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.

Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019, giving you opportunities to increase your retirement savings.

  • Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $19,000 (up from $18,500)
  • Contributions to defined contribution plans: $56,000 (up from $55,000)
  • Contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,000 (up from $12,500)
  • Contributions to IRAs: $6,000 (up from $5,500)

One exception is catch-up contributions for taxpayers age 50 or older, which remain at the same levels as for 2018:

  • Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $6,000
  • Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000
  • Catch-up contributions to IRAs: $1,000

Keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.

Many not-for-profits look international, beyond the United States, to boost revenue. They recruit members, sell products, promote conferences or solicit donations abroad. But it’s important to look before you leap borders; consider not only potential windfalls, but also pitfalls.

Research Your Target
Before your nonprofit invests funds internationally, make sure that the need in your target country for your services or products is robust enough to justify the costs of doing business there. For instance, what will your competition be like? Ample research is essential before making a decision.

This includes gathering information about the country’s relevant laws and regulations. If you plan to sell products or services there, investigate sales and tax issues thoroughly. If, for example, the country engages in free trade, it may be easy to do business there. But if the country isn’t a party to a free trade agreement with the United States, high tariffs might prove an insurmountable obstacle.

Consult with legal and financial advisors as you chart your business plan. Foreign activities also may require analysis to ensure that your American contributors retain their tax deductions and that you don’t jeopardize your organization’s own tax-exempt status.

Put People First
Your understanding of the target country’s people will be key to your success. Setting up a cultural advisory committee in the United States that includes expatriates is one way to develop insights into your new market. If English isn’t the primary spoken language in the target country, bring a translator along on exploratory visits.

Offering membership to individuals in other countries can be your initial step toward becoming a global organization. Some organizations hold seminars and conferences for these potential new members and even open local offices to establish roots.

If you appoint a member from the target country to your board, be willing to accept different approaches to issues. Board meetings probably will continue to be held at your U.S. headquarters. But videoconferencing applications and collaborative software can help board members participate fully in meetings regardless of physical location.

Consider Currency
Finally, don’t discount the potential impact of currency exchange rates. If the U.S. dollar is weak, it could work to your advantage in selling products and services abroad. On the other hand, a strong dollar will likely go further when leasing foreign property or compensating international staff.

Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m here today with Ryan Istre, an Audit Director and a member of the PKF Texas SEC team. Ryan, welcome back to The Playbook.

Ryan: Thanks for having me, Jen.

Jen: So, with the revenue recognition rules for ASC 606 that have come out and were applicable as of January 1, 2018, what do we need to know about that?

Ryan: That’s a good question, Jen. So, the SEC hasn’t had a whole lot of new comment letters come out about ASC 606. We do probably expect a lot of those to come out right around February and March of next year, because that’s when the companies will have a full cycle of revenue recognition under their belt for the full year.

Jen: So, do you expect them to come out with anything else?

Ryan: Again, they haven’t ever said officially. We’ve just sat through forums and a lot of CPE updates, and what we’ve heard to this point is that the SEC is suggesting that while most of the companies that they’ve been reviewing have been meeting the minimum requirements, they are suggesting that there are still a few more quarters that are available for the rest of the year for them to actually beef up their disclosures. So, we’re thinking they might believe a little deficiency is there but probably not enough to issue a formal comment letter so far.

Jen: Now, are there things in the disclosures that you’re recommending be enhanced based on that?

Ryan: Yes. So, what we’ve heard is that they’re recommending enhanced disclosures around what constitutes a specific performance obligation and what management is determining is the actual point in time in which the companies are meeting those performance obligations.

Jen: Okay, so it sounds like there’s definitely more information to come and that they should if they’re looking at it at all they need to contact someone like you so that we can give them guidance on what to do.

Ryan: Exactly. That would be a good idea; definitely contact the auditors, contact us. What we’ve heard in recent forums is that the Office of the Chief Accountant will continue to respect companies’ disclosure practices and procedures if those disclosures are well-grounded and based upon the principles of the new revenue recognition guide. So, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Jen: Yeah, so, let’s get some real-world application and see if it makes common sense maybe?

Ryan: Common sense, principles-based – it’s a toss-up, but only time will tell.

Jen: Perfect. Well, we’ll get you back once we know more information.

Ryan: Definitely.

Jen: Thank you. For more about this topic, visit our Revenue Recognition Central page on PKFTexas.com. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas The Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.

To err is human, but some errors are more consequential — and harder to fix — than others. Most not-for-profits can’t afford to lose precious financial resources, so you need to do whatever possible to minimize accounting and tax mistakes.

Get started by considering the following five questions:

Have we formally documented our accounting processes? All aspects of managing your not-for-profit’s money should be reflected in a detailed, written accounting manual. This should include how to accept and deposit donations and pay bills.

How much do we rely on our accounting software? These days, accounting software is essential to most not-for-profits’ daily functioning. But even with the assistance of technology, mistakes happen. Your staff should always double-check entries and reconcile bank accounts to ensure that transactions entered into accounting software are complete and accurate.

Do we consistently report unrelated business income (UBI)? IRS officials have cited “failing to consider obvious and subtle” UBI tax issues as the biggest tax mistake not-for-profits make. Many organizations commonly fail to report UBI — or they underreport this income. Be sure to follow guidance in IRS Publication 598, Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations. And if you need more help, consult a tax expert with not-for-profit expertise.

Have we correctly classified our workers? This is another area where not-for-profits commonly make errors in judgment and practice. You’re required to withhold and pay various payroll taxes on employee earnings, but don’t have the same obligation for independent contractors. If the IRS can successfully argue that one or more of your independent contractors meet the criteria for being classified as employees, both you and the contractor possibly face financial consequences.

Do we back up data? If you don’t regularly back up accounting and tax information, it may not be safe in the event of a fire, natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency. This data should be backed up automatically and frequently using cloud-based or other offsite storage solutions.

Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to shrink your 2018 tax bill by selling some investments — you just need to carefully select which ones you sell.

Try Balancing Gains and Losses
If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.

If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, essentially you’ll lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.

Review Your Potential Tax Rates
At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets.

For example, these are the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate for 2018:

  • Singles: $425,800
  • Heads of households: $452,400
  • Married couples filing jointly: $479,000

But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. The TCJA also retains the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

Don’t Forget the Netting Rules
Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.

You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.

Time is Running Out
By reviewing your investment activity year-to-date and selling certain investments by year end, you may be able to substantially reduce your 2018 taxes. But act soon, because time is running out.

Keep in mind that tax considerations shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. You also need to consider other factors, such as your risk tolerance and investment goals.

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.

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.)

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.

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.