policy makers grasp how challenging it will be to stay on top of the multitude of state and local sales tax rules. As such, the Supreme Court ruling may prompt Congress to finally enact a standardized federal policy — though this may be politically unlikely for now.
• Potential impact on general business taxes: Some states don’t levy income taxes on businesses without a brick-and-mortar location within their borders. This decision may spur these states to reconsider that stance given the opportunity for incremental revenue.
Though some effects of this ruling are unknown at this time, business owners can take steps to prepare. Assess the impact, evaluating where your main out-of-state sales come from. This will give you a sense of where you may want to focus your compliance attention.
Source, www.accountingtoday.com Written by: M. Trabold

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tech will lead the way with new lease accounting guidance

Accounting professionals, as the stewards of financial information, have a unique opportunity to take the lead in adopting the new lease guidance and implementing lease accounting software. Approaching the adoption methodically, which includes collecting data, making policy decisions, and applying operational realities, accountants play a distinct role in developing the processes and implementing the systems that guide an organization into the future. In doing so, accountants can help companies capture the benefits of enhanced, centralized processes, improved lease management and increased data visibility that ultimately lead to cost savings and more accurate financial data and disclosures.
One of the keys to realizing these benefits is for accountants to embrace technology as part of the implementation process. Unlike cumbersome and error-prone spreadsheets, lease accounting software that is effectively implemented will allow accountants to efficiently analyze vast amounts of asset data and make informed decisions. Empowered by the centralized data from the lease accounting software, accounting professionals are positioned to add valuable insights on lease spend, advise on both operational and financial decisions and provide more in-depth and accurate financial analysis.
Selecting and implementing lease accounting software
Lease accounting software, when judiciously selected, enables accountants to help their organizations capitalize on streamlined data. At the highest level, the most appropriate solution will come from a financially stable vendor with lease experience and be SOC 1 compliant. When evaluating software options, understanding your company’s business requirements is critical. Specific items to consider include the lease portfolio characteristics, international reporting requirements and foreign currency translation needs. To cement the selection process, users need to be able to easily input data, navigate the modules, and produce disclosure reporting.
Beyond ensuring that a solution meets your company’s requirements, a system should be easy to implement. Employing a lease accounting system requires organizations, specifically accountants, to coordinate cross-departmental teams that will assess the current state and inform the development of future state processes around procurement, month-end close journal entries and asset management. Leading the implementation presents a strong opportunity for accountants to move beyond the numbers and partner with upstream functions that often do not understand how their processes impact financial information.

Enhanced, centralized processes
Creating more efficient, centralized processes to not only collect information but to accurately input data into a system will pay dividends. On the front end, by working with procurement and operations, accounting can implement processes that ensure compliance with the new standard. This approach paves the way for accountants to be the Center of Excellence and subject matter experts for advising both operational and financial decisions. For example, as part of a monthly or quarterly process, accountants can utilize a lease system to provide more timely and accurate analysis of lease spend, ultimately leading to cost savings and an improved bottom line.
Additionally, the new guidance has a significant impact to the financial statements and disclosures, requiring accountants to thoughtfully strengthen internal controls and improve reporting processes. For instance, lease information that previously resided only in the footnotes is now presented as a liability that will be subject to increased scrutiny from internal and external stakeholders. Through heightened attention and robust processes around lease terms and details of lease transactions, accountants can make certain the financial statements under the new guidance are accurate.
Improved lease management
Lease accounting software and centralized lease management allows accountants to monitor and make educated decisions on lease events. Typical events include amendments to add or remove assets, altering length of term and middle- or end-of-term options such as terminations or renewals. Specifically, with lease accounting software, companies can produce standardized and customized reports to assist in presenting actionable information. A common benefit to these operational reports are their assistance to inform decisions on whether to renew or end a lease agreement prior to the lease end date, ultimately reducing unwanted month-to-month lease expenses which may have previously gone unnoticed.
More complete and accessible lease data will position accountants to assist their companies with proactively managing assets. To illustrate, lease versus buy decisions may oftentimes be uninformed because of the lack of data and decentralized lease management, resulting in inefficiencies and overspending. The centralized monitoring of lease events will help inform lease versus buy strategies that produce efficiencies and cost savings related to common challenges like evergreen leases, vendor management for similar leases and end-of-term options such as lease extensions.
Increased data visibility
Cross-departmental collaboration and an effective lease accounting software implementation will lead to a more cohesive and efficient data flow. This improved workflow creates on-demand access into lease data and knowledge sharing between previously disconnected areas of an organization like purchasing, real estate, IT and accounting. Currently, accountants are often delayed in receiving information that could impact timely journal entries. In the case of leases, communication about a new contract may not occur until after the month closes, resulting in catch-up entries and the risk of misstatements in financial reporting. With a new lease accounting solution and efficient workflow, accounting groups will have visibility into upcoming and recently transacted agreements to influence management with concrete financial analysis on lease spend.
As accountants take leadership roles in the adoption of the new guidance and the system selection and implementation processes, companies will realize value from enhanced, centralized processes, more robust management of leases and more in-depth visibility to lease data. These improvements provide accountants with the opportunity to provide their companies with analysis and insights on critical capital-asset procurement and spending. Ultimately, successful adoption of the lease guidance will yield cross-departmental collaboration and efficiencies, more cost-effective lease decisions, and increased accuracy in financial reporting.
Source: accountingtoday.com Written by: Bill Maloney

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Blockchain: A 'significant evolution' accountants can't afford to ignore

Blockchain might be the most buzzworthy word in accounting today, if its prominence at the Accounting and Finance Show L.A. last week is any indication.
Multiple sessions covered the emerging technology, with one keynote speaker, Robert Massey, a partner at Deloitte, giving a primer on the hot topic.
“Blockchain is one of the most significant evolutions we’ve seen,” said Massey, who leads the Big Four firm’s cryptocurrency and blockchain practice globally. “Blockchain is to value as the internet is to information. It’s an exponential change, to share information between decentralized parties, in real time. It decentralizes the ability to record information, and enable transactions. It’s the next step in the evolution of commerce.”
Massey finds it helpful to think of blockchain as a “big shared ledger” -- more specifically, “a distributed ledger which allows digital assets to be transacted in real time, in an immutable manner.”

Smarter agreements
Members of another panel on blockchain focused more on how accountants should plan to harness the technology within their practices.
Practitioners should start with educating themselves on the blockchain, all panelists agreed. David Cieslak, chief cloud officer and executive vice president at business consulting firm RKL eSolutions, suggested that firms add a blockchain leader, while Ron Quaranta, chairman of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, recommended seeking resources on the topic from the American Institute of CPAs.
“Technology has disrupted the profession previously — this is not a new conversation,” said Danetha Doe, founder of financial mentorship program Money and Mimosas. “It’s the speed of the change. The next generation is adopting quickly, and you’re going to start to see a shift in the profession … how blockchain can be applied to different use cases outside the box.”
“All of us need to be thinking a lot more about value, and a lot less about tasks, [which] are often much more transactional,” said Cieslak. “Blockchain is really going to accelerate that. How can we leverage the technology to bring that greater value?”
It was a question asked frequently throughout the two days of the Accounting and Finance Show, with speakers attempting to provide guidance on a bold, and still mysterious, new frontier. But the technology’s novelty and unrealized potential only energized both panelists and attendees.
The conference’s thought leaders were most enthusiastic about blockchain as it related to new ways of conducting business, such as its use in smart contracts.
Smart contracts take “key terms in a legal agreement, and embed [them] in software, creating link dependencies in the agreements,” Massey explained in his keynote session. He offered the example of a farmer buying crop insurance, which will pay him if it doesn’t rain for 100 days.
Smart contracts utilize blockchain to connect to outside, trusted “sources of truth” to facilitate, enforce and verify terms of an agreement, thus removing the need for third parties or middlemen. In Massey’s farmer example, one of those sources of truth would be regional weather data.
“Blockchain is very effective connective tissue,” Massey explained. “We see, in all industries, the use of smart contracts enabling better relationships.”
Smart contracts “are happening organically anyway,” he continued. “It’s not just the systems, but the organizations that are decentralized. It’s likely now that transactions are validated somewhere other than where management is sitting.”
“There’s a real variety of use cases, and those are what are super-exciting,” said Cieslak during the panel discussion. “Some of what is going to be done with blockchain, has never been done before.”
The implications are especially exciting for certain industries, like the recording industry, an example many speakers cited when describing how intellectual property, like songwriting credits, can be coded into blockchain-enabled smart contracts. Speakers and panelists urged attendees to educate themselves on the technology and assess how it can apply to their clients and industry verticals.
“Every company innovation in this space is putting forth solutions,” said Massey. “In L.A., in entertainment, in media, [you can] lock down intangibles like the rights of a song or movie. What if you lock that down in a blockchain solution, before you had to pay for it? It’s a significant evolution in song and movie rights. It’s hitting every industry. It’s relevant to every single one of them. Think about your clients, and what’s relevant to them.”

Crypto, currently
Many people are familiar with blockchain as the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum, and Deloitte's Massey dedicated a portion of his session to addressing those virtual currencies, as did other panelists at the conference.
All panelists stressed the status of cryptocurrency as property, based on guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service in 2014.
Stephen Turanchik, an attorney in the tax practice at law firm Paul Hastings, spoke about the perplexing nature of cryptocurrency taxation during another conference session. He explained that virtual-currency exchanges are not required to report to the IRS, so “a lack of detection, and the ability to hide it, still exists.” But, he continued, “if you think that gives you the license to commit tax fraud, think again.”
On July 2 of this year, the IRS announced its virtual currency compliance campaign, and it will be conducting more audits on virtual currencies, Turanchik warned the audience.
The IRS is also stepping up outreach and education efforts, and soliciting taxpayer and practitioner feedback for these campaigns. The service is urging taxpayers with unreported virtual currency transactions to “correct their returns as soon as practical,” Turanchik reported, though the IRS is not contemplating voluntary disclosure programs.
“The IRS simply doesn’t have the technical expertise to give guidance in this area,” Turanchik said. He cited a “John Doe” summons the IRS served to virtual-currency exchange Coinbase in November 2016, seeking customer data. Before the petition was granted, the IRS had to narrow the scope of the summons, to Coinbase users with accounts of at least $20,000 in any one transaction type, in any single year between 2013-15.
Overall, Turanchik explained, there is a “significant lack of transparency” in the cryptocurrency space, which he said keeps him busy, and provides big opportunities for tax preparers.
Source: accountingtoday.com Written by: Danielle Lee

Thursday, July 26, 2018

House passes repeal of medical device tax

The House approved a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax, along with a bill that prohibits the IRS from rehiring any employee who was fired for misconduct.
Implementation of the 2.3 percent excise tax has repeatedly been delayed by Congress ever since the passage of the ACA in 2010, in part thanks to lobbying by medical device manufacturers. The Senate isn’t expected to take up the bill before the end of the year, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, the latest moratorium on the tax means it won’t take effect until at least January 2020.

Repeal of the tax was supported across party lines, with a vote Tuesday of 283 to 132. Joining those in favor of repealing the tax were 57 Democrats.
“Minnesota’s innovators can breathe easier since we’re one step closer to ending the medical device tax for good,” said Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., who sponsored the bill, in a statement Tuesday. “Today’s vote shows strong bipartisan support for lifting this burden on innovators in an industry so important to Minnesota. I’m more optimistic than ever we’ll be successful in giving these job creators the certainty and predictability they need to thrive.”
Another bill passed by the House on Tuesday, the Ensuring Integrity in the IRS Workforce Act, would prohibit the IRS from rehiring any employee who was “involuntarily separated” from the agency for misconduct. The bill was passed unanimously by the House. It was sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. “South Dakota taxpayers shouldn’t have to worry that someone who has already been fired for mismanaging their hard-earned dollars will be hired again,” Noem said in a statement Tuesday. “We need to know there is integrity in the IRS, and when they rehire people who have already mishandled our most sensitive data, that integrity is broken. This bill puts commonsense oversight provisions on the agency handling our personal information and makes sure people who don’t respect taxpayer resources don’t work at the IRS. I am hopeful the Senate will move quickly to put these practical protections in place.”
The House is also expected to take up legislation this week allowing taxpayers to pay for gym memberships, fitness classes, nonprescription over-the-counter drugs and menstrual care products with their health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts, as well as roll over money from an FSA from one year to another.

Source: Accountingtoday.com Written by: M. Cohn

Thursday, July 19, 2018

In new round of tax cuts, retirement changes seen as most likely to pass

Republicans are promising a comprehensive second round of tax cuts — but tax changes affecting retirement savings may be the only measures with enough political support to make it through Congress this year.
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said Wednesday that he plans on releasing an outline of “Tax Reform 2.0” legislation next week to his committee members, which would include making the rate cuts for individuals permanent. Extending those cuts faces slim chances in the Senate, where it would need the support of at least nine Democrats to pass. The 2017 tax law passed without any Democratic votes.
Tweaks to retirement plans, however, are likely to garner bipartisan support, especially those related to small businesses. Brady told reporters he’s including a retirement-related bill in his draft that has the backing of Senators Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill, called the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act, has “tremendous” support in the Senate, Wyden said. Still, he added that’s the only part of the tax cut plan Democrats would likely support, so its best chance of passing would be by carving it out from the broader legislation.
RESA is a bundle of small tax changes that seeks to increase options for workers to voluntarily save. The bill would make it easier for small businesses to join multiple employer plans, which would be a boon for gig workers. The bill also would give employers that sponsor traditional pension plans some relief from tax requirements that have led to the shuttering of those plans.
The 2017 tax law largely left retirement savings untouched despite talk about pushing savers to pay taxes up front and put their money in after-tax Roth retirement vehicles.
An extension of the tax cuts has been viewed as a House effort to score political points ahead of the November election. House Speaker Paul Ryan has pledged to vote on the legislation, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has only said he’ll consider it.
“You have to recognize the reality of the political timeline that we’re under. We’re going into midterm elections,” Representative Tom Reed, a New York Republican, told reporters Wednesday. “We are being the rabble-rousers that we typically are in the House trying to lead on these issues and drag the Senate along.”
Republicans had hoped to make all the tax cuts in their 2017 law permanent, but budget constraints meant the reductions for individuals and pass-through businesses, companies where the owners pay the taxes directly, will expire in 2026. The long runway means that Republicans could have several more opportunities to extend the bill ahead of the sunset date.
Source: accountingtoday.com via Bloomberg News

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Growth benefits of U.S. tax cuts may be overestimated: Fed study

U.S. growth expectations may be too rosy as analysts overestimate how much tax cuts will boost the economy, according to an economic letter from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Analysts have forecast large increases in economic growth over the next two to three years following $1.5 trillion in corporate and personal tax cuts over the next decade. But recent research finds that such fiscal stimulus is less effective when the economy is expanding compared with its benefits when enacted during a recession.
“This suggests these forecasts may be overly optimistic,” economists Tim Mahedy and Daniel Wilson wrote in their note published Monday on the San Francisco Fed’s website. “The predominant research finding is that the fiscal multiplier is smaller during expansions than during recessions.” Wilson is vice president in the economic research department of the San Francisco Fed. Mahedy is a former associate economist in the department who recently joined Bloomberg Economics.

The authors ran down several recent papers that support this point:
• Spending multipliers were much smaller in expansions than recessions in a panel of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations.
• Microeconomic studies show that consumers spend more out of each extra dollar they earn during recessions.
• Marginal propensity to consume was 20 to 30 percent higher in the Great Recession than in other recent years, one paper found.
Source: Bloomberg News

Friday, July 6, 2018

The opportunities and challenges facing your entrepreneur clients

American entrepreneurship is on the rise. Based on a historical analysis of a subset of Paychex clients, in the first quarter of 2018, small business entrepreneurship was near its best pace since the recession. Odds are you’re seeing more entrepreneurs walk through your doors looking for financial guidance as they start and run their business, but are you aware of the current state of entrepreneurship, as well as the opportunities and barriers your clients face?
A new report by Paychex analyzes American entrepreneurship during the past decade and the state of small business today, including today’s business owners’ attitudes and perceptions of the current business environment.
Overall, the majority of business owners feel positively about the state of business as a whole. More than three quarters of small business owners (79 percent) would recommend starting a business today, and 71 percent of business owners describe today’s business environment as either better or the same compared to when they started their business. Most business owners (74 percent) cited the satisfaction of working for themselves as a reason they’d recommend starting a business today. However, the age and size of the business impacts business owners’ outlook:
• Business owners who started their company during or closely following the recession (four to nine years ago) were more likely (57 percent) to say the business environment is better today than when they started, compared to only 32 percent of those who started their companies 20 or more years ago.
• Eighty-one percent of business owners with 100 to 500 employees say the business environment is better today than when they started, compared to 46 percent of owners with one to 19 employees.
• Owners of larger businesses were also more likely to recommend starting a business today. Ninety-four percent of owners with 100 to 500 employees and 91 percent with 20 to 99 employees would recommend starting a business today compared to 78 percent of owners with one to 19 employees.
From an individual standpoint, business owners today also have a positive outlook on their future. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) are optimistic or very optimistic about their ability to make a profit, and 58 percent are optimistic or very optimistic about their prospects for growth. Half of business owners are optimistic or very optimistic about the U.S. economy, but they face some barriers to starting and running a business too:
• Ninety percent of business owners are at least slightly concerned about rising costs and 84 percent of business owners are at least slightly concerned about taxes.
• In today’s tightening labor market, 67 percent of business owners are at least slightly concerned with finding quality employees (30 percent are very concerned).
• Additionally, approximately 25 percent of business owners are at least somewhat pessimistic about their ability to hire and raise wages.
Each business owner seeks different outcomes from their entrepreneurial endeavors. Only 11 percent of business owners say rapid growth is their top priority at this time. The majority are happy to remain comfortably profitable or grow at a moderate rate.
• Remaining “comfortably profitable” was the top choice for male owners, owners in business 10 or more years, and owners age 50 or older.
• Growing at a “manageable rate” was the top response from female business owners, owners in business nine or fewer years, and owners 18 to 34 years old.
Knowing how today’s business owners are feeling and what they’re facing can help you as you advise them in starting and growing their business. Though business owners know that rising costs and taxes are impacting their business success, your expertise can guide them to best manage and plan for the expected and unexpected barriers they face. 
Source: Accountingtoday.com, Written by: F. Fiorille