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Alternative investments: Potential pitfalls
not-for-profit
organizations need to know

12.17.21

Read this if you are at a not-for-profit organization.

There is no question the investment landscape is forever changing. Even before COVID-19 placed a vice grip on all aspects of society, many not-for-profit organizations were looking for ways to maximize the value of their current investment holdings. One such way of accomplishing this is through the use of alternative investments, defined for our purposes as investments outside of standard assets such as traditional stocks and bonds. Alternative investments have become increasingly specialized and are often seen in the form of foreign corporations or partnerships (often times domiciled in locales such as the Cayman Islands where tax laws are more favorable to investors) and are much more commonplace than ever before.

While promises of higher rates of return are received warmly by not-for-profit organizations, alternative investments often carry with them the potential for additional compliance costs in the form of tax filing obligations and substantial penalties should those filings be overlooked.

This article will highlight some of those potential foreign filings, as well as highlight potential consequences they carry and what you need to know in order to avoid the pitfalls. 

Potential foreign filings related to investment activities

Not-for profit organizations should be aware of the potential filings/disclosures required in regards to their ownership of investments located outside of the United States. The federal government uses a variety of forms to track transfers of property, ownership, and account balances related to foreign activity/investments. A list of some of the potential foreign filings are detailed below (not an all-inclusive list):

Form 926 – Return by a US Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation

This form is generally required when a US investor transfers more than $100,000 in a 12-month period, or any other contribution when the investor owns 10% or more of a foreign corporation. The requirement to file this form can be via a direct investment in the foreign corporation, or indirectly through another entity (such as a partnership interest). The penalty for failure to file is equal to 10 percent of the transfer amount, up to $100,000 per missed filing.

Form 8865 – Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships

Similar to Form 926, this filing arises when a US person (which includes not-for-profit organizations) transfers $100,000 or more in a given year, or if they own 10% or more of the foreign partnership. There are different levels of disclosure required for different categories of filers. Filings are also triggered by both direct and indirect investments. The penalty for failure to file varies by category type, ranging from $10,000 to up to $100,000 per missed filing.

FinCEN Form 114 – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

Commonly referred to as the FBAR, this form tracks assets that US taxpayers hold in offshore accounts, whether they be foreign bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or mutual funds. This form is required when the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Further, any individual or entity that owns more than 50 percent of the account directly or indirectly must file the form. Lastly, individuals who have signature authority over accounts held by the organization are also required to file the FinCEN Form 114 with their individual income tax return. The penalty for failure to file can vary, but can be as high as 50 percent of the account’s value.

Please note: there is a specific definition of the term “foreign financial account” which excludes certain items from the definition. Organizations are encouraged to consult their tax advisors for more information.

Form 5471 – Information Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations

Form 5471 is required to be filed when ownership is at least 10% in a foreign corporation. There are different disclosures required for different categories of ownership. Organizations required to file Form 5471 are typically operating internationally and have ownership of a foreign corporation which triggers the filing, but this form would also apply to investments in foreign corporations if ownership is at least 10%. The penalty for failure to file is typically $10,000 per missed filing.

Recommendations to avoid the pitfalls of alternative investments

In order to avoid missed filing requirements, exempt organizations should ask their investment advisors if any investment will involve organizations outside of the United States. If the answer is “yes,” then your organization needs to understand any additional filing requirements up front in order to take into consideration any additional compliance costs related to foreign filings. You should review and share all relevant investment documentation and subsequent information (e.g., prospectus and any other offering materials) with your finance/accounting department, as well as your tax advisors—prior to investment.

We also recommend you engage in open and frequent communication with your investment managers and advisors (both within and outside the organization). Those who manage the entity’s investments should also stay in close contact with fund managers who can help communicate when assets are invested in a way that might trigger a foreign filing obligation.

As investment practices and strategies become increasingly complex, organizations need to stay vigilant and aware in this forever changing landscape. We’re here to help. If you have any questions or concerns about current investment holdings and potential foreign filings, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our not-for-profit tax team.

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Read this if you are at a not-for-profit hospital.

With the 990 filing deadline of August 15 firmly in the rearview mirror, and with our NFP tax team getting to take some well-deserved late summer paid time off, I have a small window of time for some reflection on the filing season. Some of us choose to wind down with a good book, maybe mull over what to do with the last remaining weeks of summer before the inevitability of Labor Day, or perhaps you’re deliberating what to get the kiddos as the new school year approaches (mine is still a wee pup so still rather light in that department). I myself have been reflecting on some of the issues I’ve seen on our last round of Form 990s, the vast majority of which are hospital clients with September 30 year ends, which I felt compelled to share. Here is my top five list of observations of this year's Form 990 filings.

  1. 501(r) & hospital websites
    By now, most are familiar with the nuts and bolts of 501(r), but something to be mindful of is the interplay between 501(r) and requirements of what needs to be posted on your hospital’s website. Community health needs assessments and implementation strategies (both the most recent set and two subsequent sets) should be posted online at all times.

    Financial assistance policies (FAP), applications, and plain language summaries need to be online too. Those web addresses are provided on Schedule H for the IRS and general public alike.

    Further, items such as Amounts Generally Billed (AGB) calculations, and the list of providers not covered under your hospital’s FAP should be updated and reviewed at least annually. The IRS, despite their skeleton crew and shoestring budget, can and do vigilantly check and scour hospital websites and send out correspondence for any observed irregularities.
  2. Conflicts of interest
    It’s considered a best practice for all NFPs to check for any conflicts of interest (specifically with members of governance and management) at least annually. While most organizations do this diligently and far more often than once a year, I want to point out that the 990 has an entire schedule devoted to reporting of “interested persons”—that being Schedule L. Interested persons go beyond just corporate officers and members of the board; they also can be family members as well as business entities that are more than 35% owned or controlled by any of the above. Your hospital may want to review your procedures as to how you identify potential conflicts to make sure you are also capturing these sorts of relationships.

    Reporting thresholds for Schedule L disclosure can vary. If, for example, a board member’s child works for the hospital and is paid more than $10,000, they are required to be disclosed and the board member is not considered to be independent by the IRS. Transactions with a business entity owned or controlled by an interested person has reporting thresholds of $10,000 for a single transaction, or $100,000 over the course of the year.

    We offer a detailed conflict of interest survey that addresses these questions and more. If interested to learn more about this, please speak to your engagement principal.
  3. Compensation to unrelated organizations
    It seems more and more each year we hear some variation of the following: “Dr. X sits on our board and works here at the hospital, but we don’t pay him/her directly—we pay their company.”

    It’s important to know the IRS closed up this reporting loophole long ago and requires the hospital to report the amounts paid to an unrelated organization for services they render as if you paid the individual directly. A narrative is also required on Schedule J explaining the arrangement. We find in most cases the hospital may not be aware of what exactly Dr. X receives for compensation, which is perfectly fine. The narrative on Schedule J can explain this and that what’s being reported as compensation to Dr. X is the amount paid to the unrelated organization, and not necessarily what Dr. X’s compensation is. In any event, it is not appropriate to say that Dr. X receives nothing.
  4. Fundraising events
    COVID-19 certainly put a damper on most, if not all fundraising events over the past few years, but we’ve started to see some of events come back on the calendar recently, which is a great sign! Just a friendly reminder that if the price of admission to the event is $75 or more, it is necessary to note what items of value a participant is receiving in exchange for the amount of money they pay to attend so they can determine what amount, if any, of their entrance fee is tax deductible.

    For example: A hospital hosts a golf tournament and charges $100 per person to play. In exchange, the person gets use of a golf cart, a round of golf, and some food/drink on hole 19. The fair market value of everything per person totals $85. In this case, only $15 is tax deductible as a charitable contribution ($100 paid minus $85 value received) and the $85 of value received must be relayed to the attendee.

    Should you have any questions as you begin to plan your next round of events, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
  5. Alternative Investments and Unrelated Business Income (UBI)
    What top five list would be complete without at least a mention of UBI? During the pandemic, we saw many clients get more creative in terms of generating revenue sources, particularly in terms of alternative investments that typically come in the form of a partnership interest and can carry with them significant tax consequences which are not always brought to the forefront at the time the investment is made. More than a few clients have been more than surprised (and less than impressed) to receive a Schedule K-1 at the end of year which not only contains UBI, but UBI that is spread over six different states, some or all of which may require you to file tax returns. If the alternative investment happens to be domiciled overseas, that can bring with it its own set of obligations. You can read more about this here

    It is vital for all organizations to be engaged in open and frequent communication with their investment managers and advisors (both within and outside the organization) to help ensure a full understanding of what sorts of obligations may stem from an investment. Organizations are strongly encouraged to review and share all relevant investment documentation and subsequent information (i.e., prospectus and any other offering materials) with its finance/accounting department, as well as its tax advisors prior to making the investment.

Just some things for you to think about as the next 990 filing deadline will be here before you know it, like the fall colors that will be joining us soon. I hope you all enjoy the last few gasps of what’s been a tremendous summer and you all find some time to do whatever it is that brings you joy and peace. As for me, I think it’s time to get a hobby! 

If you have any questions about your specific situation, please feel free to contact our not-for-profit tax team.

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990 filing: Five post-deadline considerations for hospitals

Read this if you are at a not-for-profit organization.

There is no question that cryptocurrency has been gaining in popularity over the past few years. It may be hard to believe, but Bitcoin, the first and most commonly known form of cryptocurrency, has been around since the good old days of 2009! What was once only seen as a quasi-asset traded solely on the dark web by a handful of private yet savvy investors has recently begun to step out into the light. With this newly found mainstream popularity come many questions from the not-for-profit (NFP) sector about how their organizations should proceed when it comes to donations of cryptocurrency, and how they might benefit (or not) from doing so. 

This article will answer some of the questions we’ve received from clients in this area and attempt to shed some light on the tax reporting and compliance requirements around cryptocurrency donations for not-for-profit organizations, as well as other topics not-for-profit organizations should consider before dipping their toes into the crypto current.

So, what exactly is cryptocurrency? 

Cryptocurrency is a digital asset. It generally has no physical form (no actual coins or paper money). Further, it is not issued by a central bank and is largely unregulated. Its value is dependent upon many factors, the largest being supply and demand.

Can a not-for-profit organization accept cryptocurrency as a donation?

Yes! For tax purposes, cryptocurrency is considered noncash property, and is perfectly acceptable for not-for-profit organizations to accept.

With that said, NFPs absolutely need to review and update their gift acceptance policies as necessary as to whether or not they are willing to accept cryptocurrency. Having a clear and established policy position in place one way or the other can mitigate any confusion or misunderstanding between the organization and a potential donor.

The organization may also want to consider adding language to the policy regarding its intent to either hold the asset or sell it as soon as administratively possible. A savvy donor may request that the organization hold the cryptocurrency donation for a period of time after the donation is made, so organizations will want to have clear policies in place.

What about acknowledging the donor’s gift?

Standard donor acknowledgement rules still apply. Any donation of $250 or more requires a standard “thank you” acknowledgement to the donor. Remember, the IRS has deemed cryptocurrency to be noncash property, which means a description of the donated property (but not its value) should be mentioned in the donor acknowledgement.

Are there any other forms I need to be aware of?

Yes. Forms 8283 & 8282 apply to donations of cryptocurrency. Where the donation is noncash, the donor should be providing the organization with Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, for a claimed value of more than $500. Further, if the claimed value is more than $5,000, the Form 8283 should be accompanied by a qualified appraisal report. Form 8283 should be signed by the donor, the qualified appraiser (if applicable), as well as the recipient organization upon acceptance.

NOTE: Form 8283, Part V, Donee Acknowledgement, contains a yes/no question asking if the organization intends to use the property for an unrelated use. Where the property in question is cryptocurrency, the answer to this question is likely always to be ‘yes’.

Should the organization sell the underlying cryptocurrency within three years of acceptance, the organization must complete Form 8282, Donee Information Return, and file a copy with the IRS as well as providing a copy to the original donor. Other rules apply if the organization transfers the property to a successor donee.

NOTE: Organizations may want to consider referencing the Forms 8283 & 8282 in their aforementioned gift acceptance policy.

How is a cryptocurrency donation reported on the financial statements and Form 990?

If donated and held by the organization as of the end of the year, it will be reported as an intangible asset on the balance sheet, and contribution revenue on the statement of activities. 

Similar reporting would follow for 990 purposes—the donation would be reported as part of noncash contribution revenue with additional reporting on 990, Schedule B, Schedule of Contributors, and Schedule M, Noncash Contributions, as necessary.

Why should I accept cryptocurrency?

This is by far the hardest question to answer, for a variety of reasons. There is no question that cryptocurrency has its risks. Cryptocurrency is known to be highly volatile. Bitcoin, which originally was valued at eight cents per coin in 2010 soared to an all-time high of over $63,000 back in April of 2021—and then two months later sold for around $34,000 per coin. And who could forget the recent Dogecoin (I’m still not sure how to pronounce that) phenomenon? It too in recent months became a sensation only to see its value plummet by almost 30% in a single day after an appearance by Elon Musk on Saturday Night Live (it did subsequently rebound after a Musk tweet).

The fact is no one really knows where the value of cryptocurrency is headed, so should a not-for-profit organization decide to proceed, you should be aware it may not be worth what it was when originally accepted, which could be either good or bad depending on the day. Ultimately, any value is still good for a not-for-profit organization, but the risks with cryptocurrency and its volatility are very real.

Other things to know about crypto

As of right now, cryptocurrency has its own trading platforms. Robinhood, a platform in the news recently when it halted trading of Gamestop’s stock when speculative traders got the price to soar to all new highs, being the most well known. Large investment firms are well on their way to creating their own platforms as cryptocurrency gains in popularity, so we certainly recommend speaking with your current investment advisors to find the platform that best suits your needs.

Cryptocurrency is held in a digital wallet, which can only be accessed by a password, or private keys. Digital wallets can be stored locally on a computer, but there are also web-based wallets.

There have been horror stories about people losing or forgetting passwords, ultimately rendering the cryptocurrency worthless because it cannot be accessed. Cryptocurrency, due to its private nature, is very desirable by hackers who could also potentially access the wallet and steal its contents. And if stored locally, the currency could be lost forever if the computer containing the wallet were to become corrupted or compromised.

Organizations holding cryptocurrency will need to ensure proper internal controls are in place to make sure the funds are secure and cannot be easily accessed or potentially stolen. Working with your internal IT department is a good strategy here. The questions above are not intended to be all inclusive. Cryptocurrency is still finding its way in the world and we’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments and keep clients up to date as cryptocurrency continues to expand its reach and as further guidance is issued.

If you have any questions, please contact me or another member of our not-for-profit tax services team. We're here to help.

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Cryptocurrency and the charitable contribution conundrum

Read this if you are a not-for-profit looking to learn more about tax filing deadlines.

State of New Hampshire: If your organization has a December 31 year-end, your annual report filing with the Charitable Trusts Unit and related payment are still due by May 15. If you are not ready to file, you may file Form NHCT-4 for an extension by May 15. If your organization has a June 30 year-end, you may email the State Attorney General to ask for additional time to July 15.

April 24, 2020, UPDATE: Commonwealth of Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has extended the Form PC filing requirement. All filing deadlines for annual charities filings for fiscal year 2019 have been extended by six months. This extension is in addition to the automatic six month extension that many not-for-profits receive. In addition, original signatures, photocopies of signatures, and e-signatures (e.g., DocuSign) will be accepted.

On April 9, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-23, its third round of tax filing relief guidance, which amplifies relief set forth in previously issued IRS notices providing relief to taxpayers affected by COVID-19. Notice 2020-23 also provides additional time to perform certain other actions. The Notice holds the special distinction of being the first to provide specific relief to not-for-profit organizations with return filing and tax payment obligations due between April 1 and July 15, 2020. The details are highlighted below:

Tax deadline extended to July 15, 2020
The Notice explicitly states that Form 990-T tax payment and filing obligations due during the period between April 1 and July 15 will be automatically extended to July 15, 2020. Additionally, Form 990-PF (and associated tax payments) as well as quarterly Federal estimated tax payments remitted via Form 990-W are also explicitly noted and are granted an extension to July 15.
    
While this is certainly good news, the more eagerly anticipated news is the Notice also includes “Affected Taxpayers” who are required to perform “Specified Time-Sensitive Actions” referenced in Revenue Procedure 2018-58. The Revenue Procedure specifically mentions exempt organizations as “Affected Taxpayers” required to perform “specified time-sensitive actions”—one such action being the filing of Form 990.

In summary (with the combined power of the Notice and Revenue Procedure), any entity with a Form 990, Form 990-EZ, Form 990-PF, Form 990-T, Form 990-W estimated tax filing requirement, Form 1120-POL or Form 4720 filing obligation due between April 1 and July 15, 2020 now have until July 15, 2020 to file. Needless to say this is very welcome news for an industry that like so many others, is being pushed to the brink during this turbulent and difficult time.

Additional extensions
Notice 2020-23 (with reference to Revenue Procedure 2018-58) also extends the due date of certain forms, notices, applications, and other exempt organization activities due between April 1 and July 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020 as noted below: 

  • Community health needs assessments (CHNAs) and Implementation Strategies
  • Application for Recognition of Exemption (Forms 1023 and 1024) 
  • Section 501(h) Elections and Revocations (Form 5768)
  • Information Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations (Form 5471)
  • Political Organization Notices and Reports (Forms 8871 and 8872)
  • Notification of Intent to Operate as a Section 501(c)(4) Organization (Form 8976) 

We are here to help
Please contact the BerryDunn not-for-profit tax team if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your specific situation.

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Not-for-profit May 15 tax deadline extended

Of all the changes that came with the sweeping Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in late 2017, none has prompted as big a response from our clients as the changes TCJA makes to the qualified parking deduction. Then, last month, the IRS issued its long-waited guidance on this code section in the form of Notice 2018-99

We've taken a look at both the the original provisions, and the new guidance, and have collected the salient points and things we think you need to consider this tax season. For not-for-profit organizations, visit my article here. And for-profit companies can read here.  

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IRS guidance on qualified parking: Our take

IRS Notice 2018-67 Hits the Charts
Last week, in addition to The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) album becoming the highest selling album of all time, overtaking Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the IRS issued Notice 2018-67its first formal guidance on Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(6), one of two major code sections added by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that directly impacts tax-exempt organizations. Will it too, be a big hit? It remains to be seen.

Section 512(a)(6) specifically deals with the reporting requirements for not-for-profit organizations carrying on multiple unrelated business income (UBI) activities. Here, we will summarize the notice and help you to gain an understanding of the IRS’s thoughts and anticipated approaches to implementing §512(a)(6).

While there have been some (not so quiet) grumblings from the not-for-profit sector about guidance on Code Section 512(a)(7) (aka the parking lot tax), unfortunately we still have not seen anything yet. With Notice 2018-67’s release last week, we’re optimistic that guidance may be on the way and will let you know as soon as we see anything from the IRS.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note last week’s notice is just that—a notice, not a Revenue Procedure or some other substantive legislation. While the notice can, and should be relied upon until we receive further guidance, everything in the notice is open to public comment and/or subject to change. With that, here are some highlights:

No More Netting
512(a)(6) requires the organization to calculate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI), including for purposes of determining any net operating loss (NOL) deduction, separately with respect to each such trade or business. The notice requires this separate reporting (or silo-ing) of activities in order to determine activities with net income from those with net losses.

Under the old rules, if an organization had two UBI activities in a given year, (e.g., one with $1,000 of net income and another with $1,000 net loss, you could simply net the two together on Form 990-T and report $0 UBTI for the year. That is no longer the case. From now on, you can effectively ignore activities with a current year loss, prompting the organization to report $1,000 as taxable UBI, and pay associated federal and state income taxes, while the activity with the $1,000 loss will get “hung-up” as an NOL specific to that activity and carried forward until said activity generates a net income.

Separate Trade or Business
So, how does one distinguish (or silo) a separate trade or business from another? The Treasury Department and IRS intend to propose some regulations in the near future, but for now recommend that organizations use a “reasonable good-faith interpretation”, which for now includes using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) in order to determine different UBI activities.

For those not familiar, the NAICS categorizes different lines of business with a six-digit code. For example, the NAICS code for renting* out a residential building or dwelling is 531110, while the code for operating a potato farm is 111211. While distinguishing residential rental activities from potato farming activities might be rather straight forward, the waters become muddier if an organization rents both a residential property and a nonresidential property (NAICS code 531120). Does this mean the organization has two separate UBI rental activities, or can both be grouped together as rental activities? The notice does not provide anything definitive, but rather is requesting public comments?we expect to see something more concrete once the public comment period is over.

*In the above example, we’re assuming the rental properties are debt-financed, prompting a portion of the rental activity to be treated as UBI.

UBI from Partnership Investments (Schedule K-1)
Notice 2018-67 does address how to categorize/group unrelated business income for organizations that receive more than one partnership K-1 with UBI reported. In short, if the Schedule K-1s the organization receives can meet either of the tests below, the organization may treat the partnership investments as a single activity/silo for UBI reporting purposes. The notice offers the following:

De Minimis Test
You can aggregate UBI from multiple K-1s together as long as the exempt organization holds directly no more than 2% of the profits interest and no more that 2% of the capital interest. These percentages can be found on the face of the Schedule K-1 from the Partnership and the notice states those percentages as shown can be used for this determination. Additionally, the notice allows organizations to use an average of beginning of year and end of year percentages for this determination.

Ex: If an organization receives a K-1 with UBI reported, and the beginning of year profit & capital percentages are 3%, and the end of year percentages are 1%, the average for the year is 2% (3% + 1% = 4%/2 = 2%). In this example, the K-1 meets the de minimis test.

There is a bit of a caveat here—when determining an exempt organization's partnership interest, the interest of a disqualified person (i.e. officers, directors, trustees, substantial contributors, and family members of any of those listed here), a supporting organization, or a controlled entity in the same partnership will be taken into account. Organizations need to review all K-1s received and inquire with the appropriate person(s) to determine if they meet the terms of the de minimis test.

Control Test
If an organization is not able to pass the de minimis test, you may instead use the control test. An organization meets the requirements of the control test if the exempt organization (i) directly holds no more than 20 percent of the capital interest; and (ii) does not have control or influence over the partnership.

When determining control or influence over the partnership, you need to apply all relevant facts and circumstances. The notice states:

“An exempt organization has control or influence if the exempt organization may require the partnership to perform, or may prevent the partnership from performing, any act that significantly affects the operations of the partnership. An exempt organization also has control or influence over a partnership if any of the exempt organization's officers, directors, trustees, or employees have rights to participate in the management of the partnership or conduct the partnership's business at any time, or if the exempt organization has the power to appoint or remove any of the partnership's officers, directors, trustees, or employees.”

As noted above, we recommend your organization review any K-1s you currently receive. It’s important to take a look at Line I1 and make sure your organization is listed here as “Exempt Organization”. All too often we see not-for-profit organizations listed as “Corporations”, which while usually technically correct, this designation is really for a for-profit corporation and could result in the organization not receiving the necessary information in order to determine what portion, if any, of income/loss is attributable to UBI.

Net Operating Losses
The notice also provides some guidance regarding the use of NOLs. The good news is that any pre-2018 NOLs are grandfathered under the old rules and can be used to offset total UBTI on Form 990-T.

Conversely, any NOLs generated post-2018 are going to be considered silo-specific, with the intent being that the NOL will only be applicable to the activity which gave rise to the loss. There is also a limitation on post-2018 NOLs, allowing you to use only 80% of the NOL for a given activity. Said another way, an activity that has net UBTI in a given year, even with post-2017 NOLs, will still potentially have an associated tax liability for the year.

Obviously, Notice 2018-67 provides a good baseline for general information, but the details will be forthcoming, and we will know then if they have a hit. Hopefully the IRS will not Take It To The Limit in terms of issuing formal guidance in regards to 512(a)(6) & (7). Until they receive further IRS guidance,  folks in the not-for-profit sector will not be able to Take It Easy or have any semblance of a Peaceful Easy Feeling. Stay tuned.

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Tax-exempt organizations: The wait is over, sort of

Read this if you are a plan sponsor of employee benefit plans.

Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

There is still time to claim the Employee Retention Credit, if eligible. The due date for filing Form 941-X to claim the credit is generally three years from the date of the originally filed Form 941. 

The ERC is a refundable payroll tax credit for wages paid and health coverage provided by an employer whose operations were either fully or partially suspended due to COVID-related governmental orders or that experienced a significant reduction in gross receipts. 

The amount of the credit can be substantial. For 2020, the credit is 50% of the first $10,000 of qualified wages per employee for the qualifying period beginning as early as March 12, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020 (thus the max credit per employee is $5,000 in 2020). For 2021, the credit is 70% of the first $10,000 of qualified wages per employee, per qualifying quarter (thus the potential max credit is $21,000 per employee in 2021). 

For 2021, employers with 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019 may include all wages and health plan expenses as qualified wages. For 2020, employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019 may include all wages and health plan expenses as qualified wages while employers with more than 100 full-time employees in 2019 may only claim the credit for qualified wages paid to employees who did not provide services. For purposes of determining full-time employees, an employer only needs to include those that work 30 hours a week or 130 hours a month in the calculation. Part-time employees working less than this would not be considered in the employee count.

There is additional interplay between claiming the ERC and the wages used for PPP loan forgiveness that will need to be considered. 

Student loan repayment programs

One of the benefits younger employees would like to receive from their employer is assistance with student loan repayments. A recent study indicated an employee would commit to working for an employer for at least five years if the employer assisted with student loan payments. Some employers have been providing such a benefit and, until 2020, any student loan payments made by the employer would have been considered taxable income. 

Beginning in 2020 and through 2025, at least for now, employers are permitted to provide tax-free student loan repayment benefits to employees. In order to receive tax-free payments, such a plan must be in writing and must be offered to a non-discriminatory group of employees. In addition, the tax-free benefit must be limited to $5,250 per calendar year. Now may be the time to consider offering student loan repayment benefits to help retain and attract employees.

Automatic enrollment for employee deferrals in 401(k)/403(b) plan

Most employers offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan to their employees. However, the federal government and several state governments are concerned that employees are either not saving enough for retirement and/or do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Some states are mandating the establishment of an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or mandatory participation in a state-sponsored multiple employer plan (MEP). Other states are mandating that employers who do not sponsor a 401(k) or 403(b) plan provide automatic employee payroll deductions into a state-sponsored Individual Retirement Account (IRA) type vehicle sponsored by the state. If you do not already sponsor a 401(k) or 403(b) plan you should confirm if your state has any requirements.

For those employers who do sponsor a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, you should consider implementing an automatic enrollment provision if you have not done so already. Automatic enrollment requires a certain percentage of an employee’s wages to be withheld and deposited into the 401(k) or 403(b) plan each pay period, unless the employee elects otherwise. While the current law does not require an employer to use automatic enrollment, there is pending legislation that would require an automatic enrollment provision in any new retirement plan. Even though existing plans would be grandfathered under the pending legislation, it may be worth implementing an automatic enrollment provision in the 401(k) or 403(b) plan to help and encourage employees to save for retirement. 

If you have questions about any of these or other employee benefit topics, please contact our Employee Benefits Audit team. We're here to help.

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Employee benefit plan updates: The Employee Retention Credit and student loan repayment programs

Read this if you want to understand the new lease accounting standard.

What is ASC 842?

ASC 842, Leases, is the new lease accounting standard issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). This new standard supersedes ASC 840. For entities that have not yet adopted the guidance from ASC 842, it is effective for non-public companies and private not-for-profit entities for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2021.

ASC 842 (sometimes referred to as Topic 842 or the new lease standard) contains guidance on the accounting and financial reporting for agreements meeting the standard’s definition of a lease. The goal of the new standard is to:

  • Streamline the accounting for leases under US GAAP and better align with International Accounting Standards lease standards 
  • Enhance transparency into liabilities resulting from leasing arrangements (particularly operating lease contracts)
  • Reduce off-balance-sheet activities

What is the definition of a lease under the new standard?

ASC 842 defines a lease as “A contract, or part of a contract, that conveys the right to control the use of identified property, plant, or equipment (an identified asset) for a period of time in exchange for consideration.” 

This definition outlines four primary characteristics to consider: 1) an identified asset, 2) the right to control the use of that asset, 3) a period of time, and 4) consideration.

(For a deeper dive into what constitutes a lease, you can download the BerryDunn lease accounting guide here.) 

How will this affect your organization?

  • Lease arrangements have to be classified as finance, operating, or short-term leases. In general accounting for the lease asset and liability is as follows:

    • For finance leases, use the effective interest method to amortize the liability, and amortize the asset on a straight-line basis over the lease term. Note that this has the effect of “front-loading” the expense into the early years of the lease.

    • For operating leases (e.g., equipment and some property leases), the lease asset and liability would be amortized to achieve a straight-line expense impact for each year of the lease term. ASC topic 842 establishes the right-of-use asset model, which shifts from the risk-and-reward approach to a control-based approach. 
  • Lessees will recognize a lease liability of the present value of the future minimum lease payments on the balance sheet and a corresponding right of use asset representing their right to use the leased asset over the lease term. 
  • The present value of the lease payments is required to be measured using the discount rate implicit in the lease if its readily determinable. More likely than not it will not be readily determinable, and you would use a discount rate that equals the lessee’s current borrowing rate (i.e., what it could borrow a comparable amount for, at a comparable term, using a comparable asset as collateral).
  • It will be critical to consider the effect of the new rules on your organization’s debt covenants. All things being equal, debt to equity ratios will increase as a result of adding lease liabilities to the balance sheet. Lenders and borrowers may need to consider whether to change required debt to equity ratios as they negotiate the terms of loan agreements.

Time to implement: What do you need to do next?

The starting place for implementation is ensuring you have a complete listing of all known lease contracts for real estate property, plant, and equipment. However, since leases can be in contracts that you would not expect to have leases, such as service contracts for storage space, long-term supply agreements, and delivery service contracts, you will also need to broaden your review to more than your organization’s current lease expense accounts. 


We recommend reviewing all expense accounts to look for recurring payments, because these often have the potential to have contracts that contain a lease. Once you have a list of recurring payments, review the contracts for these payments to identify leases. If the contract meets the elements of a lease—a contract, or part of a contract, that conveys the right to control the use of identified property, plant, or equipment (an identified asset) for a period of time in exchange for consideration—your organization has a lease that should be added to your listing.

Additionally, your organization is required to consider the materiality of leases for recognition of ASC 842. There are no explicit requirements (that, of course, would make things too easy!). One approach to developing a capitalization threshold for leases (e.g., the dollar amount that determines the proper financial reporting of the asset) is to use the lesser of the following: 

  • A capitalization threshold for PP&E, including ROU assets (i.e., the threshold takes into account the effect of leased assets determined in accordance with ASC 842) 
  • A recognition threshold for liabilities that considers the effect of lease liabilities determined in accordance with ASC 842

Under this approach, if a right-of-use asset is below the established capitalization threshold, it would immediately be recognized as an expense. 

It's important to keep in mind the overall disclosure objective of 842 "which is to enable users of financial statements to assess the amount, timing, and uncertainty of cash flows arising from leases". It's up to the organization to determine the level of details and emphasis needed on various disclosure requirements to satisfy the disclosure objective. With that objective in mind, significant judgment will be required to determine the level of disclosures necessary for an entity. However, simply put, the more extensive the organization's leasing activities, the more comprehensive the disclosures are expected to be. 

Don't wait, download our lease implementation organizer (Excel file) to get started today! 

Key takeaways and next steps:

  •  ASC 842 is effective for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2021
  • Establish policies and procedures for lease accounting, including a materiality threshold for assessing leases
  • Develop a system to capture data related to lease terms, estimated lease payments, and other components of lease agreements that could affect the liability and asset being reported
  • Evaluate if bond covenants or debt limits need to be modified due to implementation of this standard
  • Determine if there are below market leases/gifts-in-kind of leased assets

If you have questions about finance or operating leases, or need help with the new standard, BerryDunn has numerous resources available below and please don’t hesitate to contact the lease accounting team. We’re here to help. 

Lease accounting resources 

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ASC 842 lease accounting—get started today before it's too late

Read this if you are looking to improve retention at your organization. 

Does your organization have a well-thought-out, up-to-date, and effective onboarding program for new hires? If you don’t, it may be time to start. According to research from Brandon Hall Group, organizations with a strong onboarding process: improve retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. In addition, the report also noted that 93% of employers indicated a positive employee onboarding process was a key driver of retention.   

Why is onboarding a driver of retention? 

Research shows that an employee’s desire to stay with a company—or second guess their decision—starts minute one of their first day of employment. Employees who virtually or literally walk into an environment that has a detailed and supportive onboarding plan begin to feel a sense of belonging and dedication to the organization and are ready to make a difference.  

A successful onboarding strategy prioritizes employee engagement and supports the individual’s learning and development. Generally, an onboarding plan should be in alignment with the strategic planning efforts of the organization—and demonstrate a coordinated effort with a training and development committee to ensure relevance and accountability.  

A tactical approach to provide greater access and enhance training efforts is to create a knowledge management system where documentation, forms, and templates are readily available. In an era of information overload, highlighting and organizing the most relevant resources helps employees make timely and informed decisions. 

Organizations that prioritize the employee experience through onboarding and knowledge management empower and ultimately retain employees.  

Employers focused on retention and effective onboarding should also consider: 

  • Employee journey mapping
    Conduct a detailed review of the employee experience, from recruitment through offboarding, to identify barriers and processes that limit progress or cause challenges. 
  • Training and development assessment
    Determine education needs of current and new employees through formal and informal review, such as surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations. 
  • Strategic planning
    After reviewing current skill sets, compare them with your organization’s strategic plan and vision to identify gaps in knowledge and skills that will prevent you from achieving your goals.
  • Training and development committee
    Bring together a dedicated committee of employees, including an executive sponsor, to identify and deploy training content.  
  • Develop knowledge management system
    Compile and organize your most relevant and helpful resources, training, and templates in a way that is easy to find and access. Track visitation and usage overtime. 

BerryDunn’s team of consultants are happy to assist you with evaluating your process and provide recommendations for improvements to your employee onboarding.

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Effective onboarding to improve employee retention