If you’re like many Americans, letters from your favorite charities have been appearing in your mailbox in recent weeks acknowledging your 2018 year-end donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter — can you still claim an itemized deduction for the gift on your 2018 income tax return? It depends.

Basic Requirements
To support a charitable deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. This generally includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation, and the value of any such goods or services.

Continue Reading Charity Donation Letters May Affect Your 2018 Income Tax Return

Now that the new year has started, what’s next for Houston? The Greater Houston Partnership is hosting its first event of the year – its Annual Meeting – and is celebrating its 30th anniversary throughout 2019.

Current GHP Chair, Marc Watts, President of The Friedkin Group, will recap 2018 before passing the torch to the Partnership’s incoming Chair, Scott McClelland, President of H-E-B Food and Drug, and Partnership President and CEO, Bob Harvey, who will address the organization’s priorities moving forward for 2019.

This event is for GHP members only and will serve as an opportunity to network and learn what’s next for the city.

For more information and to register, visit www.houston.org.

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m back again with Frank Landreneau, one of our International Tax Directors. Frank, welcome back to The Playbook.

Frank: Thank you. It’s good to be back with you.

Jen: In a previous segment we went over transfer pricing, and we touched on it just a little bit, but I know we want to do a deeper dive. So, with tax reform and transfer pricing, what else do folks need to know?

Continue Reading A Closer Look at Transfer Pricing and the International Space

An operating reserve is an unrestricted and relatively liquid portion of a not-for-profit’s net assets. Securing this reserve for use in emergencies or simply when your budget falls short is critical to your organization’s security and long-term survival.

Long-Term Effort
Building an adequate operating reserve takes time and should be regarded as a continuous project. Your board of directors needs to determine your not-for-profit’s policy on building an operating reserve, the desired fund amount and the circumstances under which it can be drawn down.

Reserve funds can come from unrestricted contributions, investment income and planned surpluses. Many boards designate a portion of their organizations’ unrestricted net assets as an operating reserve.

Continue Reading How Your Not-For-Profit’s Operating Reserve is Your Financial Safety Net

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduced individual tax rates for 2018 through 2025, some taxpayers could see their taxes go up due to reductions or eliminations of certain tax breaks — and, in some cases, due to their filing status. But some may see additional tax savings due to their filing status.

Unmarried vs. Married Taxpayers
In an effort to further eliminate the marriage “penalty,” the TCJA made changes to some of the middle tax brackets. As a result, some single and head of household filers could be pushed into higher tax brackets more quickly than pre-TCJA. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for singles for 2018 is $157,501, whereas it was $191,651 for 2017 (though the rate was 33%). For heads of households, the beginning of this bracket has decreased even more significantly, to $157,501 for 2018 from $212,501 for 2017.

Married taxpayers, on the other hand, won’t be pushed into some middle brackets until much higher income levels for 2018 through 2025. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for joint filers for 2018 is $315,001, whereas it was $233,351 for 2017 (again, the rate was 33% then).

2018 Filing and 2019 Brackets
Because there are so many variables, it will be hard to tell exactly how specific taxpayers will be affected by TCJA changes, including changes to the brackets, until they file their 2018 tax returns. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to begin to look at 2019. As before the TCJA, the tax brackets are adjusted annually for inflation.

Contact your advisor for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2019 — and for help filing your 2018 tax return.

Below is a look at the 2019 brackets under the TCJA:

Single individuals
10%: $0 – $9,700
12%: $9,701 – $39,475
22%: $39,476 – $84,200
24%: $84,201 – $160,725
32%: $160,726 – $204,100
35%: $204,101 – $510,300
37%: Over $510,300

Heads of households
10%: $0 – $13,850
12%: $13,851 – $52,850
22%: $52,851 – $84,200
24%: $84,201 – $160,700
32%: $160,701 – $204,100
35%: $204,101 – $510,300
37%: Over $510,300

Married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses
10%: $0 – $19,400
12%: $19,401 – $78,950
22%: $78,951 – $168,400
24%: $168,401 – $321,450
32%: $321,451 – $408,200
35%: $408,201 – $612,350
37%: Over $612,350

Married individuals filing separate returns
10%: $0 – $9,700
12%: $9,701 – $39,475
22%: $39,476 – $84,200
24%: $84,201 – $160,725
32%: $160,726 – $204,100
35%: $204,101 – $306,175
37%: Over $306,175

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m back again with Miriam Rouziek, an audit manager and a member of the PKF Texas SEC team. Miriam, welcome back to The Playbook.

Miriam: Thanks, Jen, I’m glad to be back.

Jen: So, last time we talked about the SEC; this time I think we want to talk a little bit about the PCAOB and how some of their inspection trends are going to be changing. What do we need to know?

Miriam: Right. The PCAOB is more focused on your audit firm, so they’re not going to be coming and asking you questions. They’ll be coming to us and your other audit firms, asking us questions about your financial statements, how we audited them and where we focused our audit testing on. So, similar to the SEC, the PCAOB is going to be focused on the new revenue recognition guidance, as well as the upcoming lease guidance standards, so we’re going to be looking more in depth on those as part of our audit.

Jen: Perfect. Now, is there anything else public companies need to know about what the PCAOB is going to be looking for?

Miriam: The PCAOB is going to be looking into our audit procedures to see how we changed our audit procedures and whether or not they were sufficient in addressing the new revenue recognition guidance and looking forward to the new lease standard guidance. So, we may have more questions for our clients about what’s going to happen with their financial statements, how we’re going to get comfortable with those issues.

Jen: Are they going to focus on any specific areas beyond the revenue recognition and lease accounting?

Miriam: The PCAOB is focused on audit quality. They’re going to be looking at all areas of our audits, but they’re going to be focusing on areas that have significant accounting judgement. So, this is going to be things like significant estimates that the company comes up with for their financial statements. This may include the estimates regarding your leases, estimates regarding revenue that’s estimated at year end for contracts that cover both December and January, for example, or that are in process at the end of the year that revenue may be recognized at the beginning of next year. They’re also going to be looking at things like impairment of goodwill and other intangible assets; basically, anything that the company is going to have significant accounting judgement.

Jen: Interesting, perfect. Well, it sounds like we’ll be working with our clients through the audit process to make sure that we meet all these requirements.

Miriam: Sure, absolutely. And just remember the PCAOB isn’t going to call you – they’re going to call us.

Jen: All right, perfect. For more about this topic, visit PKFTexas.com/SECDesk. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.

Traditionally, Americans have supported charities not only for tax breaks and a vague sense of “giving back,” but also for a variety of other financial, emotional and social reasons. Understanding what motivates donors and how their motivations vary across demographic groups can help your not-for-profit more effectively reach and engage potential supporters.

Money Matters
Asset protection and capital preservation traditionally have motivated many wealthy individuals to make charitable donations. And certain strategies — such as gifting appreciated stock or real estate to get “more bang for the buck” — may be particularly appealing to donors who make charitable giving a piece of their larger financial plans.

But high-income donors sometimes have less-obvious financial motivations, such as a wish to limit the amount their children inherit to prevent a “burden of wealth.” Warren Buffett, for example, plans to leave the vast majority of his wealth to charity rather than to his children. As he told Fortune, wealthy parents should leave their children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” To appeal to these kinds of donors, you may want to offer to work with the entire family so that they can begin a multi-generational tradition of giving.

Social Considerations
Research by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University has found that younger donors — those between 20 and 45 — as well as wealthier and better-educated individuals are more likely to want to “make a difference” with their gifts. Those with lower incomes and a high school degree or less often donate to meet basic needs in their communities or to “help the poor help themselves.”

Donors of all stripes are motivated by the perceived social effects of giving. Research published in American Economic Review reported that donors typically gave more when their gifts were announced publicly.

Similarly, numerous studies have found that people are more likely to give — and to give in greater amounts — if asked personally, particularly if they know the person making the appeal. These donors may want to make an altruistic impression, and some may seek the prestige of being connected with a well-established and admired not-for-profit “brand.” Such individuals are more likely to buy pricey tickets to annual galas or join a not-for-profit’s board to meet and socialize with others in their socioeconomic group or business community.

Get — and Keep — Their Attention
There are probably as many motivations as there are donors, and most people have more than one reason to support a particular charity. To get — and keep — donors’ attention, perform some basic market research to learn who they are.

While most provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) went into effect in 2018 and either apply through 2025 or are permanent, there are two major changes under the act for 2019.

Here’s a closer look:

1. Medical Expense Deduction Threshold
With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that was already difficult for many taxpayers to meet, and it may be even harder to meet this year.

The TCJA temporarily reduced the threshold from 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5% of AGI. Unfortunately, the reduction applies only to 2017 and 2018. So for 2019, the threshold returns to 10% — unless legislation is signed into law extending the 7.5% threshold. Only qualified, unreimbursed expenses exceeding the threshold can be deducted.

Also, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018 through 2025, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.

2. Tax Treatment of Alimony
Alimony has generally been deductible by the ex-spouse paying it and included in the taxable income of the ex-spouse receiving it. Child support, on the other hand, hasn’t been deductible by the payer or taxable income to the recipient.

Under the TCJA, for divorce agreements executed (or, in some cases, modified) after December 31, 2018, alimony payments won’t be deductible — and will be excluded from the recipient’s taxable income. So, essentially, alimony will be treated the same way as child support.

Because the recipient ex-spouse would typically pay income taxes at a rate lower than that of the paying ex-spouse, the overall tax bite will likely be larger under this new tax treatment. This change is permanent.

TCJA Impact on 2018 and 2019
Most TCJA changes went into effect in 2018, but not all. Contact your advisor if you have questions about the medical expense deduction or the tax treatment of alimony — or any other changes that might affect you in 2019. We can also help you assess the impact of the TCJA when you file your 2018 tax return.

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m here with Miriam Rouziek, an Audit Manager and a member of the PKF Texas SEC team. Miriam, welcome to the Playbook.

Miriam: Thank you for having me, Jen.

Jen: As a member of the SEC team I know you handle comment letters for our clients and work with them on those. What trends are you seeing coming from the SEC in regard to those letters?

Miriam: We’ve noticed a steady decline in SEC comment letters over the years. Since 2018, there’s been a steady decline of about 25%, which is comparable to the decline we saw in 2017. The comment letters are going to be focused on revenue recognition, coming up soon, since the new guidance has been implemented for about a year with the SEC companies.

The majority of comment letters are still going to be focused on larger companies, usually with a market cap of $700,000,000 or more. Those are your larger and more highly accelerated filers who have an accelerated due date – usually in February. These companies are going to have the majority of comment letters. Smaller companies, like the ones PKF handles, are usually going to have a smaller portion of the comment letters, and especially in more technical areas, they’re not going to see as many comment letters on those.

Jen: If a company receives one of these comment letters, they should call you guys, right?

Miriam: Correct. Usually, they should call us or call their attorney, who handles their SEC filings. We can have meetings with the SEC attorney and with the client, and we will be able to talk them through the process, talk them through the comments that the SEC has and any issues they have with the process, helping them figure out what they need to do. Most companies think that the first thing they need to do is call the SEC and have a restatement of their financial statements, but that’s not actually true. Most of the SEC comments are usually geared towards requesting more information, walking the SEC through the disclosures and the thought process of the company.

Jen: Perfect. Well, I think we’ll have to get you back to talk a little bit more. Can we get you back?

Miriam: Absolutely.

Jen: Awesome. For more about this topic, visit pkftexas.com/SECDesk. This has been another Thought Leader Production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.

Not-for-profits that direct and benefit from the actions of their volunteers can be held accountable if those individuals are harmed or harm others on the job. Lawsuits involving volunteers often arise from allegations of negligence or intentional misconduct, even when volunteers act outside the scope of their prescribed duties. Your organization needs to take steps to limit risk associated with unpaid workers.

Volunteers as Employees
Your volunteer recruitment process should be almost as formal and structured as your paid employee hiring process. Develop job descriptions for open positions that outline the nature of the work, any required skills or experience and possible risks the job presents to the volunteer or your nonprofit.

Once you have volunteer candidates, screen them according to the risks that might be involved based on your nonprofit’s mission, programs and likely volunteer activities. Some positions will pose few risks. For those, ask candidates to fill out an application and submit to an interview, and then check their work and character references.

Positions that carry greater risks — such as work involving children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations, or direct access to cash donations — should involve more rigorous screening. This might include criminal history and credit report checks and verification of driver’s licenses, certifications or degrees.

Training and Performance Plans
Once volunteers are on board, provide training, supervision and, if necessary, discipline. Hold an orientation session to explain your nonprofit’s mission and policies. After volunteers have begun working for you, continue active supervision to verify that they understand expectations.

To encourage professionalism and responsibility in your volunteers, consider devising performance plans that include goals — and rewards for achieving them. Such plans can also provide you with a framework to evaluate and dismiss volunteers who may be putting your nonprofit at risk by, for example, failing to follow safety procedures.

Role of Insurance
No risk reduction plan is complete without insurance coverage. In addition to general liability, consider supplemental policies that address specific types of exposure such as medical malpractice or sexual misconduct.

It’s also a good idea to have legal advisors periodically review policies and procedures pertaining to volunteers. Attorneys and financial advisors can help you determine whether your organization is doing all it can to reduce risks.