Buy vs. lease: Business equipment edition

Life presents us with many choices: paper or plastic, chocolate or vanilla, regular or decaf. For businesses, a common conundrum is buy or lease. You’ve probably faced this decision when considering office space or a location for your company’s production facilities. But the buy vs. lease quandary also comes into play with equipment.

Pride of ownership

Some business owners approach buying equipment like purchasing a car: “It’s mine; I’m committed to it and I’m going to do everything I can to familiarize myself with this asset and keep it in tip-top shape.” Yes, pride of ownership is still a thing.

If this is your philosophy, work to pass along that pride to employees. When you get staff members to buy in to the idea that this is your equipment and the success of the company depends on using and maintaining each asset properly, the business can obtain a great deal of long-term value from assets that are bought and paid for.

Of course, no “buy vs. lease” discussion is complete without mentioning taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act dramatically enhanced Section 179 expensing and first-year bonus depreciation for asset purchases. In fact, many businesses may be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it’s purchased. On the downside, you’ll take a cash flow hit when buying an asset, and the tax benefits may be mitigated somewhat if you finance.

Fine things about flexibility

Many businesses lease their equipment for one simple reason: flexibility. From a cash flow perspective, you’re not laying down a major purchase amount or even a substantial down payment in most cases. And you’re not committed to an asset for an indefinite period — if you don’t like it, at least there’s an end date in sight.

Leasing also may be the better option if your company uses technologically advanced equipment that will get outdated relatively quickly. Think about the future of your business, too. If you’re planning to explore an expansion, merger or business transformation, you may be better off leasing equipment so you’ll have the flexibility to adapt it to your changing circumstances.

Last, leasing does have some tax breaks. Lease payments generally are tax deductible as “ordinary and necessary” business expenses, though annual deduction limits may apply.

Pros and cons

On a parting note, if you do lease assets this year and your company follows Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), new accounting rules for leases take effect in 2020 for calendar-year private companies. Contact us for further information, as well as for any assistance you might need in weighing the pros and cons of buying vs. leasing business equipment.

© 2019


Close-up on financial statements

There are three types of financial statements under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Each one reveals different, but equally important, information about your company’s financial performance. And, together, they can be analyzed to help owners, management, lenders and investors make informed business decisions.

Profit or loss

The income statement shows revenue and expenses over the accounting period. A commonly used term when discussing income statements is “net income,“ which is the income remaining after all expenses (including taxes) have been paid.

It’s also important to check out the company’s “gross profit.“ This is the income earned after subtracting the cost of goods sold from revenue. Cost of goods sold includes the cost of direct labor and materials, as well as any manufacturing overhead costs required to make a product.

The income statement also lists sales, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses. They reflect functions, such as marketing and payroll, that support a company’s production of products or services. Often, SG&A costs are relatively fixed, no matter how well your business is doing. Compute the ratio of SG&A costs to revenue. If the percentage increases over time, business may be slowing down.

Financial position

The balance sheet tallies your company’s assets, liabilities and net worth to create a snapshot of its financial health on the financial statement date. Assets are customarily listed in order of liquidity. Current assets (such as accounts receivable) are expected to be converted into cash within a year, while long-term assets (such as plant and equipment) will be used to generate revenue beyond the next 12 months.

Similarly, liabilities are listed in order of maturity. Current liabilities (such as accounts payable) come due within a year, while long-term liabilities are payment obligations that extend beyond the current year.

Because the balance sheet must balance, assets must equal liabilities plus net worth. So, net worth is the extent to which assets exceed liabilities. It may signal financial distress if your net worth is negative. Other red flags include:

  • Current assets that grow faster than sales, and
  • A deteriorating ratio of current assets to current liabilities.

These trends could indicate that management is managing working capital less efficiently than in prior periods.

Cash inflows and outflows

The statement of cash flows shows all the cash flowing in and out of your company during the accounting period. For example, your company may have cash inflows from selling products, borrowing, and selling stock. Outflows may result from paying expenses, investing in capital equipment and repaying debt.

The statement of cash flows is organized into three sections: cash flows from operating, financing and investing activities. Ideally, a company will generate enough cash from operations to cover its expenses. If not, it may need to borrow money or sell stock to survive.

Ratios and trends

The most successful businesses continually monitor ratios and trends revealed in their financial statements. Contact us if you need help interpreting your financial results.

© 2019


Attention: Accounting rule delays in the works

On July 17, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) voted to issue a proposal that would delay several landmark accounting rules for certain companies. If finalized, the deferral would apply to new guidance for reporting leases, hedging transactions, credit losses and long-term insurance contracts.

Summary of the changes

The following table summarizes key implementation date changes that the FASB unanimously voted to propose:

The term “smaller reporting companies” refers to those that have either 1) a public float of less than $250 million, or 2) annual revenue of less than $100 million and no public float or a public float of less than $700 million.

Unexpected delays

Private companies and nonprofits often receive an extra year to implement major accounting standards updates, compared to the effective dates that apply to public companies. In a shift in its philosophy for setting reporting dates on major new accounting standards, the FASB wants to give certain entities even longer to implement the changes.

Why are these delays needed? Many entities continue to struggle with implementing the new revenue recognition guidance that went into effect in 2018 for public companies and 2019 for other entities. A possible deferral of other new rules would also allow smaller entities to learn from public companies how to implement the changes — and it would give accounting software providers extra time to update their packages to support the new reporting models.

Proposal is coming soon

The FASB is expected to issue its proposal as soon as possible. Then it will be subject to a 30-day comment period.

These deferrals, if finalized, would be welcome news for many organizations. But they’re not an excuse to procrastinate. Depending on your industry and the nature of your transactions, implementing the changes and educating stakeholders could take significant resources. Contact us before the implementation deadline to come up with a realistic game plan.

© 2019


Find a sensible balance when it comes to pay raises

Employers grapple with many competing goals when it comes to compensation and pay raises. You probably want to reward specific employees who’ve made contributions to the organization and try to ensure your salaries are in line with what competitors are paying. But you also need to maintain a level of equity with other workers’ compensation. And, of course, you’ve got to keep payroll costs in line. It’s not easy to find a sensible balance.

Develop criteria

Money can be a sensitive subject for many people. Employees often view their salaries and raises not just as a means of providing for themselves and their families, but as an indication of how the organization values their contributions. So, the ways in which you decide on, and communicate, raises and other salary adjustments can affect employee morale and performance.

If you haven’t already, consider developing a standard set of criteria to determine pay raises and apply it to employees within each department or group. Among the benefits of having set criteria is that it reduces the perception of, and opportunity for, bias. Even a perception of partiality can dampen employee morale. Over time, it even may harm retention and performance.

And by standardizing the criteria you use to determine raises, you’re less likely to wind up with significant variations in compensation between different groups of employees. You’re no doubt familiar with the controversies regarding pay inequities between genders and other distinctions. Standardized criteria can help ensure that, as much as possible, compensation fairly reflects performance.

Focus on goals

Of course, these criteria shouldn’t prevent or inhibit you from recognizing employees who’ve met or exceeded their performance objectives. Tying raises to such goals is fine if the objectives themselves are clearly communicated, measurable and challenging — but within reach.

Goals should be both specific to an employee’s actions and tied to broader organizational goals. For instance, a goal set for a warehouse manager could be to increase the percentage of on-time deliveries.

Some organizations use raises to recognize seniority. They say experience often has some impact on the contribution an employee makes. In addition, using raises as one tool to reduce turnover often makes sense, given the expense of attracting new employees.

Other organizations maintain that longevity doesn’t automatically correlate with the value an individual brings. In addition, regularly rewarding employees’ tenure can lead to bloated salaries. Many organizations look at both longevity and performance when determining raises.

Keep searching

Naturally, all policies on raises and compensation should comply with applicable laws and regulations. This is yet one more issue to grapple with when searching for that often-elusive balance. Please contact us for assistance.

© 2019


Run your strategic-planning meetings like they really matter

Many businesses struggle to turn abstract strategic-planning ideas into concrete, actionable plans. One reason why is simple: ineffective meetings. The ideas are there, lurking in the minds of management and key employees, but the process for hashing them out just doesn’t work. Here are a few ways to run your strategic-planning meetings like they really matter — which, of course, they do.

Build buy-in

Meetings often fail because attendees feel more like spectators than participants. They are less likely to zone out if they have some say in the direction and content of the gathering. So, before the session, touch base with those involved and establish a clear agenda of the strategic-planning initiatives you’ll be discussing.

Another common problem with meetings occurs when someone leads the meeting, but no one owns it. As the meeting leader, be sure to speak with conviction and express positivity (if not passion) for the subject matter. (If others are delivering presentations during the proceedings, encourage them to do the same.)

Fight fatigue

To the extent possible, keep meetings short. Cover what needs to be covered, but ensure you’re concentrating only on what’s important. Go in armed with easy-to-follow notes so you’ll stay on track and won’t forget anything. The latter point is particularly important, because overlooked subjects often lead to hasty follow-up meetings that can frustrate employees.

In addition, if the contingent of attendees is large enough, consider having employees break out into smaller groups to focus on specific points. Then call the meeting back to order to discuss each group’s ideas. By mixing it up in such creative ways, you’ll keep employees more engaged.

Tell a story

There’s so much to distract employees in a meeting. If it’s held in the morning, the busy day ahead may preoccupy their thoughts. If it’s an afternoon meeting, they might grow anxious about their commutes home. If the meeting is a Web conference, there are a variety of distractions that may affect them. And there’s no getting around the ease with which participants can sneak peeks at their smartphones (or smart watches) to check emails, texts and the Internet.

How do you break through? People appreciate storytellers. So, think about how you can use this technique to find a more relaxed and engaging way to speak to everyone in the room. Devise a narrative that will grab attendees’ attention and keep them in suspense for a little bit. Then deliver a conclusion that will inspire them to work toward identifying fully realized, feasible strategic goals.

Make ’em great

Grumbling about meetings can be as much a part of working life as burnt coffee in the bottom of the breakroom pot. But don’t let this occasional negativity sway you from doing the critical strategic planning that every business needs to do. Your meetings can be great ones. We can’t help you run them, but we can assist you in assessing the financial feasibility and ramifications of your strategic plans.

© 2019


Let’s find a better way to manage your receivables

Failure to collect accounts receivable (AR) in a timely manner can lead to myriad financial problems for your company, including poor cash flow and the inability to pay its own bills. Here are five effective ideas to facilitate more timely collections:

1. Create an AR aging report. This report lets you see at a glance the current payment status of all your customers and how much money they owe. Aging reports typically track the payment status of customers by time periods, such as 0–30 days, 31–60 days, 61–90 days and 91+ days past due.

Armed with this information, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus your efforts. For example, you can concentrate on collecting the largest receivables that are the furthest past due. Or you can zero in on collecting receivables that are between 31 and 60 days outstanding before they become any further behind.

2. Assign collection responsibility to a sole accounting employee. Giving one employee the responsibility for AR collections ensures that the “collection buck” stops with someone. Otherwise, the task of collections could fall by the wayside as accounting employees pick up on other tasks that might seem more urgent.

3. Re-examine your invoices. Your customers prefer bills that are clear, accurate and easy to understand. Sending out invoices that are sloppy, vague or inaccurate will slow down the payment process as customers try to contact you for clarification. Essentially you’re inviting your customers to not pay your invoices promptly.

4. Offer customers multiple ways to pay. The more payment options customers have, the easier it is for them to pay your invoices promptly. These include payment by check, Automated Clearing House, credit or debit card, PayPal or even text message.

5. Be proactive in your billing and collection efforts. Many of your customers may have specific procedures that must be followed by vendors for invoice formatting and submission. Learn these procedures and follow them carefully to avoid payment delays. Also, consider contacting customers a couple of days before payment is due (especially for large payments) to make sure everything is on track.

Lax working capital practices can be a costly mistake. Contact us to help implement these and other strategies to improve collections and boost your revenue and cash flow. We can also help you with strategies for dealing with situations where it’s become clear that a past-due customer won’t (or can’t) pay an invoice.

© 2019


AUP engagements: A middle ground between audits and consulting services

Your CPA offers a wide menu of services. An audit is a familiar type of attestation service that provides a formal opinion about whether the company’s financial statements conform to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Consulting services, in contrast, provide advice or technical assistance that’s only for internal purposes. That is, lenders and other third parties can’t rely on the findings, conclusions and recommendations presented during a consulting project.

If you need a report that falls somewhere between these alternatives, consider an agreed upon procedures (AUP) engagement.

Scope

An AUP engagement uses procedures similar to an audit, but on a limited scale. It can be used to identify specific problems that require immediate action. When performing an AUP engagement, your CPA makes no formal opinion; he or she simply acts as a fact finder. The report lists:

  • The procedures performed, and
  • The CPA’s findings.

It’s the user’s responsibility to draw conclusions based on those findings. AUP engagements may target specific financial data (such as accounts payable, accounts receivable or related party transactions), nonfinancial information (such as a review of internal controls or compliance with royalty agreements), a specific financial statement (such as the income statement or balance sheet) or even a complete set of financial statements.

Advantages

AUP engagements boast several advantages. They can be performed at any time during the year, and they can be relied on by third parties. Plus, you have the flexibility to choose only those procedures you feel are necessary, so AUP engagements can be cost-effective.

Specifically, AUP engagements can be useful:

  • In M&A due diligence,
  • When a business owner suspects an employee of misrepresenting financial results, and
  • To determine compliance with specific regulatory requirements, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

In addition, lenders or franchisors may request an AUP engagement if they have doubts or questions about a company’s financials or the effectiveness of its internal controls — or if they want to check on the progress of a distressed company’s turnaround plan.

Contact us

AUP engagements can be performed to supplement audits and consulting engagements — or as a standalone service. We can help you customize an AUP engagement that fits the needs of your business and its stakeholders.

© 2019


Looking for a retirement plan for your business? Here’s one SIMPLE option

Has your small business procrastinated in setting up a retirement plan? You might want to take a look at a SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” If you decide you’re interested in a SIMPLE IRA, you must establish it by no later than October 1 of the year for which you want to make your initial deductible contribution. (If you’re a new employer and come into existence after October 1, you can establish the SIMPLE IRA as soon as administratively feasible.)

Pros and cons

Here are some of the basics of SIMPLEs:

  • They’re available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
  • They offer greater income deferral opportunities than individual retirement accounts (IRAs). However, other plans, such as SEPs and 401(k)s, may permit larger annual deductible contributions.
  • Participant loans aren’t allowed (unlike 401(k) and other plans that can offer loans).
  • As the name implies, it’s simple to set up and administer these plans. You aren’t required to file annual financial returns.
  • If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Contribution amounts

Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE. An employee may defer up to $12,500 in 2016. This amount is indexed for inflation each year. Employees age 50 or older can make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000 in 2016.

If your business has other employees, you may have to make SIMPLE IRA employer “matching” contributions.

Consider your choices

A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business but it isn’t the only choice. You might also be interested in setting up a simplified employee pension plan, a 401(k) or other plan. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement alternatives for your business.

© 2016


3 ways to improve development and accounting collaboration


Communication breakdowns between a not-for-profit’s development and accounting 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 nonprofit 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. Contact us for more information.

© 2018

Time for NQDC plan deferral elections


If you’re an executive or other key employee, your employer may offer you a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan. As the name suggests, NQDC plans pay employees in the future for services currently performed. The plans allow deferral of the income tax associated with the compensation.  

But to receive this attractive tax treatment, NQDC plans must meet many requirements. One is that employees must make the deferral election before the year they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, if you wish to defer part of your 2019 compensation, you generally must make the election by the end of 2018.

NQDC plans vs. qualified plans

NQDC plans differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in that:

  • NQDC plans can favor highly compensated employees,
  • Although your income tax liability can be deferred, your employer can’t deduct the NQDC until you recognize it as income, and
  • Any NQDC plan funding isn’t protected from your employer’s creditors.

While some rules are looser for NQDC plans, there are also many rules that apply to them that don’t apply to qualified plans.

2 more NQDC rules

In addition to the requirement that deferral elections be made before the start of the year, there are two other important NQDC rules to be aware of:

1. Distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.

2. Elections to make certain changes. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.

Be aware that the penalties for noncompliance with NQDC rules can be severe: You can be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and interest charges also may apply. So if you’re receiving NQDC, check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues.

No deferral of employment tax

Another important NQDC tax issue is that employment taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even though the compensation isn’t actually paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years.

So your employer may withhold your portion of the tax from your salary or ask you to write a check for the liability. Or your employer might pay your portion, in which case you’ll have additional taxable income.

Next steps

Questions about NQDC — or other executive comp, such as incentive stock options or restricted stock? Contact us. We can answer them and help you determine what, if any, steps you need to take before year end to defer taxes and avoid interest and penalties.

© 2018