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Planning for overhead rate changes: Considerations and strategies

12.02.20

Read this if you are an engineering or architecture firm working with government agencies reimbursing overhead established in an overhead rate schedule based on direct labor.

We are approaching the end of 2020 and we still don’t have final and authoritative guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget about how to treat the PPP loan forgiveness. Will the Federal Acquisition Regulation, Part 31.201-5, Credits, apply and drastically diminish overhead rates for 2020? Will any credit follow the timing of legal forgiveness? Will you be required to offset subsequent forgiveness against 2020 expenses? 

The lobbyists are hard at work fighting any offset. Will they gain legislative support or will a compromise be negotiated? In the face of so many unknowns, we encourage companies to plan for potential outcomes of this unique situation in order to avoid unwanted surprises in the years to come. What can be done now? Let’s first explore trends we’ve observed for A/E firms for this year:

  • Certain costs, such as travel, meals, seminars and overall office expenses, are lower in 2020 with many employees working from home. 
  • Employees are traveling less and are not participating in networking events; they are focusing more of their time on chargeable work. As a result, utilization rates are higher in 2020 compared to recent years. A 1% change in utilization generally results in an approximate 4% directional change in overhead rate. 

These lower spending, higher chargeability trends are pushing overhead rates down considerably for 2020 and, likely too, for 2021. Depending on the type and the length of projects contracted to include those overhead rates, resulting profitability will also be lower for a few more years when indirect costs increase to normal levels. Proper planning is extremely important in this situation. Here are some questions to ask when considering your options:

  • Are there opportunities to negotiate the project price or terms so project profitability is maintained? Can you negotiate higher labor rates or a fixed overhead rate? 
  • If there isn’t any room for negotiations on projects using actual audited overhead rates, should your company focus business development efforts on bidding on or seeking and forming strategic partnerships to pursue more non-governmental projects? 
  • If the company remains profitable and realizes savings in certain costs this year, can you find ways to spend and increase allowable indirect costs while simultaneously strengthening your company? Can you award higher employee bonuses to boost employee morale and help retain great talent? Or maybe now is the time to ramp up cybersecurity training to strengthen IT controls and employee awareness of how to prevent, detect, and respond to cyber threats or invest in cyber penetration testing. 

Targeted spending on allowable costs will help elevate your overhead rate and help position your company to emerge stronger post-pandemic. If you need any help modeling expected overhead rates or have questions about allowable overhead costs, please contact Estera or Linda. We're here to help. 

Related Professionals

Principals

  • Linda Roberts
    Principal
    Construction, Manufacturing, Real Estate
    T 207.541.2281

BerryDunn experts and consultants

Read this if you are an engineering or architecture firm working with government agencies reimbursing overhead established in an overhead rate schedule based on direct labor.

It seems everyone is both anxious to gain forgiveness of their PPP loans and worried about the ramifications of requesting and being granted forgiveness. There is so much you need to consider to understand the potential impact forgiveness may have on your future cash flow and revenues. Let’s focus, though, on your overhead rate.

Some things to consider:

  • PPP loan forgiveness may significantly reduce your overhead rate. As a result, future contracts and related revenues from federal, state, or local government agencies will be impacted. 

    Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 31.201-5 dictates that the applicable portion of any income, rebate, allowance, or other credit relating to any allowable cost and received by the contractor shall be credited to the government. If the credit will be used to reduce the indirect labor costs and rent, some of the largest costs of A/E firms, the overhead rate might be reduced by as much as 25% to 30%. 
  • Guidance on the timing of credit offset is still unclear.

    Do you offset 2020 expenses for forgiveness not settled until 2021 to better match cash flows and credit expenses relevant to forgiveness? Or reflect the forgiveness in the Schedule during the period forgiveness was formally received?
  • The IRS is currently communicating that the costs incurred to gain PPP loan forgiveness will not be deductible expenses, thus increasing 2020 taxable income.

    If your company is in a taxable position, federal income taxes will increase as a result and impact cash flows. And remember, federal income taxes are unallowable costs in overhead rate schedules under FAR Part 31.201-41.

Depending on the concentration of your contracts with federal agencies, the significance of overhead rate reimbursement on contract revenues and expectations for growth, it may actually be more beneficial to pay the loan back instead of asking for forgiveness.

The Department of Defense (DOD) weighs in:

Often the first agency to establish policy or make changes, the DOD has issued guidance in the form of answers to FAQs about CARES Act impacts on DOD pricing and contracting. Q23 specifically addresses the issue of PPP loan forgiveness. It states, “to the extent that PPP credits are allocable to costs allowable under contract, the Government should receive a credit or a reduction in billing for any PPP loans or loan payments that are forgiven.” You can read that and other CARES Act credit guidance here. Even if you don’t directly work with DoD, other federal agencies and state DOT’s generally adopt DoD’s guidance. 

What if we apply forgiveness credit against direct labor? 

You might wonder, why not just apply the credit against direct and indirect labor in proportion to the actual payroll paid during the PPP loan covered period? If this was possible, the overhead rate might actually increase. Unfortunately, billing the government for direct labor costs offset on the overhead rate schedule with the credit of PPP loan forgiveness would violate FAR Part 31 cost principles. Since you can’t bill for credited costs, revenues for contracts with government agencies would be further reduced. 

We advise a wait and see approach.

The best action plan to do right now is to wait for better and clearer guidance. Industry associations such as ACEC are advocating for more favorable PPP loan forgiveness treatment. Furthermore, there are still quite a few unanswered questions by the SBA. 

If you have any questions related to your overhead rate and the impact of PPP loan forgiveness on your revenue from contracts with government agencies, please contact us. We’re here to help. 


 

Article
PPP loan forgiveness will likely impact your overhead rate!

We have talked about the two recent GAAP updates for years now: 1) changes to the lease accounting and 2) changes to revenue recognition standards. We have speculated what the outcomes are going to be and how they will affect the financial statements, requirements for certain ratio calculations and the like, and finally we have some answers! Both standards were finalized and published, and will be in effect in 2019 and 2020. The new rules for both require more than a couple of hours of reading and can be very confusing.

Two questions we have heard recently: Are the changes intertwined? And do we now need to consider the new revenue recognition standard when we implement the new lease accounting? The answer is a resounding NO!

The new GAAP for revenue recognition is very clear about this: it specifically carves out lease contracts. As a matter of fact, accounting applied by lessors will not change significantly when the new lease rules come into effect. If you are a lessor, you will continue to classify the majority of operating leases as operating leases, and will recognize lease income for those leases on a straight-line basis over the term of the lease. However, if you find the new rules confusing, your BerryDunn team is standing by to help you get the answers you need.

Article
New lease and revenue recognition rules: Mutually exclusive

The good news? When it comes to revenue recognition, tax law isn’t changing. The bad news? Thanks to new revenue recognition rules, book to tax differences are changing. And because tax prep generally starts with book income, this means that the construction industry, among others, will need to start changing their thinking about tax liability, too.

The goal of the new rules is to establish standards for reporting useful information in financial statements about the nature, amount, timing, and uncertainty of revenue from long-term contracts with customers. The standards aim to clarify the principles for recognizing revenue. You can apply standards consistently across various transactions, industries, and capital markets — in order to improve financial reporting by creating common guidance for U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The core principle is that you should recognize revenue in an amount and at a time that aligns with expectations for the actual amount to be earned when it is actually earned (i.e., when the goods or services are delivered). That’s different from what we do today. Here are some areas affected by the changes:

Uninstalled materials

Under current GAAP, the costs of uninstalled materials, if constructed specifically for the job, are included in the job cost. Under the new GAAP, contractors will recognize the revenue only to the extent of the cost or will capitalize them as inventory—you will recognize profits later. For tax purposes, uninstalled materials are still included in the job cost. You will have to recognize profits for tax purposes sooner than for book purposes.

Multiple performance obligations

Under the new GAAP, you may have to segregate one contract into two or more performance obligations — those revenues are recognized separately. For tax purposes, it is very difficult to segregate a contract (it requires a tax commissioner’s prior written consent) so a contractor might have to show one contract for tax purposes and two or three contracts for book purposes. For example, if you have a contract for a design build project and generally bid separately for the design phase and construction phase of this type of project, you might have to separate this contract into two performance obligations. For tax purposes, you will continue to treat this project as a single contract. These contracts most likely will have different profit margins and you will have to recognize revenue at a different pace.

 Variable consideration

Under current GAAP, contractors can’t recognize revenue on bonus payments until they are realized, usually at the end of the project. Under the new GAAP, contractors need to gauge the probability of the bonus payments’ being received and may have to include some or all of the bonus payments in the contract price — you will have to recognize revenue sooner. For tax purposes, variable considerations are included in the contract price when contractors can reasonably expect to collect them. The general practice is that tax follows what you record for books for the total contract price. Does this mean that you have to recognize revenue for tax purposes sooner, too? Or will it create a book to tax difference, subject to judgement? The IRS may be issuing some guidance on these issues.

Deferred taxes

With changes in book to tax differences due to changes in timing of when you recognize profits, there will also be a change in deferred taxes.

After implementing the new GAAP, you will need to segregate items like variable consideration and uninstalled materials. Even if your tax method doesn’t change, will you need to maintain and provide the information needed for tax return purposes? More companies might ask the IRS for permission to make accounting method changes for federal income tax purposes. The IRS may consider allowing an automatic method change in order to help companies conform more easily to the new standards. The IRS will also provide guidance on how the new revenue recognition rules affect tax reporting.  

Accounting for GAAP purposes isn’t the same thing as accounting for tax purposes. But when it comes to the new revenue recognition rules, things can get complicated. To learn more about accounting method changes you might need to make, get in touch with your BerryDunn team today and see how the rules may affect your company.

Article
The new revenue recognition rules: Contractors, are you ready for tax Implications?

Read is you use QuickBooks Online.

Your customers are your company’s lifeblood. Make sure their records are thorough and up-to-date.

When companies buy other companies, the customer list is often considered the most critical asset. When a business is damaged and data possibly lost, the customer list is the set of records do they most hope to recover.

You probably spend most of your time in QuickBooks Online working with transactions and reports, but your customer records deserve equal time. If they’re incomplete or otherwise not well maintained, you lose time filling in the blanks when you’re trying to complete a task that requires complete customer profiles. Your searches and reports may not tell the whole picture. Your relationships can suffer, and you may miss out on sales opportunities.

QuickBooks Online provides excellent tools for creating and maintaining comprehensive customer and sub-customer records. Here’s a look at how it all works.

Moving your customer data in

There are two ways to create customer records in QuickBooks Online. If you have an existing database in Outlook, Excel, Gmail, or Google Sheets, you can import it. This will save you an enormous amount of time, but it’s a challenging process. You select the file you want to import, and then you have to “map” it by matching the fields in your database to fields in QuickBooks Online. You’ll likely need our help with this.


To import a customer file into QuickBooks Online, you’ll have to “map” its fields. We can help you with this.

Your other option is to enter records manually. This is time-consuming, but the more information you can include about your customers from the start, the better. You can always edit your records to add, delete, or modify what you originally entered.

To get started, hover over Sales in the toolbar and click on Customers. Then click on New Customer in the upper right corner to open the Customer information window. The only field you’re required to complete is Display name as. You may want to do this if you have a new customer on the phone and you want to concentrate on the conversation. You can take notes about their contact information and fill in the record later, when you’re off the phone.

But wherever possible, as we’ve already said, complete as many fields as you can. You’ll enter name and billing and shipping address and phone number(s) on the opening screen. You can also supply contact details like fax number and website. 

Creating sub-customers

You’ll notice a checkbox that says Is sub-customer. QuickBooks Online lets you “nest” related records under the “parent” record. This can be an actual customer, but many people use it to document jobs they’re doing for the customer. So if you’re a contractor, for example, you might have sub-customers like Sun deck and Spa

If you want to set up such a record, enter the job name and click in the box next to Is sub-customer. Two fields will open below that allow you to select the parent customer and to indicate the sub-customer’s billing status. The remainder of the fields will automatically fill in with the parent customer’s contact information.


You can set up jobs as sub-customers in QuickBooks Online. 

Supplying details

When you’re setting up individual customers, you should add as much detail as you possibly can to each record, beyond basic contact information. QuickBooks Online’s record templates display a number of tabs running horizontally across the window. The most important of these are:

  • Tax info. Are the customers taxable or exempt? If taxable, what is his or her Default tax code? (If you haven’t set up sales taxes yet and need to, please let us help. It’s complicated.)
  • Payment and billing. Do they have preferred payment and/or delivery methods? Will you be assigning default payment terms, like Net 30 or Due on receipt? What is their Opening balance? If they’re brand-new customers who have never ordered from you, this will be $0.00. If they’re existing, active customers, enter any outstanding balance they have with you as of the date that you enter. This must be correct, to avoid any problems with the customers’ ongoing balances. Questions? Ask us.

Other tabs here are self-explanatory. When you’ve entered everything you can, click Save. The new record will now appear in the Customers list and will be available to select from the drop-down list in transactions.

There will be times when you have to refer back to these forms to answer questions. By maintaining detailed, accurate customer records, you’ll be ready to respond. If you have questions about any of the information requested, or about other elements of QuickBooks Online that are puzzling you, please contact our Outsourced Accounting team. so we can set up a consultation.

Article
How to maintain customer records in QuickBooks Online

Read this if you are at a financial institution.

Feeling stuck, or maybe even frozen, in your CECL readiness efforts? No matter where you are in the process, here are three things you can do right now to ensure your CECL implementation is on track:

  1. Create or re-visit your 2022 timeline
    With just under 12 months to the January 2023 CECL adoption date, it’s important to make every moment count. Consider CECL adoption your Olympic moment and, like every great Olympic athlete, you have interim events—a timeline of major milestones—to ensure you are ready for “Day 1” and beyond. One strategy to ensure you do not “run out of time” is to start at the end of your timeline and work backward.

    Tip: Whether it be 1/1/2023 (“Day 1” adoption), or the first date by which you want to start parallel runs, fix the date of that final must-hit milestone, and work backward. For example, in order to adopt CECL on 1/1/2023, what major milestone has to be achieved before then and how much time will you need for that? Setting milestones from the final date backward will help you fit the remaining major activities into the time you have left—you can’t “run out of time” this way!



     
  2. Assess where you are, tactically, and fill in the gaps
    What would an Olympic athlete be without a training schedule, and coaches, trainers, and other professionals to guide and push them? In order to make the most of each event (or milestone) in the countdown to CECL adoption, let’s fill in our training schedule. What key decisions still need to be made or documented? Who has the authority to approve them? What’s the right time and venue to obtain that approval? Will these be one-to-one, small group, or committee/board meetings? Will meetings be set up as-needed, or is the meeting schedule (e.g. quarterly executive/board) already set? Who are you engaging for model validation and key control review? What is the date of that review work? 

    Tip: Add those key approval, review, and validation dates to your timeline, and make sure the meeting time you need with decision-makers is booked in their calendars now. Scheduling this time in advance is a transparent and tangible sign that you’ve charted the course, helps ensure decision-makers are available to you when needed most, and incremental progress is being consistently made toward your ultimate goal. 
  3. Identify the top three tasks to complete this week, reserve the time in your calendar, and complete them!
    Like any athlete, you are now “in training”, and daily and weekly actions you take will ensure you reach your goal in as strong a position possible. Whether it’s scheduling those meetings, identifying subject matter experts you can rely upon for coaching, or putting the finishing touches on model documentation and internal control mapping, booking that time with yourself to complete these tasks is key to feeling prepared and ready for CECL adoption. 

    Tip: Set aside a few minutes at the end or start of each week to review your timeline/milestones and identify the next key actions to complete.

Would you like assistance with certain aspects of your CECL readiness efforts? Are you ready for some validation/review work, or need guidance on policy, governance, or internal/financial reporting controls?

Contact our Financial Institutions team. We'll help you get your CECL implementation over the finish line. 


 

Article
CECL implementation: Three steps for a medal-winning adoption 

Read this if you use QuickBooks Online.

Are you finding that you need more flexibility in an area of QuickBooks Online? Maybe it’s time to try an integrated app.

When you first started using QuickBooks Online, you probably found it supplied the tools you needed to manage your accounting—and then some. But as your business grows or becomes more complex, you may need more functionality and flexibility in one or more areas, like time tracking and billing.

There are hundreds of add-on applications that integrate well with QuickBooks Online in the QuickBooks Apps store, which you can find here. Many of these apps are free, but most have subscription fees. They’re designed to amplify the power of QuickBooks Online’s own features. The site will remain your home base, but you’ll have to learn enough about the add-on apps to understand how they work and how they integrate with QuickBooks Online. Here are some of the most popular add-on solutions from the QuickBooks Apps site.

Expensify

QuickBooks Online allows you to record expenses. Its thorough form templates ask you for numerous details, like the vendor, product or service, amount, and billable status. Completed expenses appear in a table. You can run any of several related reports, like Expenses by Vendor Summary. If you use the QuickBooks Online mobile app, you can snap photos of receipts that are turned into expense forms by QuickBooks Online and partially completed with the receipt data.

Using the QuickBooks Online mobile app, you can snap photos of receipts and complete the expense forms provided.

But Expensify ($5-9 per month for one user) does more. It’s a robust expense management system that handles everything from receipt processing to next-day reimbursement. Where QuickBooks Online only supports basic expense tracking, Expensify allows you to create expense reports and follow them through multi-level approvals. It features automatic credit card reconciliation and expense policy enforcement, as well as bill pay and invoices/payments. Two-way synchronization with QuickBooks Online means you can work in either application and your data will be replicated in the other, as is the case with all of these integrated solutions.

QuickBooks Time

Formerly known as TSheets, this powerful time-tracking application builds on QuickBooks Online’s time management and payroll features. QuickBooks Time ($8-10 per user per month plus $20-40 monthly base fee) is now owned by Intuit, so it’s embedded directly in QuickBooks Online. 

Your employees can track their hours on any device, from any location, and they will instantly be available in QuickBooks Online so managers can review, edit, and approve timesheets. That data can then be used in areas like invoicing, job costing, and payroll. Advanced features include scheduling capabilities, overtime monitoring, GPS tracking, and real-time reports. The Who’s Working window shows you where your staff members are working and what they’re doing, in real time. 

Method:CRM

QuickBooks Online does a good job of helping you create profiles of customers and storing them for quick retrieval. But some businesses need more than that. They need true Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Method:CRM ($28-49 per month per user; discounts for annual subscriptions) is an excellent partner for QuickBooks Online in this area.

You can record and store customer details in QuickBooks Online, but Method:CRM adds true Customer Relationship management to the site.

When you integrate Method:CRM with QuickBooks Online, you no longer have to do duplicate data entry to keep track of your customers and their sales profiles and histories. You get a shared lead list and activity tracking (emails and phone calls), and your customer records contain the information a sales team needs, like customer details, interaction, transactions, and services performed. Leads are stored in Method:CRM until they’re customers, and you can track sales opportunities from a customer’s initial interest through the final sale. 

Two more advanced integrated apps

QuickBooks Online provides basic inventory-tracking capabilities, but if your business has more complex needs, an integrated application like SOS Inventory ($49.95-149.95 per user per month) should be able to meet them. Built for QuickBooks Online from the ground up, the application offers advanced features like sales orders and order management, assemblies, serial inventory, and multiple locations. And if you need more sophisticated bill pay, invoicing, and payment processing (with multiple automated approval levels) than QuickBooks Online offers, you might look into the highly-regarded Bill.com ($39-69 per user per month).

Growth Is good, but challenging

We wanted to introduce you to a few of the hundreds of integrated apps available for QuickBooks Online because you should know that there are options for expanding on the site’s built-in capabilities. As your business grows, so does your need for more sophisticated accounting. QuickBooks Online may still be able to serve you well with the help of one or more of these add-ons.

You may also want to explore the possibility of upgrading your version of QuickBooks Online. We encourage you to consult with us if you’re outgrowing QuickBooks Online. We can help you explore the options so you can spend your time planning for your company’s future instead of wrestling with your accounting application. Please contact our Outsourced Accounting team

Article
Expand QuickBooks Online's features: Use integrated apps

Read this if you are an employee benefit plan fiduciary.

Fiduciary risk management

This is the final article in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with ERISA requirements. You can find the full series here.

If, as part of your involvement with an employee benefit plan, you have decision-making ability; you advise those with decision-making ability; or someone tasks you with decision-making related to the plan, you are more likely than not, a fiduciary. As discussed in the first article of the series, this status comes with responsibilities and, therefore, risks and consequences.

The general approach to handling risk is a cycle of identifying, assessing, controlling, and reviewing controls over risks. Based on the assessment of a given risk, there are four ways to manage it: you can avoid, reduce, transfer, or accept the risk. 

Identifying and assessing fiduciary risk1 

The risks facing a plan fiduciary include, but are not limited to, the following:

Removal of fiduciary

In appropriate cases, a fiduciary may be removed and permanently prohibited from acting as a fiduciary or from providing services to ERISA plans.

Civil penalties

Among other penalties, the DOL may assess a civil penalty equal to 20% of the amounts recovered for the plan through litigation or settlement.

Criminal prosecution

Upon a conviction for a willful violation of ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements, a fiduciary may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment for not more than ten years. There is also a provision in ERISA that applies to any person, not just ERISA fiduciaries, that makes coercive interference with ERISA rights a criminal offense punishable by fines and/or imprisonment for up to ten years. In addition, outside of ERISA, there are a number of criminal statutes that apply to any person, not just ERISA fiduciaries, including criminal statutes for embezzling from an ERISA plan, making false statements in ERISA documents, and taking illegal kickbacks in connection with an ERISA plan.

Participant lawsuits

Additionally, plan participants may file a lawsuit against the fiduciary for breach of their fiduciary duty. Over the past few years, this has become more common and has generally been related to the fiduciary’s failure to adequately negotiate and monitor plan fees. 

Co-fiduciary liability

ERISA's unique co-fiduciary liability provisions make each fiduciary responsible for the actions of the other plan fiduciaries but only under certain circumstances. As a general rule, fiduciaries aren’t responsible for the breach of another fiduciary unless:

  • They participate knowingly in, or knowingly undertake to conceal, an act or omission of such other fiduciary, knowing such act or omission is a breach;
  • Their failure to be prudent in the administration of their own fiduciary responsibilities enables the other fiduciary to commit a breach; or
  • They have knowledge of a breach by such other fiduciary and don’t make reasonable efforts under the circumstances to remedy the breach.

Controlling fiduciary risk

There are several ways to effectively manage fiduciary risk. When used together, they give you solid controls to greatly reduce your level of risk.

Plan documentation

A fiduciary and/or plan sponsor should reduce their exposure to the risks identified above and their first line of defense is through plan documentation (discussed in depth here). Broadly speaking, the organizers and fiduciaries of the plan should ensure that policies and procedures are laid out to ensure proper oversight and internal controls are in place to prevent any voluntary or involuntary noncompliance with ERISA and the DOL.

Oversight

Fiduciaries should meet formally on a regular basis to review the plan’s offerings, service providers, fees, and other issues that may affect the plan. A single individual who is the sole fiduciary for a plan may not have the knowledge or bandwidth to appropriately fulfill the responsibilities of the plan. Additionally, having an auditor come in and audit the plan can help identify some of the risks identified above, although an audit of the plan does not reduce your responsibility to monitor and review the plan’s activity on an ongoing basis.

Third Party Administrators (TPA) & recordkeepers

Fiduciaries may also be able to mitigate some of the risks identified above through use of a TPA and/or recordkeeper. While TPAs and recordkeepers are not generally considered fiduciaries or co-fiduciaries, TPAs have varying service offerings, including recordkeeping, that are powerful tools to plan administrators to review and operate the plan. For example, depending on the plan sponsor’s existing payroll and HR structure, inclusive of TPAs and recordkeepers, fiduciaries may be able to automate the transfer of contributions to ensure timeliness of deposits. The plan may also be able to add another layer of internal controls by incorporating the TPA’s or recordkeeper’s internal controls into the plan’s control environment assuming the fiduciary has gained an understanding and comfort around the controls present at the TPA and/or recordkeeper.

Professional investment advisors and co-fiduciaries

Employee benefit plans must meet certain requirements with regard to their investment offerings. For instance, the plan must allow participants to invest in a diversified portfolio. The plan may try to transfer some of these risks and employ the help of a professional investment advisor to help ensure the plan’s investment offerings meet such criteria. This could involve hiring either an ERISA 3(21) fiduciary or an ERISA 3(38) fiduciary. The former serves as an advisor and a co-fiduciary, but does not have any authority by themselves, while the latter is an investment manager and therefore authorized to select investments for the plan. Doing so may help demonstrate to regulators that a fiduciary has fulfilled their duty in this regard. Alternatively, a plan may hire a 3(16) Fiduciary. 3(16) Fiduciaries are individuals or organizations that are charged with running plans as the plan administrator. A company may be able to shift most of their fiduciary risk to such a fiduciary. 

In any case, the plan fiduciary must continue to monitor a 3(16), 3(21) or 3(38) advisor to make sure it is still prudent to use that advisor.

Bonding and fiduciary liability insurance

Bonding is required for most EB plans and does not protect the fiduciary from any risk. It does however protect the plan from fraud or dishonesty. On the other hand, fiduciary liability insurance can protect the fiduciary in the case of breach of fiduciary duty. This type of insurance is not required but is another option to transfer fiduciary risk.

As mentioned in our second article, much like owning a car, regular preventative maintenance can help you avoid the need for costly repairs. Plan fiduciaries should periodically refresh their understanding of ERISA requirements and re-evaluate their current and future business activities on an ongoing basis. Doing so will help mitigate any risks associated with non-compliance with the DOL and IRS and keep the plan running smoothly. 

Need help navigating the fiduciary road? Reach out to the BerryDunn employee benefit consulting team today.

1From Fidelity’s Plan Sponsor Webstation: Consequences of breach of fiduciary duties 

Article
Fiduciary risk: Five ways to control and reduce it

Read this if you are an employer that gives employee gifts.

The holiday season is officially in full swing! Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, many employers are looking for ways to recognize the dedication and hard work of their employees. This gratitude often comes in the form of a holiday gift of some fashion. While this generosity is well-intended, gifts to employees can be fraught with potential tax consequences organizations should be aware of. This article will attempt to demystify the rules surrounding employee gifts to ensure organizations and their employees have a joyous holiday season.

Holiday gifts: Taxable or not?

So, are holiday gifts to employees taxable? The answer, as is so often the case with tax questions, is it depends. The IRS is very clear that cash and cash equivalents (specifically including gift cards) are always included as taxable income when they are provided by the employer, regardless of amount, with no exceptions. This means that if you plan to give your employees cash or a gift card this year, the value must be included in the employees’ wages and is subject to all payroll taxes. Bah humbug indeed!

Nontaxable gift options

There are however, a few ways to make nontaxable gifts to employees. In each instance the gift must be noncash (nor convertible to cash). IRS Publication 15 offers a variety of examples of de minimis (minimal) benefits, defined as any property or service you provide to an employee that has a minimal value, making the accounting for it unreasonable and administratively impracticable. Examples include holiday or birthday gifts with a low market value (a card and flowers, fruit baskets, a box of chocolates, etc.), or occasional tickets for theater or sporting events, among others. Again, cash and cash equivalents never qualify. The key is that the gift must be occasional or unusual in its frequency and must not be a form of disguised compensation. While de minimis benefits can be a gray area, the IRS has generally deemed items with a value exceeding $100 as too large to qualify as de minimis.

Holiday gifts can also be nontaxable if they are in the form of a gift coupon, if given for a specific item (with no redeemable cash value). A common example would be issuing a coupon to your employee for a free ham or turkey redeemable at the local grocery store. Nontaxable employee gifts can also come in the form of achievement awards, either for length of service or for safety achievements. The proverbial gold watch upon retirement is a classic example of such a gift. Here too, the award must always be tangible personal property—never cash or a cash equivalent. There are additional rules and value thresholds on any such gift. Please contact a member of your tax team to discuss these specific details further.

Whether employers are considering supplying gift cards, turkeys, or something in between, we hope all find this guidance helpful and still in the giving spirit! Coincidentally, at the end of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer himself gives Bob Cratchit a turkey on Christmas day. Of course Mr. Scrooge would be aware of the potential tax consequences! We wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season!

Not-for-profit resources

If you are a not-for-profit organization receiving charitable gifts, read Donor Acknowledgements: We have to file what?

Article
What employers need to know before making gifts to employees