Listening to your customers by tracking lost sales

“Sorry, we don’t carry that item.” Or perhaps, “No, that’s not part of our service package.” How many times a year do your salespeople utter these words or ones like them? The specific number is critical because, if you don’t know it, you could be losing out on profit potential.

Although you have to focus on your strengths and not get too far afield, your customers may be crying out for a new product or service. And among the best ways to hear them is to track lost sales data and decipher the message.

3 steps to success

A successful lost sales tracking effort generally involves three steps:

1. Get the data. Ask your sales associates to log every customer request and to question customers further to get at the heart of what they need. Train sales associates to record information such as the date of request, item requested and the reason the item was unavailable.

2. Crunch the numbers. Calculate how much you could sell if you had the new items in stock or offered the additional service. Naturally, you’ll need to bear in mind that meeting customer demand might involve spending money on equipment or personnel to expand your product or service line. Key data points to examine include:

• Estimated potential purchases,
• Potential sales losses, and
• Estimated gross profit losses.

Develop a report that lays out this and other information, so you can see it in black and white.

3. Talk about it. Run a lost sales report monthly and discuss the results with your management team. Seek to establish consensus on where your best strategic opportunities lie. Sometimes you’ll want to be patient and let trends develop before acting. Other times, you might want to strike early to seize an underdeveloped market.

A better grip

Lost sales are lost opportunities. By getting a better grip on your customers’ needs, you can build a stronger bottom line. Please contact us for help creating and maintaining a lost sales tracking system that best suits your company’s distinctive needs.

© 2017


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We’ve got the lowdown on updated cash flow reporting guidance

Cash flow statement reporting is a leading cause of company financial restatements. Do you know how to categorize items on your statement of cash flows? Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-15, Statement of Cash Flows (Topic 230): Classification of Certain Cash Receipts and Cash Payments, attempts to minimize diversity in cash flow reporting practices.

8 issues

Accounting Standards Codification Topic 230, Statement of Cash Flows, provides guidance on classifying and presenting cash receipts and payments as operating, investing or financing activities. Critics say the existing guidance is confusing and, at times, even contradictory.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) began its work on improving the statement of cash flows in April 2014. The cash flow project was a large undertaking. It wasn’t until August 2016 that the FASB launched the first part of its cash flow project by providing clarity on the following eight issues:

1. Debt prepayment and debt extinguishment costs (penalties paid by borrowers to settle debts early) should be classified as cash outflows for financing activities.

2. Cash payments attributable to accreted interest on zero-coupon bonds (a type of debt security that is issued or traded at significant discounts) should be classified as a cash outflow for operating activities. The portion of cash payments attributable to principal should be classified as a cash outflow for financing activities.

3. Cash payments for the settlement of a contingent consideration liability made by a business after it buys another business should be separated from the purchase price and classified as cash outflows for either financing activities or operating activities. (Contingent consideration is typically an obligation to transfer additional assets or equity interests to the former owners of the acquired business if certain conditions are met.) Cash payments up to the amount of the contingent consideration liability recognized at the acquisition date should be classified as financing activities. Any excess should be classified as operating activities.

4. The proceeds from the settlement of insurance claims should be classified based on the type of insurance coverage and the type of loss. For example, a claim to cover destruction of a building would be classified as an investing activity, while a claim to cover loss of inventory would be classified as an operating activity.

5. Proceeds businesses receive from corporate-owned life insurance (the insurance policies they take out on employees) should be classified as investing activities.

6. Distributions received from equity method investees should be presumed to be returns on the investment and classified as cash inflows from operating activities, unless the investor’s cumulative distributions received (less distributions received in prior periods that were determined to be returns of investment) exceed cumulative equity in earnings recognized by the investor. When such an excess occurs, the current-period distribution up to this excess should be classified as cash inflows from investing activities. No solution was provided for equity method investment measured using the fair value option, however.

7. For beneficial interests in securitization transactions, the updated guidance proposes two changes: 1) Disclosure of a transferor’s beneficial interest obtained in a securitization of financial assets must be classified as a noncash activity, and 2) cash receipts from payments on the transferor’s beneficial interests in securitized trade receivables should be classified as cash inflows from investing activities. These types of transactions are common for financial companies, large retailers and credit card companies.

8. Topic 230 acknowledges that it’s not always clear how cash flows should be classified, especially when cash receipts and payments have characteristics of more than one type of activity. The updated guidance clarifies that the business should look at the activity that’s likely to be the “predominant” source of cash flows for the item.

Coming soon

For public companies, the amendments go into effect for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2017, and interim periods within those fiscal years. For all other entities, the amendments are effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2018, and interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019. Early adoption is permitted.

© 2017


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6 ways to control your unemployment tax costs

Unemployment tax rates for employers vary from state to state. Your unemployment tax bill may be influenced by the number of former employees who’ve filed unemployment claims with the state, your current number of employees and your business’s age. Typically, the more claims made against a business, the higher the unemployment tax bill.

Here are six ways to control your unemployment tax costs:

1. Buy down your unemployment tax rate if your state permits it. Some states allow employers to annually buy down their rate. If you’re eligible, this could save you substantial dollars in unemployment taxes.

2. Hire new staff conservatively. Remember, your unemployment payments are based partly on the number of employees who file unemployment claims. You don’t want to hire employees to fill a need now, only to have to lay them off if business slows. A temporary staffing agency can help you meet short-term needs without permanently adding staff, so you can avoid layoffs. This is also a good way to try out a candidate.

3. Assess candidates before hiring them. Often it’s worth a small financial investment to have job candidates undergo prehiring assessments to see if they’re the right match for your business and the position available. Hiring carefully will increase the likelihood that new employees will work out.

4. Train for success. Many unemployment insurance claimants are awarded benefits despite employer assertions that the employee failed to perform adequately. Often this is because the hearing officer concluded the employer hadn’t provided the employee with enough training to succeed in the position.

5. Handle terminations thoughtfully. If you must terminate an employee, consider giving him or her severance as well as offering outplacement benefits. Severance pay may reduce or delay the start of unemployment insurance benefits. Effective outplacement services may hasten the end of unemployment insurance benefits, because the claimant has found a new job.

6. Leverage an acquisition. If you’ve recently acquired another company, it may have a lower established tax rate that you can use instead of the tax rate that’s been set for your existing business. You also may be able to request the transfer of the previous company’s unemployment reserve fund balance.

If you have questions about unemployment taxes and how you can reduce them, contact our firm. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2017


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Does your business have too much cash?

From the time a business opens its doors, the owner is told “cash is king.” It may seem to follow that having a very large amount of cash could never be a bad thing. But, the truth is, a company that’s hoarding excessive cash may be doing itself more harm than good.

Liquidity overload

What’s the harm in stockpiling cash? Granted, an extra cushion helps weather downturns or fund unexpected repairs and maintenance. But cash has a carrying cost — the difference between the return companies earn on their cash and the price they pay to obtain cash.

For instance, checking accounts often earn no interest, and savings accounts typically generate returns below 2% and in many cases well below 1%. Most cash hoarders simultaneously carry debt on their balance sheets, such as equipment loans, mortgages and credit lines. Borrowers are paying higher interest rates on loans than they’re earning from their bank accounts. This spread represents the carrying cost of cash.

A variety of possibilities

What opportunities might you be missing out on by neglecting to reinvest a cash surplus to earn a higher return? There are a variety of possibilities. You could:

Acquire a competitor (or its assets). You may be in a position to profit from a competitor’s failure. When expanding via acquisition, formal due diligence is key to avoiding impulsive, unsustainable projects.

Invest in marketable securities. As mentioned, cash accounts provide nominal return. More aggressive businesses might consider mutual funds or diversified stock and bond portfolios. A financial planner can help you choose securities. Some companies also use surplus cash to repurchase stock — especially when minority shareholders routinely challenge the owner’s decisions.

Repay debt. This reduces the carrying cost of cash reserves. And lenders look favorably upon borrowers who reduce their debt-to-equity ratios.

Optimal cash balance

Taking a conservative approach to saving up cash isn’t necessarily wrong. But every company has an optimal cash balance that will help safeguard cash flow while allocating dollars for smart spending. Our firm can assist you in identifying and maintaining this mission-critical amount.

© 2017


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Keep real estate separate from your business’s corporate assets to save tax

It’s common for a business to own not only typical business assets, such as equipment, inventory and furnishings, but also the building where the business operates — and possibly other real estate as well. There can, however, be negative consequences when a business’s real estate is included in its general corporate assets. By holding real estate in a separate entity, owners can save tax and enjoy other benefits, too.

Capturing tax savings

Many businesses operate as C corporations so they can buy and hold real estate just as they do equipment, inventory and other assets. The expenses of owning the property are treated as ordinary expenses on the company’s income statement. However, if the real estate is sold, any profit is subject to double taxation: first at the corporate level and then at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. As a result, putting real estate in a C corporation can be a costly mistake.

If the real estate is held instead by the business owner(s) or in a pass-through entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or limited partnership, and then leased to the corporation, the profit on a sale of the property is taxed only once — at the individual level.

LLC: The entity of choice

The most straightforward and seemingly least expensive way for an owner to maximize the tax benefits is to buy the real estate outright. However, this could transfer liabilities related to the property (such as for injuries suffered on the property ) directly to the owner, putting other assets — including the business — at risk. In essence, it would negate part of the rationale for organizing the business as a corporation in the first place.

So, it’s generally best to put real estate in its own limited liability entity. The LLC is most often the vehicle of choice for this. Limited partnerships can accomplish the same ends if there are multiple owners, but the disadvantage is that you’ll incur more expense by having to set up two entities: the partnership itself and typically a corporation to serve as the general partner.

We can help you create a plan of ownership for real estate that best suits your situation.

© 2017


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Look beyond EBITDA

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) is commonly used to assess financial health and evaluate investment decisions. But sometimes this metric overstates a company’s true performance, ability to service debt, and value. That’s why internal and external stakeholders should exercise caution when reviewing EBITDA.

History of EBITDA

The market’s preoccupation with EBITDA started during the leveraged buyout craze of the 1980s. The metric was especially popular among public companies in capital-intensive industries, such as steel, wireless communications and cable television. Many EBITDA proponents claim it provides a clearer view of long-term financial performance, because EBITDA generally excludes nonrecurring events and one-time capital expenditures.

Today, EBITDA is the third most quoted performance metric — behind earnings per share and operating cash flow — in the “management discussion and analysis” section of public companies’ annual financial statements. The corporate obsession with EBITDA has also infiltrated smaller, private entities that tend to use oversimplified EBITDA pricing multiples in mergers and acquisitions. And it’s provided technology and telecommunication companies with a convenient way to dress up lackluster performance.

Inconsistent definitions

EBITDA isn’t recognized under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a measure of profitability or cash flow. Without formal guidance, companies have been free to define EBITDA any way they choose — which can make it difficult to assess company performance.

For example, some analysts when calculating EBITDA subtract nonrecurring and extraordinary business charges, such as goodwill impairment, restructuring expenses, and the cost of long-term incentive compensation and stock option plans. Others, however, subtract none or only some of those charges. Therefore, comparing EBITDA between companies can be like comparing apples and oranges.

Moreover, the metric fails to consider changes in working capital requirements, income taxes, principal repayments and capital expenditures. When used in mergers and acquisitions, EBITDA pricing multiples generally fail to address the company’s asset management efficiency, the condition and use of its fixed assets, or the existence of nonoperating assets and unrecorded liabilities. In fact, many high profile accounting scandals and bankruptcies have been linked to the misuse of EBITDA, including those involving WorldCom, Cablevision, Vivendi, Enron and Sunbeam.

Balancing act

Despite these shortcomings, EBITDA isn’t all bad. It can provide insight when used in conjunction with more traditional metrics, such as cash flow, net income and return on investment. For help performing comprehensive due diligence that looks beyond EBITDA, contact us.

© 2017


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ESOPs offer businesses tax and other benefits

With an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), employee participants take part ownership of the business through a retirement savings arrangement. Meanwhile, the business and its existing owner(s) can benefit from some potential tax breaks, an extra-motivated workforce and potentially a smoother path for succession planning.

How ESOPs work

To implement an ESOP, you establish a trust fund and either:

  • Contribute shares of stock or money to buy the stock (an “unleveraged” ESOP), or
  • Borrow funds to initially buy the stock, and then contribute cash to the plan to enable it to repay the loan (a “leveraged” ESOP).

The shares in the trust are allocated to individual employees’ accounts, often using a formula based on their respective compensation. The business has to formally adopt the plan and submit plan documents to the IRS, along with certain forms.

Tax impact

Among the biggest benefits of an ESOP is that contributions to qualified retirement plans such as ESOPs typically are tax-deductible for employers. However, employer contributions to all defined contribution plans, including ESOPs, are generally limited to 25% of covered payroll. In addition, C corporations with leveraged ESOPs can deduct contributions used to pay interest on the loan. That is, the interest isn’t counted toward the 25% limit.

Dividends paid on ESOP stock passed through to employees or used to repay an ESOP loan, so long as they’re reasonable, may be tax-deductible for C corporations. Dividends voluntarily reinvested by employees in company stock in the ESOP also are usually deductible by the business. (Employees, however, should review the tax implications of dividends.)

In another potential benefit, shareholders in some closely held C corporations can sell stock to the ESOP and defer federal income taxes on any gains from the sale, with several stipulations. One is that the ESOP must own at least 30% of the company’s stock immediately after the sale. In addition, the sellers must reinvest the proceeds (or an equivalent amount) in qualified replacement property securities of domestic operation corporations within a set period of time.

Finally, when a business owner is ready to retire or otherwise depart the company, the business can make tax-deductible contributions to the ESOP to buy out the departing owner’s shares or have the ESOP borrow money to buy the shares.

More tax considerations

There are tax benefits for employees, too. Employees don’t pay tax on stock allocated to their ESOP accounts until they receive distributions. But, as with most retirement plans, if they take a distribution before they turn 59½ (or 55, if they’ve terminated employment), they may have to pay taxes and penalties — unless they roll the proceeds into an IRA or another qualified retirement plan.

Also be aware that an ESOP’s tax impact for entity types other than C corporations varies somewhat from what we’ve discussed here. And while an ESOP offers many potential benefits, it also presents risks. For help determining whether an ESOP makes sense for your business, contact us.

© 2017


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A refresher on the ACA’s tax penalty on individuals without health insurance

Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”

Penalty exemptions

Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:

  • Their household income is below the federal income tax return filing threshold.
  • They lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage.
  • They suffered a hardship in obtaining coverage.
  • They have only a short-term coverage gap.
  • They qualify for an exception on religious grounds or have coverage through a health care sharing ministry.
  • They’re not a U.S. citizen or national.
  • They’re incarcerated.
  • They’re a member of a Native American tribe.

Calculating the tax

So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:

1. The applicable percentage of your household income above the applicable federal income tax return filing threshold, or
2. The applicable dollar amount times the number of uninsured individuals in your household, limited to 300% of the applicable dollar amount.

In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.

In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).

The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.

If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.

Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.

© 2017


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3 midyear tax planning strategies for individuals


In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:

1. Consider your bracket

The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold , consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)

You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).

2. Look at investment income

This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.

Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.

3. Plan for medical expenses

The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)

Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.  
      
These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.

© 2017


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Put your income statement to good use

By midyear, most businesses that follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) have issued their year-end financial statements. But how many have actually used them to improve their business operations in the future? Producing financial statements is more than a matter of compliance — owners and managers can use them to analyze performance and find ways to remedy inefficiencies and anomalies. How? Let’s start by looking at the income statement.

Benchmarking performance

Ratio analysis facilitates comparisons over time and against industry norms. Here are four ratios you can compute from income statement data:

1. Gross profit. This is profit after cost of goods sold divided by sales. This critical ratio indicates whether the company can operate profitably. It’s a good ratio to compare to industry statistics because it tends to be calculated on a consistent basis.

2. Net profit margin. This is calculated by dividing net income by sales and is the ultimate scorecard for management. If the margin is rising, the company must be doing something right. Often, this ratio is computed on a pretax basis to accommodate for differences in tax rates between pass-through entities and C corporations.

3. Return on assets. This is calculated by dividing net income by the company’s total assets. The return shows how efficiently management is using its assets.

4. Return on equity. This is calculated by dividing net profits by shareholders’ equity. The resulting figure tells how well the shareholders’ investment is performing compared to competing investment vehicles.

For all four profitability ratios, look at two key elements: changes between accounting periods and differences from industry averages.

Plugging profit drains

What if your company’s profitability ratios have deteriorated compared to last year or industry norms? Rather than overreacting to a decline, it’s important to find the cause. If the whole industry is suffering, the decline is likely part of a macroeconomic trend.

If the industry is healthy, yet a company’s margins are falling, management may need to take corrective measures, such as:

  • Reining in costs,
  • Investing in technology, and/or
  • Looking for signs of fraud.

For example, if an employee is colluding with a supplier in a kickback scam, direct materials costs may skyrocket, causing the company’s gross profit to fall.

Playing detective

For clues into what’s happening, study the main components of the income statement: gross sales, cost of sales, and selling and administrative costs. Determine if line items have fallen due to company-specific or industrywide trends by comparing them to public companies in the same industry. Also, monitor trade publications, trade associations and the Internet for information. Contact us to discuss possible causes and brainstorm ways to fix any problems.

© 2017


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