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Showing posts from January, 2019

2018 Automobile Rules bulletin

The taxable income resulting from the personal use of automobiles provided by an employer is computed by the employer using guidelines established in the Internal Revenue Service regulations and must be reported on a Form W-2, Employee Wage and Tax Statement. This information is required to enable the employees to prepare their individual tax returns. The employee is to receive a Form W-2 no later than January 31, 2019.

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DOL increases penalties for many labor law violations

Every employer knows that failing to comply with federal laws is costly, but it’s getting even more so. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 directs federal agencies to adjust civil penalties for inflation each year. As a result, the Department of Labor recently issued a final rule that revises civil penalties for many violations of federal labor laws for 2019. Here are some of the major areas to be aware of:

Minimum wage and overtime. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for employees in the private sector, as well as in federal, state, and local governments. The civil penalty for repeated or willful violation of the minimum wage and overtime provisions in the FLSA has increased from $1,964 to $2,014 per violation.

Child labor. Employers can run afoul of child labor laws for a variety of reasons other than hiring an underage employee. For example, legally hired 14- or 15-year-olds might work prohib…

IRS raises valuation limit for employer-provided vehicles

One of the most popular fringe benefits for employees at many organizations isn’t an insurance plan or a health club membership; it’s shiny chrome and steel — a vehicle. Providing a car, van or truck that an employee can use for both work and personal purposes can attract better job candidates or just make sense practically. If your organization offers such a fringe benefit, you should know that the IRS recently updated its valuation limit for employer-provided vehicles.

Read the Notice

Generally, you must include the value of an employer-provided vehicle that’s available for personal use in an employee’s income and wages. The personal use may be valued using the cents-per-mile or fleet-average valuation rules for the 2019 calendar year.

Because of tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the maximum dollar limitations on the depreciation deductions for passenger automobiles significantly increased and the way inflation increases are calculated changed. In Notice 2019-8…

Keep a close eye on your employment records

Every employer needs to keep records on pay, hours, workplace injuries and the like. And, of course, the fun doesn’t end there — you’ve also got to maintain other documentation, such as job descriptions, annual objectives and performance reviews.

In totality, these documents make up your employment records. To prevent any number of disastrous circumstances, from lawsuits to identity theft, you must make sure to protect these files (whether paper or digital) under the strictest of confidentiality. Because supervisors and HR staff often work with these records, however, slip-ups can occur all too easily.

Typical documents

The first and most basic step toward safeguarding employment records is taking and keeping a basic inventory of your files. Documents typical to most employers include those related to:


Basic employment and earnings data, work schedules, withholding taxes (W-4 Form and state tax forms, if applicable),
Retirement, profit-sharing and other benefits,
Job applications and res…

Walking on eggshells: ERISA compliance depends on plan documents

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) covers both defined-benefit and defined-contribution retirement plans. If your organization offers its employees either, you may feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells trying to oversee all the regulatory details involved. One critical way to stay in compliance and avoid costly penalties is to ensure your plan operates consistently with its plan documents.

Most important requirement
Although abiding by your plan documents might sound like a straightforward proposition, this isn’t always the case. As a reminder, ERISA requires plan fiduciaries to discharge their duties solely in the interest of participants and their beneficiaries “in accordance with the documents and instruments governing the plan.”

For example, one employer recently found itself the defendant in a class action suit primarily involving alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. During this legal action, the employer was also accused of violating ER…

2019 adjusted penalty amounts for health and other plans

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced in very late January the 2019 annual adjustments to the civil monetary penalties for a wide range of benefits-related violations. Legislation enacted in 2015 requires annual adjustments to certain penalty amounts by January 15 of each year. Because of the government shutdown, however, the 2019 penalties weren’t published by this deadline and, thus, have a later-than-usual effective date.

To wit, the 2019 adjustments are effective for penalties assessed after January 23, 2019, for violations occurring after November 2, 2015. Here are some highlights specifically related to health plans, retirement plans and other employee benefits:

Form 5500. Employers must file this form annually for most ERISA plans to provide the IRS and DOL with information about the plan’s operation and compliance with government regulations. The maximum penalty for failing to file Form 5500 has increased from $2,140 to $2,194 per day that the filing is late.

Group health pla…

Protect retirement plan fiduciaries through training, insurance

When an employer decides to sponsor a retirement plan for employees, it takes on great responsibility. Anyone who exercises discretionary authority over any vital facet of plan operations likely will be considered a plan fiduciary. In turn, these individuals face a significant risk of liability if anything goes seriously wrong with the plan.

Your plan document should identify the corporate entity or individual serving as the “named fiduciary.” But other common examples of fiduciaries include those who serve as plan trustees and members of the board of directors. It’s critical to protect these individuals from the potential negative outcomes of serving in this capacity.

Provide training

First and foremost, given the critical function of plan fiduciaries, they must be properly trained. This is a step that’s often neglected and can be of concern for employees who don’t have full-time jobs related to running the plan.

The U.S. Department of Labor is known to focus on this when it reviews …

Fraud fact: Crooks prefer cash

It should come as no surprise that cash is the most popular target of fraud perpetrators. After all, once stolen, cash itself is virtually untraceable. But that doesn’t mean forensic accounting professionals can’t unearth cash fraud schemes — and the crooks behind them.


3 categories

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, there are three main categories of cash fraud (which includes checks because they’re easily converted to cash):


Theft of cash on hand,
Theft of cash receipts, and
Fraudulent disbursements.
The last category comprises many of the most frequently executed schemes, such as overbilling and “ghost” vendor or employee schemes. For example, overbilling vendors usually submit inflated invoices by overstating the price per unit or the quantity delivered. A dishonest vendor also might submit a legitimate invoice multiple times. Overbilling may involve collusion with employees of the victim organization, who typically receive kickbacks for their assistance.

Empl…

Dissecting the role of the forensic accountant in litigation

When people hear the term “forensic science,” they usually think “CSI.” What comes to mind when you hear the term “forensic accounting”? Similar to forensic scientists offering opinions about scientific matters, forensic accountants may be called on to investigate and serve as financial experts in commercial litigation. Here’s how.

Who they are

Forensic accountants specialize in conducting fraud audits and investigations to detect irregularities and troubling trends, looking for both telltale and subtle signs of white collar crime. Certified fraud examiners (CFEs) are specially trained in fraud discovery, recognition, documentation and prevention. They’re also generally knowledgeable about human behavioral factors and motivations that contribute to the commission of fraud, such as the ability to rationalize fraudulent conduct.

Often, forensic accountants are retained to detect misrepresentations of financial data or to locate missing funds. It’s important to investigate fraud suspicio…

Are your employees flying the red flags of fraud?

Forensic accountants are best qualified to unearth the “hows and whys” of occupational fraud. But it’s up to employers to know when it’s time to call for professional help in the first place. The signs of fraud can be easy to miss, but they’re usually there.

Something doesn’t belong

Dishonest employees may use anything from fictitious vendors to false invoices to cover up theft. To ferret out potential fraud, look for such signs as:


Duplicate payments,
Out-of-sequence entries,
Entries by employees who don’t usually make them,
Unusual inventory adjustments,
Accounts that don’t properly balance, and
Transactions for amounts that appear too large or too small, or transactions that occur too often or too rarely.
An increase in the number of complaints your company receives is another warning sign. An investigation may lead to a relatively innocent explanation, such as a glitch in your shipping system — or it may lead to a fraudulent billing scheme. Pay equally close attention to declines in pr…

Prevent fraud with the help of your audit committee

Your board’s audit committee is a first line of defense against fraud. But to be effective, committee members need to do more than simply review financial statements and audit results.

Members should also adopt the following best practices:

Conduct risk assessments. Identify the types of risks faced by your company and their likelihood of occurrence. These assessments should include an evaluation of existing internal controls.

Be knowledgeable. Become familiar with relevant accounting issues and recent developments. Also ask questions and challenge management on the accounting for complex transactions. If your company’s industry has specialized accounting rules, consider consulting outside specialists.

Communicate with external auditors. Regularly touch base with outside auditors, because the external audit team performs many fraud prevention functions. Schedule formal meetings before the audit to elicit input on issues auditors should examine and after the audit is complete to follow …

A reimbursement roadmap for retirement plan sponsors

When retirement plan sponsors perform administrative services on behalf of the plan, they can be reimbursed by the plan for those services. However, meticulous attention to detail is essential to staying on a safe path with regulatory authorities. Here’s a brief roadmap to getting back some dollars for your hard work — and keeping them.

Satisfying ERISA

For a plan sponsor to receive reimbursement for services it has provided to the plan, the sponsor must satisfy regulations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). This means that the transaction must, first, satisfy the standards for a “prohibited transactions” exemption. The basic ERISA-prohibited transaction that must be avoided is “self-dealing.”

In addition, the transaction needs to meet ERISA’s prudence standards for plan fiduciaries. Regulations allow a fiduciary like the plan sponsor to be reimbursed for “direct expenses properly and actually incurred in the performance of such services.” They also must be “r…

Protect your nonprofit from occupational fraud threats

Not-for-profit organizations don’t lose as much to occupational fraud as for-profit businesses do. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ (ACFE’s) 2018 Report to the Nations, nonprofits lost a median amount of $75,000 during the 21-month study period, compared with $164,000 for private for-profit companies. Yet few nonprofit budgets can afford a $75,000 shortfall or the bad publicity associated with fraud. Here’s how nonprofits open the door to fraud — and how your organization can shut it.

How thieves slip through

The core of any organization’s fraud-prevention program is strong internal controls — policies that govern everything from accepting cash to signing checks to training staff to performing regular audits. Most nonprofits have at least a rudimentary set of internal controls, but employees bent on fraud can usually find gaps.

Nonprofits typically devote the largest chunk of their budgets to programming, and can be stingy about allocating dollars to enforcin…

Bogus vendors may be costing your company a bundle

Are you harboring fictitious vendors in your accounting system? These are vendors invented by an employee — usually someone with the authority to approve invoices — to embezzle from the company. Thieves fabricate invoices and deposit payments to the fictitious vendor in their own bank accounts.

This scam is easier to perpetrate in companies with a large number of vendors because fictitious accounts simply get lost in the sheer volume of paperwork. However, small companies are also vulnerable to the scheme because they often lack internal controls, such as segregation of duties.

Spotting the fake

Regardless of the size of your company, there are likely to be tracks for you to follow:

Missing information. You expect to find phone numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, contact names and specific street addresses (not P.O. box numbers) in your vendors’ files. When such routine data is missing, investigate.

Vendor names. Embezzlers may create a company name that is similar to that of a…

Is your nonprofit monitoring the measures that matter?

Do you want to control costs and improve delivery of your not-for-profit’s programs and services? It may not be as difficult as you think. First, you need to know how much of your nonprofit’s expenditures go toward programs, as opposed to administrative and fundraising costs. Then you must determine how much you need to fund your budget and weather temporary cash crunches.

4 key numbers

These key ratios can help your organization measure and monitor efficiency:

Percentage spent on program activities. This ratio offers insights into how much of your total budget is used to provide direct services. To calculate this measure, divide your total program service expenses by total expenses. Many watchdog groups are satisfied with 65%.

Percentage spent on fundraising. To calculate this number, divide total fundraising expenses by contributions. The standard benchmark for fundraising and admin expenses is 35%.

Current ratio. This measure represents your nonprofit’s ability to pay its bills. It’s …

What to do if your nonprofit receives an IRS audit letter

The IRS’s staffing shortages have been well publicized and audits of individuals have decreased in the past several years. But it’s a mistake to assume that the agency has stopped scrutinizing not-for-profits and conducting audits when it deems necessary. If your organization receives an audit letter, you need to know what the process involves and how you can help resolve it as quickly as possible.

Igniting a spark

An audit begins with the initial contact via letter from the IRS and continues until a closing letter is issued. Before closing an audit, an officer of your nonprofit, your CPA and the IRS agent will discuss the agent’s conclusions at a closing conference. Both the conference and letter will explain your appeal rights.

Audits can cover many areas. For example, the IRS may want to learn whether your organization has filed all returns and forms as required by law. Or it might delve into whether your activities have been consistent with your tax-exempt purpose, or whether unre…

Protect your nonprofit by cross-training staff

What would happen if one of your managers was suddenly forced to take long-term disability leave? Or an accounting staffer quit without notice? It’s possible that your not-for-profit’s work could come to a standstill — unless you’ve cross-trained your employees.

Problem and solution

Cross-training employees — teaching them how to do each other’s jobs — can help protect your organization from an absence in the short or long term. The potential reasons for an absence are almost countless: An employee may suddenly die, become sick or disabled, have a baby, take a vacation or military leave, be called to jury duty, retire or resign.

Having someone else on staff set to jump in and take the reins can keep your nonprofit up and running without much of a hitch.

Your organization benefits

Cross-training involves teaching accounting department and other staffers the basics of one another’s jobs. With cross-trained employees, you can temporarily shift people to fill an empty seat until the missin…

Holding on to your nonprofit’s exempt status

If you think that, once your not-for-profit receives its official tax-exempt status from the IRS, you don’t have to revisit it again, think again. Whether your organization is a Section 501(c)(3), Sec. 501(c)(7) or other type, be careful. The activities you conduct, the ways you generate revenue and how you use that revenue could potentially threaten your exempt status. It’s worth reviewing the IRS’s exempt-status rules to make sure your organization is operating within them.

Hot buttons

There are many categories of tax exemption — each with its own rules. But certain hot-button issues apply to most tax-exempt entities. These include:

Lobbying. Having a Sec. 501(c)(3) status limits the amount of lobbying a charitable organization can undertake. This doesn’t mean lobbying is totally prohibited. But according to the IRS, your organization shouldn’t devote “a substantial part of its activities” trying to influence legislation.

For nonprofits that are exempt under other categories of Sec.…

Divide and conquer: How joint cost allocating works

In recent years watchdog groups, the media and others have increased their scrutiny of how much not-for-profits spend on programs vs. administration and fundraising. Your organization likely feels pressure to prove that it dedicates most of its resources to programming. However, accounting rules require that you record the full cost of any activity with a fundraising component as a fundraising expense.

How then can you maintain an appealing fundraising ratio? That’s where allocating joint costs comes in.

3 criteria

Nonprofits are allowed to combine program and fundraising activities to achieve efficiencies. For example, a literacy nonprofit uses a mailing to recruit volunteer tutors and ask for donations. The organization prefers to assign most of the cost to program expense, reasoning that the fundraising part of the mailing is relatively minor. But charity watchdogs may allege this overstates the program component, skewing the nonprofit’s fundraising ratio.

Allocating costs between …

Does your nonprofit adequately protect whistleblowers?

Whistleblower policies protect individuals who risk their careers — or take other kinds of risks — to report illegal or unethical practices. Although no federal law specifically requires nonprofits to have such policies in place, several state laws do. Moreover, IRS Form 990 asks nonprofits to state whether they have adopted a whistleblower policy.

Adopting a whistleblower policy increases the odds that you’ll learn about activities before the media, law enforcement or regulators do. Encouraging stakeholders to speak up also sends a message about your commitment to good governance and ethical behavior.

Be inclusive

Your policy should be tailored to your organization’s unique circumstances, but most policies should spell out who’s covered. In addition to employees, volunteers and board members, you might want to include clients and third parties who conduct business with your organization, such as vendors and independent contractors.

Also specify covered misdeeds. Financial malfeasance…

5 questions can help nonprofits avoid accounting and tax mistakes

To err is human, but some errors are more consequential — and harder to fix — than others. Most not-for-profit organizations 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 nonprofit’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 nonprofits’ 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 con…