The CPA Desk

A Thought Leader Production by PKFTexas

Best Practices – Financials for Religious Congregations

Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious congregations aren’t required to file tax returns, so they might not regularly hire independent accountants. But regardless of size, religious organizations often are subject to other requirements, such as paying unrelated business income tax (UBIT) and properly classifying employees.

Without the oversight of tax authorities or outside accountants, religious leaders may not be aware of all requirements to which they’re subject. This can leave their organizations vulnerable to fraud and its trustees and employees subject to liabilities.

Common Vulnerabilities
To effectively prevent financial and other critical mistakes, make sure your religious congregation complies with IRS rules and federal and state laws. In particular, pay attention to:

  • Employee classification. Determine which workers in your organization are full-time employees and which are independent contractors. Depending on many factors, such as the amount of control your organization has over them, their responsibilities, and their form of compensation, individuals you consider independent contractors may need to be reclassified as employees.
  • Clergy wages. Most clergy should be treated as employees and receive W-2 forms. Typically, they’re exempt from Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes and federal withholding but are subject to self-employment tax on wages. A parsonage (or rental) allowance can reduce income tax, but not self-employment tax.
  • UBIT. If your organization regularly engages in any type of business activity that’s unrelated to its religious mission, be aware of certain tax and reporting rules. Income from such activities could be subject to UBIT.
  • Lobbying. Your organization shouldn’t devote a substantial part of its activities in attempting to influence legislation. Otherwise you might risk your tax-exempt status and face potential penalties.

Trust and Protect
Faith groups can be particularly vulnerable to fraud because they generally foster an environment of trust. Also, their leaders may be reluctant to punish offenders. Just keep in mind that even the most devout and long-standing members of your congregation are capable of embezzlement when faced with extreme circumstances.

To ensure employees and volunteers can’t help themselves to collections, require that at least two people handle all contributions. They should count cash in a secure area and verify the contents of offering envelopes. Next, they should document their collection activity in a signed report. For greater security, encourage your members to make electronic payments on your website or sign up for automatic bank account deductions.

Seek Expertise
Although your religious congregations are subject to less IRS scrutiny than even your fellow not-for-profit organizations, that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore financial best practices. Contact your advisors for guidance.

Your Year-End Tax and Financial To-Do List

With the dawn of 2019 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2018 ends.

Check your FSA balance. If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2½-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.

Max out tax-advantaged savings. Reduce your 2018 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2018 return if they’re made by April 15, 2019.)

Take RMDs. If you’ve reached age 70½, you generally must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2019, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year.

Consider a QCD. If you’re 70½ or older and charitably inclined, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).

Use it or lose it. Make the most of annual limits that don’t carry over from year to year, even if doing so won’t provide an income tax deduction. For example, if gift and estate taxes are a concern, make annual exclusion gifts up to $15,000 per recipient. If you have a Coverdell Education Savings Account, contribute the maximum amount you’re allowed.

Contribute to a Sec. 529 plan. Sec. 529 prepaid tuition or college savings plans aren’t subject to federal annual contribution limits and don’t provide a federal income tax deduction. But contributions may entitle you to a state income tax deduction (depending on your state and plan).

Review withholding. The IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to review your situation. If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholdings from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholdings, unlike estimated tax payments, are treated as if they were paid evenly over the year.)

What to Know About PCAOB Rule Changes

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m here again with Ryan Istre, one of our audit directors here at PKF Texas. Ryan, welcome back to the Playbook.

Ryan: Thanks for having me, Jen.

Jen: So, how has the process of the PCAOB inspections of auditors of broker dealers impacted us and what we’re doing with our broker dealer clients?

Ryan: That’s a good question. About four years ago, the PCAOB began inspecting auditors of broker dealers. What that means for us is that there’s a new level of rules that we have to play by, however, if you were a client of ours, you would probably not even know the difference. Over all of the previous years that we’ve been doing audits, we’ve been under inspections for AICPA rules, PCAOB rules and various other organizations that ensure our audit quality is up to par. So, from a client’s perspective, you probably wouldn’t even notice a difference.

Jen: So, has anything changed at all then?

Ryan: There are a few changes that have happened. With the PCAOB being the official body over this inspection process for broker dealers, one of the rules has been changed recently is that there’s a concept of what’s called an “engagement quality reviewer.” That is not the lead partner on an engagement, but it’s the second partner to ensure quality control. The PCAOB rules specifically disallow partners who’ve participated in the previous two engagements as the lead partner from turning into that engagement quality reviewer. So, that basically allows for new sets of eyes to happen with regard to the quality controls over the audit.

Jen: So, does any other information come out of the PCAOB’s inspection process?

Ryan: There’s been some good information that’s come out of it. PCAOB is in what they consider their interim inspection period right now. So, while they’re not posting auditor-specific reports as they do with their normal public companies, they’re going to be posting general guidance around what they’ve learned from the inspection process. Unfortunately, there’s been several deficiencies that they’ve found in their audit inspection process – probably higher than I’d like to let onto – but it’s going to be a good thing, because a lot of the infractions that they’ve noticed probably were fairly minor. But there have been some that have been more serious, such as independence infractions and partner rotation rules for some of the smaller firms that may not have been super familiar with the PCAOB’s rules.

Jen: Well, good. And I know our audit team really sticks on to those PCAOB rules.

Ryan: Absolutely. You have to, you have to.

Jen: Perfect. Well, we’ll get you back to talk a little bit more.

Ryan: Yep, sounds good.

Jen: Thank you. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.

Dos and Don’ts of Not-for-Profit Member Surveys

You can’t serve the needs of your not-for-profit’s members unless you know what those needs are. Many organizations take the pulse of their membership with regular surveys but fail to conduct them strategically — and end up with useless information.

Instead, maximize your next survey’s effectiveness by focusing on your objectives during every stage of the process:

1. Define. Do determine exactly what you want to learn. Keep a clear focus and sense of purpose. Don’t ask members for information you can’t or won’t use. You must be prepared to take action based on the results of your survey.

2. Design. Do determine format (multiple choice or open-ended questions, or both) and medium (print or online) upfront. Do make sure your questions are as clear and specific as possible. Overly broad queries can result in too wide a range of answers to be actionable. Use consistent scales, avoid confusing terms and keep questions short and to the point. Don’t ask for demographic information unless it’s useful and actionable. People value their privacy and are more likely to provide honest answers when they remain anonymous.

3. Deploy. Do explain how you plan to use the results. Do set a deadline for responses and send reminders. Don’t email surveys on a weekend. People tend to pay more attention when information is received midweek.

4. Discuss. Do relay survey results to participants along with your action plan, sharing as much information as possible. Don’t wait long periods before compiling and distributing results. If you fail to communicate at this stage, people will be less likely to help in the future.

5. Demonstrate. Do use survey results to enact positive changes that will better serve your members. Regularly reassess your action plan to ensure the changes are effective. Don’t forget to keep participants informed of your progress. Link your actions to survey results so that your membership knows you’re accountable, responsive and actively engaged in meeting their needs.

Key Deadlines on the 2019 Q1 Tax Calendar

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2019. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact your advisors to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

January 31

  • File 2018 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2018 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2018 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2018. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2018. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2018 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.

February 28

  • File 2018 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 1.)

March 15

  • If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2018 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2018 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

How Tax Reform Directly–and Indirectly–Impacts Not-for-Profits

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m back again with Annjeanette Yglesias, one of our tax managers and a member of our not-for-profit team. Annjeanette, welcome back to The Playbook.

Annjeanette: Thanks, Jen. It’s good to be here.

Jen: So, tax manager, tax reform is a hot topic this year. How has it impacted not-for-profit organizations?

Annjeanette: It’s interesting, because tax reform has been a hot topic, and the tax reform has some direct impacts for nonprofit organizations, as well as some indirect impacts, because a lot of nonprofit organizations receive their funding from the general public.

Jen: So, what are some of the direct impacts not-for-profits have seen?

Annjeanette: Well, tax reform affected nonprofit organizations in several ways. First of all, with unrelated business income, or UBI. UBI activities were previously allowed to offset each other. The losses from one could offset the income from another, and so you had a netting effect.

But now with tax reform, the IRS is requiring that all UBI activities must be reported individually. So that benefit – there is no longer available. Also, under tax reform, the UBI tax rate has been lowered to 21%. Previously it was a graduated scale with the highest tax bracket being 35%.

Jen: Oh my gosh. So that’s a good thing?

Annjeanette: Absolutely a good thing. But there are also some more negative things that came out of tax reform as well. For example, the IRS is now imposing a 21% excise tax on compensation of covered employees over $1 million.

Jen: Oh my gosh.

Annjeanette: So basically, that portion of an employee’s compensation that exceeds $1 million, the nonprofit organization will have to pay a 21% excise tax on that.

Jen: Oh my gosh.

Annjeanette: In addition, there’s a 1.4% net investment income tax now imposed on certain educational institutions, like private colleges and universities. So, that’s something else to think about.

Jen: Now, are there any indirect aspects? You mentioned that earlier.

Annjeanette: Yes, absolutely. Because of the nature of nonprofit organizations, how they receive a lot of their funds from the general public, there are several provisions in tax reform that affected the general public – namely individuals. So, individuals now have a little bit of a decreased incentive to donate to nonprofit organizations, because even though the individual income-based limitation increased to 60%, the standard deduction has now doubled. So, the incentive for an individual to make a donation to a nonprofit organization has been substantially reduced.

Jen: Well, great. Well, we’ll get you to talk some more about tax reform and not-for-profits, and we’ll have you back again.

Annjeanette: Sounds good.

Jen: To learn more about how PKF Texas can help your not-for-profit organization, visit PKFTexas.com/notforprofit. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook.

Three Tips for Not-for-Profits to Improve Accounting and Development

Communication breakdowns between a not-for-profit’s accounting and development departments can lead to confusion, embarrassment and even financial problems. Here are three ways your organization can facilitate cooperation between these two critical functions.

1. Recognize Differences
Accounting and development typically record their financial information differently, which is why they can produce numbers that vary but nonetheless are both correct. Development may use a cash basis of accounting, while accounting records contributions, grants, donations and pledges in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Let’s say a donor makes a payment in March 2018 on a pledge made in December 2017. The development department will enter the amount of the payment as a receipt in its donor database in March. But accounting will record the payment against the pledge receivable that was recorded as revenue when the pledge was made in December. Receipt of the check won’t result in any new revenue in March because the accounting department recorded the revenue in December. Both departments’ figures for March 2018 (and for December 2017) will be accurate, but they’ll disagree with each other.

2. Establish Policies and Procedures
Your not-for-profit should try to reconcile its accounting and development schedules at least monthly. It also needs clear protocols for communicating important activity — or both departments, and your organization, could experience negative consequences.

If, for example, development fails to inform accounting about grants on a timely basis, the latter won’t be aware of the grants’ financial reporting requirements and could forfeit funds for noncompliance. If the accounting department doesn’t record grants or pledges in the proper financial period according to GAAP, your organization could run into significant issues during an audit, which could jeopardize funding.

3. Require Regular Communication
Schedule meetings so that accounting representatives can educate development staff about the information it needs, when it needs it and the consequences of not receiving that information. For its part, development should provide accounting with ample notice about prospective activity such as pending grant applications and proposed capital campaigns.

Development should also present status reports on different types of giving, including gifts, grants and pledges. This is especially important for those items received in multiple payments, because accounting may need to discount them when recording them on the financial statements.

Two-way Road
The activities of your accounting and development departments directly affect each other, so careful coordination is essential.

Should You Prepay Property Taxes Anymore?

Prepaying property taxes related to the current year but due the following year has long been one of the most popular and effective year-end tax-planning strategies. But does it still make sense in 2018?

The answer, for some people, is yes — accelerating this expense will increase their itemized deductions, reducing their tax bills. But for many, particularly those in high-tax states, changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminate the benefits.

What’s Changed?
The TCJA made two changes that affect the viability of this strategy. First, it nearly doubled the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, so fewer taxpayers will itemize. Second, it placed a $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, including property taxes plus income or sales taxes.

For property tax prepayment to make sense, two things must happen:

  1. You must itemize (that is, your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction), and
  2. Your other SALT expenses for the year must be less than $10,000.

If you don’t itemize, or you’ve already used up your $10,000 limit (on income or sales taxes or on previous property tax installments), accelerating your next property tax installment will provide no benefit.

Example
Joe and Mary, a married couple filing jointly, have incurred $5,000 in state income taxes, $5,000 in property taxes, $18,000 in qualified mortgage interest, and $4,000 in charitable donations, for itemized deductions totaling $32,000. Their next installment of 2018 property taxes, $5,000, is due in the spring of 2019. They’ve already reached the $10,000 SALT limit, so prepaying property taxes won’t reduce their tax bill.

Now suppose they live in a state with no income tax. In that case, prepayment would potentially make sense because it would be within the SALT limit and would increase their 2018 itemized deductions.

Look Before You Leap
Before you prepay property taxes, review your situation carefully to be sure it will provide a tax benefit. And keep in mind that, just because prepayment will increase your 2018 itemized deductions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best strategy. For example, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2019, paying property taxes when due will likely produce a greater benefit over the two-year period.

The Differences Between Public Charities and Private Foundations

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m back again with Annjeanette Yglesias, one of our tax managers and a member of our not-for-profit team. Annjeanette, welcome back to the Playbook.

Annjeanette: Thanks, Jen. It’s good to be here.

Jen: So, not-for-profit… you work with different organizations, and I think the most popular type of not-for-profit organization is 501(c)(3), correct?

Annjeanette: Yes, that’s correct. There are over 30 different types of nonprofit organizations, according to the internal revenue code, and 501(c)(3) organizations are definitely the most popular. Those organizations have purposes for educational, scientific, religious, prevention of cruelty to animals—those types of organizations fall within 501(c)(3).

Jen: So, are there any limitations that we need to be aware of for not-for-profit organizations?

Annjeanette: Well, that really depends. 501(c)(3) organizations can fall into two categories: either a public charity or a private foundation. Private foundations definitely have more restrictions associated with them than public charities do.

Jen: So, there’s different tax rules for each type of entity, correct?

Annjeanette: That’s correct, and the tax rules depend on whether the 501(c)(3) is a public charity or a private foundation, because private foundations have more restrictive activity rules than public charities do.

Jen: And what type of restrictions are there?

Annjeanette: For example, the IRS requires that private foundations distribute a certain amount of their funds annually, and, also, private foundations are subject to a 1% to 2% excise tax on their net investment income. Those two rules are not applicable to public charities. Also, private foundations are restricted in the amount of voting stock that they can hold in a private company, as well as there are several rules that the IRS imposes regarding self-dealing and self-dealing really deals with substantial contributors and any interested persons of the organization.

Jen: So, does the 990 come into play? I would assume that they know the different limitations, but that’s where they call you, right?

Annjeanette: That’s right. If any organization has a question on if they have to follow any of these restrictions, they can certainly call us, and we can walk them through it.

Jen: Perfect. Well, it sounds like there’s a lot more to talk about, and we’ll get you back.

Annjeanette: Sounds good.

Jen: To learn more about how PKF Texas can help your not-for-profit organization, visit PKFTexas.com/notforprofit. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.

How the “Commerciality Doctrine” Can Trip Up Your Not-for-Profit

The commerciality doctrine was created along with the operational test to address concerns over not-for-profits competing at an unfair tax advantage with for-profit businesses. But even business activities related to your exempt purpose could fall prey to the commerciality doctrine, resulting in the potential loss of your organization’s exempt status.

Several Factors Considered
The operational test generally requires that a not-for-profit be both organized and operating exclusively to accomplish its exempt purpose. It also requires that no more than an “insubstantial part” of its activities further a nonexempt purpose. Your organization can operate a business as a substantial part of its activities as long as the business furthers your exempt purpose.

But under the commerciality doctrine, courts have ruled that some organizations’ otherwise exempt activities are substantially the same as those of commercial entities. They consider several factors when evaluating commerciality, including:

  • Whether an organization has set prices to maximize profits,
  • The degree to which it provides below-cost services,
  • Whether it accumulates unreasonable reserves,
  • The use of commercial promotional methods such as advertising,
  • Whether the business is staffed by volunteers or paid employees,
  • Whether it sells to the general public, and
  • The extent to which the not-for-profit relies on charitable donations. (They should be a significant percentage of total support.)

No single factor is decisive for courts or the IRS.

Possible UBIT Issues
There’s another risk for not-for-profits operating a business. You could pass muster under the commerciality doctrine but end up liable for unrelated business income tax (UBIT).

Revenue that a not-for-profit generates from a regularly conducted trade or business that isn’t substantially related to furthering the organization’s tax-exempt purpose may be subject to UBIT. Much depends on how significant the business activities are to your organization as a whole. There are also several exceptions.

Seek Advice First
If you’re thinking about launching a new business to drum up additional revenues, consult your advisors first. They can help reduce the risk that your organization will run into potential exemption or UBIT issues.