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What's in a name? A lot, if you manage a benefit plan.

01.18.21

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

On Labor Day, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, commonly known as ERISA, into law. Prior to ERISA, employee pensions had scant protections under the law, a problem made clear when the Studebaker automobile company closed its South Bend, Indiana production plant in 1963. Upon the plant’s closing, some 4,000 employees—whose average age was 52 and average length of service with the company was 23 years—received approximately 15 cents for each dollar of benefit they were owed. Nearly 3,000 additional employees, all of whom had less than 10 years of service with the company, received nothing.

A decade later, ERISA established statutory requirements to preserve and protect the rights of employees to their pensions upon retirement. Among other things, ERISA defines what a plan fiduciary is and sets standards for their conduct.

Who is—and who isn’t—a plan fiduciary?
ERISA defines a fiduciary as a person who:

  1. Exercises discretionary authority or control over the management of an employee benefit plan or the disposition of its assets,
  2. Gives investment advice about plan funds or property for a fee or compensation or has the authority to do so,
  3. Has discretionary authority or responsibility in plan administration, or
  4. Is designated by a named fiduciary to carry out fiduciary responsibility. (ERISA requires the naming of one or more fiduciaries to be responsible for managing the plan's administration, usually a plan administrator or administrative committee, though the plan administrator may engage others to perform some administrative duties).

If you’re still unsure about exactly who is and isn’t a plan fiduciary, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Disagreements over whether or not a person acting in a certain capacity and in a specific situation is a fiduciary have sometimes required legal proceedings to resolve them. Here are some real-world examples.

Employers who maintain employee benefit plans are typically considered fiduciaries by virtue of being named fiduciaries or by acting as a functional fiduciary. Accordingly, employer decisions on how to execute the intent of the plan are subject to ERISA’s fiduciary standards.

Similarly, based on case law, lawyers and consultants who effectually manage an employee benefit plan are also generally considered fiduciaries.

A person or company that performs purely administrative duties within the framework, rules, and procedures established by others is not a fiduciary. Examples of such duties include collecting contributions, maintaining participants' service and employment records, calculating benefits, processing claims, and preparing government reports and employee communications.

What are a fiduciary’s responsibilities?
ERISA requires fiduciaries to discharge their duties solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries, and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits for them and defraying reasonable plan administrative expenses. Specifically, fiduciaries must perform their duties as follows:

  1. With the care, skill, prudence, and diligence of a prudent person under the circumstances;
  2. In accordance with plan documents and instruments, insofar as they are consistent with the provisions of ERISA; and
  3. By diversifying plan investments so as to minimize risk of loss under the circumstances, unless it is clearly prudent not to do so.

A fiduciary is personally liable to the plan for losses resulting from a breach of their fiduciary responsibility, and must restore to the plan any profits realized on misuse of plan assets. Not only is a fiduciary liable for their own breaches, but also if they have knowledge of another fiduciary's breach and either conceals it or does not make reasonable efforts to remedy it.

ERISA provides for a mandatory civil penalty against a fiduciary who breaches a fiduciary responsibility under ERISA or commits a violation, or against any other person who knowingly participates in such breach or violation. That penalty is equal to 20 percent of the "applicable recovery amount" paid pursuant to any settlement agreement with ERISA or ordered by a court to be paid in a judicial proceeding instituted by ERISA.

ERISA also permits a civil action to be brought by a participant, beneficiary, or other fiduciary against a fiduciary for a breach of duty. ERISA allows participants to bring suit to recover losses from fiduciary breaches that impair the value of the plan assets held in their individual accounts, even if the financial solvency of the entire plan is not threatened by the alleged fiduciary breach. Courts may require other appropriate relief, including removal of the fiduciary.

Over the coming months, we’ll share a series of blogs for employee benefit plan fiduciaries, covering everything from common terminology to best practices for plan documentation, suggestions for navigating fiduciary risks, and more.

Related Services

Consulting

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

This article is the ninth in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. You can read the previous articles here

Employee benefit plan loan basics 

If your plan’s adoption agreement is set up to allow loans, participants can borrow against their account balance. Some participants may find this an attractive option as the interest they pay on the loan is returned to their retirement account as opposed to other loans where the interest is paid to the lender. 

Additionally, while interest is charged at the market rate, it may be lower than other options available to the participant, such as a credit card or other unsecured debt. Unlike hardship distributions, there are no restrictions on the circumstances under which a participant may take a loan. A potential downside is that if the borrower defaults on the loan or ends their employment and cannot repay the loan in full, it converts from a loan to a deemed distribution, potentially incurring taxes and penalties.

If a participant decides that an employee benefit plan loan is their best option, they will apply for the loan through your plan administrator. Loans are limited in both size and quantity. Participants may take loans up to 50% of their vested account balance with a maximum loan of $50,000. The provisions of a plan determine how many loans an employee may have at once; however, the combined loan balances cannot exceed 50% of the employee’s vested balance or $50,000. Furthermore, the $50,000 loan maximum must also consider payments made on loans within the previous 12 months.

Repayment of employee benefit plan loans

Repayment of employee benefit plan loans may be done through after tax payroll contributions, making it a relatively easy process for the participant. If a plan sponsor elects to provide this repayment option, they must ensure that repayments are remitted to the plan in a timely manner, just as they must with other employee funded contributions. The term of the loan is typically limited to five years and must be repaid in at least quarterly installments. However, a loan can be extended to as long as thirty years if specified within the plan’s loan policy. If the loan term is for longer than five years, the loan proceeds must be used to purchase a primary residence.

Like any source of debt, there are pros and cons to taking out an employee benefit plan loan, and it remains an important option for participants to understand. The benefits include the ease of applying for such a loan and loan interest that is then added to the participant’s retirement account balance. Potential pitfalls include lost earnings during the loan period and the risk of the loan becoming a deemed distribution if the participant is unable to repay within the allotted time. 

If you would like more information, or have specific questions about your specific situation, please contact our Employee Benefits Audit team.

Article
Retirement plan loans: A brief review

Editor's note: Read this if you are a leader in higher education.

The Department of Education has released guidance to colleges and universities on how the CARES Act grants to institutions, under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), may be used. The guidance comes in the form of answers to frequently asked questions, which we recommend institutions read before accepting the funds. Some key answers included in the document:

  1. A school has to participate in the HEERF funding to be used for grants to students to get the institutional share.
  2. Schools can use these funds to cover the costs of refunds for room and board provided as a result of campus closure.
  3. These funds can be used to make additional emergency financial aid grants to students impacted by campus closure.

We urge schools to retain supporting documentation of the proper use of these funds to allow for a compliance audit, should that be required. 

Questions?
Please contact Renee Bishop, Sarah Belliveau, or Mark LaPrade. We’re here to help.

Article
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF): Guidelines

BerryDunn’s Healthcare/Not-for-Profit Practice Group members have been working closely with our clients as they navigate the effect the COVID-19 pandemic will have on their ability to sustain and advance their missions.

We have collected several of the questions we received, and the answers provided, so that you may also benefit from this information. We will be updating our COVID-19 Resources page regularly. If you have a question you would like to have answered, please contact Sarah Belliveau, Not-for-Profit Practice Area leader, at sbelliveau@berrydunn.com.

The following questions and answers have been compiled into categories: stabilization, cash flow, financial reporting, endowments and investments, employee benefits, and additional considerations.

STABILIZATION
Q: Is all relief focused on small to mid-size organizations? What can larger nonprofit organizations participate in for relief?
A:

We have learned that there is an as-yet-to-be-defined loan program for mid-sized employers between 500-10,000 employees. You can find information in the Loans Available for Nonprofits section (link below) of  the CARES Act as well as on the Independent Sector CARES Act web page, which will be updated regularly.

Q: Should I perform financial modeling so I can understand the impact this will have on my organization? Things are moving so fast, how do I know what federal programs are available to provide assistance?
A:

The first step in developing a short-term model to navigate the next few months is to gain an understanding of the programs available to provide assistance. These resources summarize some information about available programs:

Loans Available for Nonprofits in the CARES Act
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): FAQs for Businesses
CARES Act Tax Provisions for Not-for-Profit Organizations

The next step is to develop scenarios ranging from best case to worst case to analyze the potential impact of revenue and/or cost reductions on the organization. Modeling the various options available to you will help to determine which program is best for your organization. Each program achieves a different objective – for instance:

  • The Paycheck Protection Program can assist in retaining employees in the short term.
  • The Emergency Economic Injury Grants are helpful in covering a small immediate liquidity need.
  • The Small Business Debt Relief Program provides aid to those concerned with making SBA loan payments.

Additionally, consider non-federal options, such as discussing short-term deferrals with your current bank.

Q: How should I create a financial forecast/model for the next year?
A:

If you have the benefit of waiting, this is likely a time period in which it makes sense to delay significant in-depth forecasting efforts, particularly if your business environment is complicated or subject to significantly volatility as a result of recent events. The concern with beginning to model for future periods, outside of the next three-to-six months, is that you’ll be using information that is incomplete and ever-changing. This could lead to snap judgments that are short-term in nature and detrimental to long-term planning and success of your organization. 

With that said, we recognize that delaying this analysis will be unsettling to many CFOs and business managers who need to have a strategy moving forward. In developing this model for next year, consider the following elements of a strong model:

  1. Flexible and dynamic – Allow room for the model to adapt as more information is available and as additional insight is requested by your constituents (board members, department heads, lenders, etc.).
  2. Prioritize – Start with your big-ticket items. These should be the items that drive results for the organization. Determine what your top two to three revenue and expense categories are and focus on wrapping your arms around the future of those. From there, look for other revenue and expense sources that show correlation with one of the big two to three. Using a dynamic model, these should be automatically updated when assumptions on correlated items change. Don’t waste time on items that likely don’t impact decision making. Finally, build consensus on baseline assumptions, whether it be through management or accounting team, the board, or finance committee.
  3. Stress-test – Provide for the reality that your assumptions, and thus model, will be wrong. Develop scenarios that run from best-case to worst-case. Be honest with your assumptions.
  4. Identify levers – As you complete stress-testing, identify your action plan under different circumstances. What are expenditures that can be deferred in a worst-case scenario? What does staffing look like at various levels?
  5. Cash is king – The focus on forecasting and modeling is often on the net income of the organization and the cash flows generated. In a time such as this, the exercise is likely to focus on future liquidity. Remember to consider your non-income and expense items that impact cash flow, such as principal payments on debt service, planned additions to property & equipment, receipts on pledge payments, and others.  
CASH FLOW
Q: How can I alleviate cash flow strain in the near term?
A:

While the House and Senate have reacted quickly to bring needed relief to individuals and businesses across the country, the reality for most is that more will need to be done to stabilize. Operationally, obvious responses in the short term should be to eliminate all nonessential purchasing and maximize the billing and collection functions in accounts receivable. Another option is to utilize or increase an existing line of credit, or establish a new line of credit, to alleviate short term cash flow shortfalls. Organizations with investment portfolios can consider the prudence of increasing the spending draw on those funds. Rather than making a few drastic changes, organizations should take a multi-faceted approach to reduce the strain on cash flow while protecting the long term sustainability of the mission.

Q: How can I increase my organization’s reach to help with disaster relief? If we establish a special purpose fund, what should my organization be thinking about?
A:

Many organizations are looking for ways to increase their direct impact and give funding to individuals or organizations they may not have historically supported. For those who are want to expand their grant or gift making or want to establish a disaster relief fund, there are things to consider when doing so to help protect the organization. The nonprofit experts at Hemenway & Barnes share their thoughts on just how to do that.

FINANCIAL REPORTING
Q: What accounting standards have been delayed or are in the process of being delayed?
A:

FASB:
The $2.2 trillion stimulus package includes a provision that would allow banks the temporary option to delay compliance with the current expected credit losses (CECL) accounting standard. This would be delayed until the earlier end of the fiscal year or the end of the coronavirus national emergency.

GASB:
On March 26, 2020, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) announced it has added a project to its current technical agenda to consider postponing all Statement and Implementation Guide provisions with an effective date that begins on or after reporting periods beginning after June 15, 2018. The GASB has received numerous requests from state and local government officials and public accounting firms regarding postponing the upcoming effective dates of pronouncements as these state and local government offices are closed and officials do not have access to the information needed to implement the Statements. Most notably this would include Statement No. 84, Fiduciary Activities, and Statement No. 87, Leases.

The Board plans to consider an Exposure Draft for issuance in April and finalize the guidance in May 2020.

ENDOWMENTS AND INVESTMENTS 
Q: What should I consider with regard to endowments?
A:

Many nonprofits with endowments are considering ways to balance an increased reliance on their investment portfolios with the responsibility to protect and preserve the spending power of donor-restricted gifts. Some things to think about include the existence (or absence) of true restrictions, spending variations under the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA) applicable in your state, borrowing from an endowment, or requesting from the donor the release of restrictions. All need to be balanced with the intended duration and preservation of the endowment fund. Hemenway & Barnes shares their thoughts relative to the utilization of endowments during this time of need.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
Q: We are going to suspend our retirement plan match through June 30, 2020 and I picked a start date of April 1st. What we need help with is our bi-weekly payroll (which is for HOURLY employees). Their next pay date is April 3rd, for time worked through March 28th. Time worked March 29-31 would be paid on April 17th. How should we handle the match during this period for the hourly employees?
A:

The key for determining what to include for the matching calculation is when it is paid, not when it was earned. If the amendment is effective April 1st, then any amounts paid after April 1st would not have matching contributions calculated. This means that the amounts paid on April 3rd would not have any matching contributions calculated.

Q: Can you please provide guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and how it may impact my organization?
A:

On March 30th, BerryDunn published a blog post to help answer your questions around the FFCRA.

If you have additional questions, please contact one of our Employee Benefit Plan professionals

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
Q: I heard there was going to be an incentive for charitable giving in the new act. What's that all about?
A:

According to Sections 2204 and 2205 of the CARES Act:

  • Up to $300 of charitable contributions can be taken as a deduction in calculating adjusted gross income (AGI) for the 2020 tax year. This will provide a tax benefit even to those who do not itemize.
  • For the 2020 tax year, the tax cap has been lifted for:
    • Individuals-from 60% of AGI to 100%
    • Corporations-annual limit is raised from 10% to 25% (for food donations this is raised from 15% to 25%)
Q: Have you heard if the May 15th tax deadline will be extended?
A:

Unfortunately, we have not heard. As of April 6th, the deadline has not been extended.

Q: Could you please summarize for me the tax provisions in the CARES Act that you think are most applicable to not-for-profits?
A: Absolutely! Our not-for-profit tax professionals have compiled this document, which provides a high-level outline of tax provisions in the CARES Act that we believe would be of interest to our clients.

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

Article
COVID-19 FAQs—Not-for-Profit Edition

Benchmarking doesn’t need to be time and resource consuming. Read on for four simple steps you can take to improve efficiency and maximize resources.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before (from your Board of Trustees or Finance Committee): “I wish there was a way we could benchmark ourselves against our competitors.”

Have you ever wrestled with how to benchmark? Or struggled to identify what the Board wants to measure? Organizations can fall short on implementing effective methods to benchmark accurately. The good news? With a planned approach, you can overcome traditional obstacles and create tools to increase efficiency, improve operations and reporting, and maintain and monitor a comfortable risk level. All of this creates competitive advantage — and isn’t as hard as you might think.

Even with a structured process, remember that benchmarking data has pitfalls, including:

  • Peer data can be difficult to find. Some industries are better than others at tracking this information. Some collect too much data that isn’t relevant, making it hard to find the data that is.
     
  • The data can be dated. By the time you close your books for the year and data is available, you’re at least six months into the next fiscal year. Knowing this, you can still build year-over-year models you can measure consistently.
     
  • The underlying data may be tainted. As much as we’d like to rely on financial data from other organization and industry surveys, there’s no guarantee that all participants have applied accounting principles consistently, or calculated inputs (full-time equivalents), in the same way, making comparisons inaccurate.

Despite these pitfalls, it is a useful tool for your organization. It lets you take stock of your current financial condition and risk profile, identify areas for improvement and find a realistic and measurable plan to strengthen your organization.

Here are four steps to take to start a successful benchmarking program and overcome these pitfalls:

  1. Benchmark against yourself. Use year-over-year and month-to-month data to identify trends, inconsistencies and unexplained changes. Once you have the information, you can see where you want to direct improvement efforts.
  2. Look to industry/peer data. We’d love to tell you that all financial statements and survey inputs are created equally, but we can’t. By understanding the source of your information, and the potential strengths and weaknesses in the data (e.g., too few peers, different size organizations and markets, etc.), you will better know how to use it. Understanding the data source allows you to weigh metrics that are more susceptible to inconsistencies.
  1. Identify what is important to your organization and focus on it. Remove data points that have little relevance for your organization. Trying to address too many measures is one of the primary reasons benchmarking fails. Identify key metrics you will target, and watch them over time. Remember, keeping it simple allows you to put resources where you need them most.
  1. Use the data as a tool to guide decisions. Identify aspects of the organization that lie beyond your risk tolerance and then define specific steps for improvement.

Once you take these steps, you can add other measurement strategies, including stress testing, monthly reporting, use in budgeting, and forecasting. By taking the time to create and use an effective methodology, competitive advantage can be yours. Want to learn more? Check out our resources for not-for-profit organizations here.

Article
Benchmarking: Satisfy your board and gain a competitive advantage

Read this if you use QuickBooks Online.

You should be running reports in QuickBooks Online on a weekly—if not daily—basis. Here’s what you need to know.

You can do a lot of your accounting work in QuickBooks Online by generating reports. You can maintain your customer and vendor profiles. Create and send transactions like invoices and sales receipts, and record payments. Enter and pay bills. Create time records and coordinate projects. Track your mileage and, if you have employees, process payroll.

These activities help you document your daily financial workflow. But if you’re not using QuickBooks Online’s reports, you can’t know how individual elements of your business like sales and purchases are doing. And you don’t know how all of those individual pieces fit together to create a comprehensive picture of how your business is performing. 

QuickBooks Online’s reports are plentiful. They’re customizable. They’re easy to create. And they’re critical to your understanding of your company’s financial state. They answer the small questions, like, How many widgets do I need to order?, and the larger, all-encompassing questions like, Will my business make a profit this year?

Getting the lay of the land

Let’s look at how reports are organized in QuickBooks Online. Click Reports in the toolbar. You’ll see they are divided into three areas that you can access by clicking the labeled tabs. Standard refers to the comprehensive list of reports that QuickBooks Online offers, displayed in related groups. Custom reports are reports that you’ve customized and saved so you can use the same format later. And Management reports are very flexible, specialized reports that can be used by company owners and managers.


A partial view of the list of QuickBooks Online’s Standard reports 

Standard reports

The Standard Reports area is where you’ll do most—if not all—of your reporting work. The list of available reports is divided into 10 categories. You’re most likely to spend most of your time in just a few of them, including:

  • Favorites. You’ll be able to designate reports that you run often as Favorites and access them here, at the top of the list.
  • Who owes you. These are your receivables reports. You’ll come here when you need to know, for example, who is behind on making payments to you, how much individual customers owe you, and what billable charges and time haven’t been billed.
  • Sales and customers. What’s selling and what’s not? What have individual customers been buying? Which customers have accumulated billable time?
  • What you owe. These are your payables reports. They tell you, for example, which bills you haven’t paid, the total amount of your unpaid bills (grouped by days past due), and your balances with individual vendors.
  • Expenses and vendors. What have I purchased (grouped by vendor, product, or class)? What expenses have individual vendors incurred? Do I have any open purchase orders?

The Business Overview contains advanced financial reports that we can run and analyze for you. The same goes for the For my accountant reports. Sales tax, Employees, and Payroll will be important to you if they’re applicable for your company.

Working with individual reports


Each individual report in QuickBooks Online has three related task options.

To open any report, you just click its title. If you want more information before you do that, just hover your cursor over the label. Click the question mark to see a brief description of the report. If you want to make the report a Favorite, click the star so it turns green. And clicking the three vertical dots opens the Customize link. 

When you click the Customize link, a vertical panel slides out from the right, and the actual report is behind it, grayed out. Customization options vary from report to report. Some are quite complex, and others offer fewer options. The Sales by Customer Detail report, for example, provides a number of ways for you to modify the content of your report so it represents exactly the “slice” of data you want. So you can indicate your preferences in areas like:

  • Report period
  • Accounting method (cash or accrual)
  • Rows/columns (you can select which columns should appear and in what order, and group them by Account, Customer, Day, etc.)
  • Filter (choose the data group you want represented from several options, including Transaction Type, Product/Service, Payment Method, and Sales Rep)

Once you’ve run the report, you can click Save customization in the upper right corner and complete the fields in the window that opens. Your modification options will then be available when you click Custom reports, so you can run it again anytime with fresh data.


You can customize QuickBooks Online’s reports in a variety of ways.

We’ll go into more depth about report customization in a future article. For now, we encourage you to explore QuickBooks Online’s reports and their modification options so that you’re familiar with them and can put them to use anytime. Contact our Outsourced Accounting team if you have any questions about the site’s reports, or if you need help making your use of QuickBooks Online more effective and productive.

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Getting started with reports in QuickBooks Online

Read this if you use QuickBooks Online.

Are you taking on a worker who’s not an employee? QuickBooks Online includes tools for tracking and paying independent contractors.

The COVID-19 pandemic created millions of self-employed individuals and small businesses. Whether they chose to, or circumstances forced them to, these new entrepreneurs had to learn new ways to get paid and to prepare their income taxes.

If you’re thinking about taking on a contract worker, you, too, will have to educate yourself on the paperwork and processes required to comply with the IRS’ rules for his or her compensation. It’s much easier than hiring a full-time employee, but it still takes some knowledge of how QuickBooks Online handles these individuals.

You’ll also need to make certain that the person you’re hiring is indeed an independent contractor and not an employee. The IRS takes this distinction very seriously. If you’re at all unsure of your new hire’s employment status, we can help you sort it out.

Creating records for contractors

Once new contractors have accepted your offer, you’ll need to have then fill out an IRS Form W-9. You can download a copy here. Employees complete the more detailed Form W-4 so that the employer can withhold income taxes correctly, but you won’t have to withhold taxes for your contract workers. They will be responsible for calculating and paying quarterly estimated taxes and filing an IRS Form 1040 every year. 

You, though, will be responsible for sending them an IRS Form 1099-NEC (Non-Employee Compensation) every January if you paid them more than $600 during the previous year. You do not need to send a 1099-NEC to a corporation or to an LLC that is treated as a C Corp or an S Corp. 

You can complete the Vendor Information window for each independent contractor, checking the box in front of Track payments for 1099.

Using the information the contractors provide, you can create records for them in QuickBooks Online. If you don’t have a QuickBooks Payroll subscription, you can set them up as 1099 vendors. Click the Expenses tab in the toolbar and then on the Vendors tab. Click New vendor in the upper right to open the Vendor Information window. Complete the fields for the worker and be sure to check the box in front of Track payments for 1099, as shown in the partial image above.

The vendor records you create will appear in QuickBooks Online’s Vendors list (again, Expenses | Vendors). Click on one to open it. You can toggle between two tabs here. The first, Transaction List, will eventually display all your financial dealings with that contractor. Vendor Details opens the record you just created, which you can edit from this screen.

Paying contractors

When independent contractors send you invoices, you’ll return to this same screen. There are three ways you can pay them. Click the down arrow next to New Transaction in the upper right corner to see your options (or look down at the end of the row while you’re in list view). You can record the debt as a Bill if you want to pay it later (or if that’s the way you structure your recordkeeping). If you’re paying it right away, you can create an Expense or write a Check

You can choose an option from this vendor action menu to pay your independent contractors.

When you click one of these, QuickBooks Online opens a form with many of the contractors’ details already filled in. You’ll need to complete any additional fields at the top of the screen, and then either record the payment or debt under Category details or Item details, depending on how you do your bookkeeping. Either way, you’ll be able to enter the quantity and rate and/or amount and mark it billable (with a markup percentage, if you’d like) to a customer or project.

You’re probably going to want our help here, since there’s more than one way to pay independent contractors. If you subscribe to QuickBooks Payroll, you can use the service’s contractor features, which include the ability to invite your contractors to fill out their own records in QuickBooks Online. You may also want to add an account to your Chart of Accounts, and we’d want to offer guidance there. And you need to ensure that you’re classifying payments correctly, so they’ll appear in 1099 reports and 1099s themselves.

Creating records for independent contractors and paying these individuals seem like they should be simple operations. But anytime you’re dealing with payroll issues, you’re dealing with peoples’ livelihoods – and the IRS. We strongly encourage you to let us help you get this right. Contact the Outsourced Accounting team, and we’ll make sure you’re handling your worker payments with absolute accuracy.

Article
Hiring an independent contractor? How QuickBooks Online can help

Read this if you invest in research and development. 

Businesses that invest in research and development, particularly those in the technology industry, should be aware of a major change to the tax treatment of research and experimental (R&E) expenses. Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), R&E expenditures incurred or paid for tax years beginning after December 31, 2021, will no longer be immediately deductible for tax purposes. Instead, businesses are now required to capitalize and amortize R&E expenditures over a period of five years for research conducted within the U.S. or 15 years for research conducted in a foreign jurisdiction. The new mandatory capitalization rules also apply to software development costs, regardless of whether the software is developed for sale or license to customers or for internal use.

Tax implications of mandatory capitalization rules

Under the new mandatory capitalization rules, amortization of R&E expenditures begins from the midpoint of the taxable year in which the expenses are paid or incurred, resulting in a negative year one tax and cash flow impact when compared to the previous rules that allowed an immediate deduction.

For example, assume a calendar-year taxpayer incurs $50 million of US R&E expenditures in 2022. Prior to the TCJA amendment, the taxpayer would have immediately deducted all $50 million on its 2022 tax return. Under the new rules, however, the taxpayer will be entitled to deduct amortization expense of $5,000,000 in 2022, calculated by dividing $50 million by five years, and then applying the midpoint convention. The example’s $45 million decrease in year one deductions emphasizes the magnitude of the new rules for companies that invest heavily in technology and/or software development.

The new rules present additional considerations for businesses that invest in R&E, which are discussed below.

Cost/benefit of offshoring R&E activities

As noted above, R&E expenditures incurred for activities performed overseas are subject to an amortization period of 15 years, as opposed to a five-year amortization period for R&E activities carried out in the US. Given the prevalence of outsourcing R&E and software development activities to foreign jurisdictions, taxpayers that currently incur these costs outside the US are likely to experience an even more significant impact from the new rules than their counterparts that conduct R&E activities domestically. Businesses should carefully consider the tax impacts of the longer 15-year recovery period when weighing the cost savings from shifting R&E activities overseas. Further complexities may arise if the entity that is incurring the foreign R&E expenditures is a foreign corporation owned by a US taxpayer, as the new mandatory capitalization rules may also increase the US taxpayer’s Global Intangible Low-taxed Income (GILTI) inclusion.

Identifying and documenting R&E expenditures

Unless repealed or delayed by Congress (see below), the new mandatory amortization rules apply for tax years beginning after December 31, 2021. Taxpayers with R&E activities should begin assessing what actions are necessary to identify qualifying expenditures and to ensure compliance with the new rules. Some taxpayers may be able to leverage from existing financial reporting systems or tracking procedures to identify R&E; for instance, companies may already be identifying certain types of research costs for financial reporting under ASC 730 or calculating qualifying research expenditures for purposes of the research tax credit. Companies that are not currently identifying R&E costs for other purposes may have to undertake a more robust analysis, including performing interviews with operations and financial accounting personnel and developing reasonable allocation methodologies to the extent that a particular expense (e.g., rent) relates to both R&E and non-R&E activities.

Importantly, all taxpayers with R&E expenditures, regardless of industry or size, should gather and retain contemporaneous documentation necessary for the identification and calculation of costs amortized on their tax return. This documentation can play a critical role in sustaining a more favorable tax treatment upon examination by the IRS as well as demonstrating compliance with the tax law during a future M&A due diligence process.

Impact on financial reporting under ASC 740

Taxpayers also need to consider the impact of the mandatory capitalization rules on their tax provisions. In general, the addback of R&E expenditures in situations where the amounts are deducted currently for financial reporting purposes will create a new deferred tax asset. Although the book/tax disparity in the treatment of R&E expenditures is viewed as a temporary difference (the R&E amounts will eventually be deducted for tax purposes), the ancillary effects of the new rules could have other tax impacts, such as on the calculation of GILTI inclusions and Foreign-Derived Intangible Income (FDII) deductions, which ordinarily give rise to permanent differences that increase or decrease a company’s effective tax rate. The U.S. valuation allowance assessment for deferred tax assets could also be impacted due to an increase in taxable income. Further, changes to both GILTI and FDII amounts should be considered in valuation allowance assessments, as such amounts are factors in forecasts of future profitability.

The new mandatory capitalization rules for R&E expenditures and resulting increase in taxable income will likely impact the computation of quarterly estimated tax payments and extension payments owed for the 2022 tax year. Even taxpayers with net operating loss carryforwards should be aware of the tax implications of the new rules, as they may find themselves utilizing more net operating losses (NOLs) than expected in 2022 and future years, or ending up in a taxable position if the deferral of the R&E expenditures is material (or if NOLs are limited under Section 382 or the TCJA). In such instances, companies may find it prudent to examine other tax planning opportunities, such as performing an R&D tax credit study or assessing their eligibility for the FDII deduction, which may help lower their overall tax liability.

Will the new rules be delayed?

The version of the Build Back Better Act that was passed by the US House of Representatives in November 2021 would have delayed the effective date of the TCJA’s mandatory capitalization rules for R&E expenditures until tax years beginning after December 31, 2025. While this specific provision of the House bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support, the BBBA bill did not make it out of the Senate, and recent comments by some members of the Senate have indicated that the BBB bill is unlikely to become law in its latest form. Accordingly, the original effective date contained in the TCJA (i.e., taxable years beginning after December 31, 2021) for the mandatory capitalization of R&E expenditures remains in place.
 
The changes to the tax treatment of R&E expenditures can be complex. While taxpayers and tax practitioners alike remain hopeful that Congress will agree on a bill that allows for uninterrupted immediate deductibility of these expenditures, at least for now, companies must start considering the implications of the new rules as currently enacted. 

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Mandatory capitalization of R&E expenses—will the new rules impact your business?

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

With springtime upon us, it may be difficult to start thinking about this upcoming fall, but that is exactly what many folks in the nonprofit sector are starting to do. The reason for this? It’s because 2022 brings with it the mid-term election cycle. While technically an off-year election, many congressional and gubernatorial races are being contested, in addition to a myriad of questions that will appear on ballots across the country. It is around this time of year we start to see many questions from clients in the nonprofit sector in the area of political campaign activities, lobbying (both direct and grassroots), and education/advocacy.

This article will discuss the three major types of activities nonprofit organizations may or may not undertake in this arena and will offer guidance to give organizations the vote of confidence they need to not run afoul of the potential pitfalls when it comes to undertaking these activities.

Political campaign activity

Political campaign activities include participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office, be it at the federal, state, or local level. Examples of such activities include contributions to political campaigns as well as making public statements in favor of or in opposition to any candidate. The IRS explicitly prohibits section 501(c)(3) organizations from conducting political campaign activities, the consequence of doing so being loss of exempt status. However, other types of exempt organizations (such as 501(c)(4) organizations) are allowed to engage in such activities, so long as those activities are not the organization’s primary activity. Only Section 527 organizations may engage in political campaign activities as their primary purpose. 

Direct lobbying

Direct lobbing activities attempt to influence legislation by directly communicating with legislative members regarding specific legislation. Examples of direct lobbying include contacting members of Congress and asking them to vote for or against a specific piece of legislation.

Grassroots lobbying

Grassroots lobbying, on the other hand, attempts to influence legislation by affecting the opinions of the general public and include a call to action. Examples of grassroots lobbying include requesting members of the general public to contact their representatives to urge them to vote for or against specific legislation.  

A quick way to remember the difference:
Political = think “P” for People – advocating for or against a specific candidate 
Lobbying = think “L” for Legislation – advocating for or against a specific bill

Education/advocacy

Organizations may engage in activities designed to educate or advocate for a particular cause so long as it does not take a specific position. For example, telling members of Congress how grants helped constituents would be considered an educational activity. However, attempting to get a member of Congress to vote for or against specific piece of legislation that would affect grant funding would be considered lobbying. Another example would be educating or informing the general public about a specific piece of legislation. Organizations need to be mindful here as taking a specific position one way or the other would lend itself to the activity being deemed to be lobbying, and not merely education of the general public. There is no limit on how much education/advocacy activity a nonprofit organization may conduct.

Why does this matter?

As you can see, there is a very fine line between lobbying and education, so it is important to understand the differences so that an organization conducting educational activities does not inadvertently end up conducting lobbying activities.

Organizations exempt under Code Section 501(c)(3) can conduct only lobbying activities that are not substantial to its overall activities. A 501(c)(3) organization may risk losing its exempt status and may face excise taxes on the lobbying expenditures if it is deemed to be conducting excess lobbying, whereas section 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations may engage in an unlimited amount of lobbying activity.

What is substantial?

Unfortunately, there is no bright line test for determining what is considered substantial versus insubstantial. As an industry standard, many practitioners have taken a position that insubstantial means five percent or less of total expenditures, but that position is not codified and could be challenged by the IRS. 

Section 501(c)(3) organizations that intend to conduct lobbying activities on a regular basis may want to consider making an election under Code Section 501(h). This election is only applicable to 501(c)(3) organizations and provides a defined amount of lobbying activity an organization may conduct without jeopardizing its exempt status or becoming subject to excise tax. The 501(h) election limit is based on total organization expenditures with a maximum allowance of $1 million for “large organizations” (defined as an organization with total expenditures over $17,000,000). 

While the 501(h) election provides some clarity as to how much lobbying activity can be conducted, it may be prohibitive for some organizations whose total expenditures greatly exceed the $17,000,000 threshold. Another item to be aware of is that the lobbying threshold applies to all members of an affiliated group combined, which means the entire group shares the maximum threshold allowed. 

Another option for those engaging in lobbying is to create a separate entity (such as a 501(c)(4) organization) which conducts all lobbying activities, insulating the 501(c)(3) organization from these activities. As previously mentioned, organizations exempt under Code Section 501(c)(4) can conduct an unlimited amount of lobbying activities but can only conduct limited political campaign activities.

What about political campaign activities?

Section 527 organizations, known as political action committees, are exempt organizations dedicated specifically to conducting political campaign activities. If a 501(c)(4), (c)(5), or (c)(6) organization makes a contribution to a 527 organization, it may be required to file a Form 1120-POL and be subject to tax at the corporate tax rate (currently a flat 21%) based on the lesser of the political campaign expenditures or the organization’s net investment income. State income taxes may also be applicable. Section 501(c)(3) organizations may not make contributions to 527 organizations. 

If your organization is considering participation in any of the above activities, we would recommend you reach out to your not-for-profit tax team for additional information. We’re here to help!

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Lobbying and politics and education, oh my!