Business owners are urged to create succession plans for the good of their families and their employees. But there’s someone else who holds a key interest in the longevity of your company: Your lender.

If you want to maintain a clear path to acquiring the working capital your business may need after you’ve stepped down, it’s important to keep your lender apprised of your progress in putting a carefully considered succession plan in place.

A viable successor

One key operational issue that lenders look for in a succession plan to address is, simply, who will lead the enterprise after you? For family-owned businesses, finding a successor can be difficult. Children or other relatives may be qualified but have no interest in taking the reins. Or they may want to be involved but have insufficient experience.

To reassure your lender about issues such as these, take the time to identify and nurture future leaders. As early as possible, select someone who you believe holds leadership potential and educate the prospective successor in all aspects of running the business. This way, when control formally transfers, your lender will have confidence that the new leader is truly the boss and fully capable of making executive decisions.

None of this should happen overnight. You need to lay out a well-defined path for the successor under the assurance that his or her hard work during the transition period will eventually be rewarded with the leadership role, as well as ownership interests. Ideally, you’ll want to set a specific timeframe for the transfer of control and ownership to officially occur — all while keeping your lender in the loop.

Family communication

Most business owners have more than one heir to factor into succession planning. So, it’s important for lenders to know that the planning process involves the entire family, regardless of whether the individuals involved are active in the business’s day-to-day operations. This enables everyone to understand their roles — and the financial and personal consequences of an unsuccessful succession plan (which can adversely affect loan arrangements in place).

A common issue is how to equitably divide assets among heirs when only some of them will have control of or receive ownership interests in the business. If there are sufficient liquid assets, you can buy life insurance to provide for any children who won’t be involved in the business and give ownership interests only to those who will be involved. Or you might establish a family trust to own and operate the business, so that the entire family shares the risks and benefits.

Good standing

Your lender may not be top of mind as you ponder the many details of a succession plan. But it’s important to cover all the bases, including keeping your company in good standing for future loans. We can help you with all the tax, accounting and financial aspects of a good succession plan — including effective communication with your lender.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday season is in full swing. At this time of year, your business may want to show its gratitude to employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties. It’s a good idea to understand the tax rules associated with these expenses. Are they tax deductible by your business and is the value taxable to the recipients?

Customer and client gifts

If you make gifts to customers and clients, the gifts are deductible up to $25 per recipient per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you don’t need to include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value, such as engraving, gift wrapping, packaging or shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing collateral — such as small items imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4.

The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (for example, a gift basket for all team members of a customer to share) as long as they’re “reasonable.”

Employee gifts

In general, anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in his or her taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by your business. But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute a “de minimis” fringe benefit.

These are items small in value and given infrequently that are administratively impracticable to account for. Common examples include holiday turkeys or hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets), and other low-cost merchandise.

De minimis fringe benefits aren’t included in your employee’s taxable income yet they’re still deductible by your business. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.

Important: Cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small and infrequent.

Throwing a holiday party

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, certain deductions for business-related meals were reduced and the deduction for business entertainment was eliminated. However, there’s an exception for certain recreational activities, including holiday parties.

Holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income) so long as they’re primarily for the benefit of non-highly-compensated employees and their families. If customers, and others also attend, holiday parties may be partially deductible.

Spread good cheer

Contact us if you have questions about giving holiday gifts to employees or customers or throwing a holiday party. We can explain the tax rules.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

“Company culture” is a buzzword that’s been around for a while, but your culture may never have mattered as much as it does in today’s transparency-driven business arena. Customers, potential partners and investors, and job candidates are paying more attention to company culture when deciding whether to buy from a business or otherwise involve themselves with it.

To determine whether yours is optimal for your long-term goals, you must look in the mirror and identify what type of culture you have. University of Michigan professors Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron have developed the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, which defines four common types:

1. Clan. These are generally friendly environments where employees feel like family. Clan cultures emphasize teamwork, participation and consensus. Such companies often have a horizontal structure with few barriers between staff and leaders, who act as mentors. As a result, employees tend to be highly engaged and loyal. Success involves addressing client needs while caring for staff. Clan culture frequently is seen in start-ups and small companies with employees who have been there from the beginning.

2. Adhocracy. Adhocracies are dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative places where employees are encouraged to take risks, and founders are often seen as innovators. They’re committed to experimentation and encourage individual initiative and freedom — with the long-term goal of growing and acquiring new resources. Success, therefore, is defined by the availability of new products or services. Think Facebook and similar technology companies that anticipate needs and establish new standards.

3. Market. These cultures are results-driven and competitive, with an emphasis on achieving measurable goals and targets. They value reputation and success foremost. Employees are goal-oriented while leaders tend to be hard drivers, producers and rivals simultaneously. Market share and penetration are the hallmarks of success, and competitive pricing and industry domination are important. Examples include Amazon and Apple.

4. Hierarchy. Hierarchical businesses have formal, structured work environments where processes and procedures dictate what employees do. Smooth functioning is critical. Companies strive for stability and efficient execution of tasks, as well as low costs. Leaders seek to achieve maximum efficiency and consistency in their respective departments. Hierarchical culture is common in government agencies and old-school businesses such as the Ford Motor Company.

Bear in mind that most companies exhibit a mixture of the four styles, with one type dominant. If you fear your culture is inhibiting you from achieving strategic objectives, there’s good news — cultures can evolve.

Although making widespread changes won’t be easy, no business should accept a culture that’s hindering productivity or possibly even creating liability risks. We can assist you in assessing your operations and profitability to help you gain insights into the impact of your company culture.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

At this time of year, many business owners ask if there’s anything they can do to save tax for the year. Under current tax law, there are two valuable depreciation-related tax breaks that may help your business reduce its 2019 tax liability. To benefit from these deductions, you must buy eligible machinery, equipment, furniture or other assets and place them into service by the end of the tax year. In other words, you can claim a full deduction for 2019 even if you acquire assets and place them in service during the last days of the year.

The Section 179 deduction

Under Section 179, you can deduct (or expense) up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. For tax years beginning in 2019, the expensing limit is $1,020,000. The deduction begins to phase out on a dollar-for-dollar basis for 2019 when total asset acquisitions for the year exceed $2,550,000.

Sec. 179 expensing is generally available for most depreciable property (other than buildings) and off-the-shelf computer software. It’s also available for:

  • Qualified improvement property (generally, any interior improvement to a building’s interior, but not for the internal structural framework, for enlarging a building, or for elevators or escalators),
  • Roofs, and
  • HVAC, fire protection, alarm, and security systems.

The Sec. 179 deduction amount and the ceiling limit are significantly higher than they were a few years ago. In 2017, for example, the deduction limit was $510,000, and it began to phase out when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceeded $2.03 million.

The generous dollar ceiling that applies this year means that many small and medium sized businesses that make purchases will be able to currently deduct most, if not all, of their outlays for machinery, equipment and other assets. What’s more, the fact that the deduction isn’t prorated for the time that the asset is in service during the year makes it a valuable tool for year-end tax planning.

Bonus depreciation

Businesses can claim a 100% bonus first year depreciation deduction for machinery and equipment bought new or used (with some exceptions) if purchased and placed in service this year. The 100% deduction is also permitted without any proration based on the length of time that an asset is in service during the tax year.

Business vehicles

It’s important to note that Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation may also be used for business vehicles. So buying one or more vehicles before December 31 may reduce your 2019 tax liability. But, depending on the type of vehicle, additional limits may apply.

Businesses should consider buying assets now that qualify for the liberalized depreciation deductions. Please contact us if you have questions about depreciation or other tax breaks.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Cloud computing — storing data and accessing apps via the Internet — has been widely adopted by businesses across industry and size. Like many technological advances, though, new derivatives continue to emerge — including so-called multicloud computing.

Under this approach, companies don’t rely on a single cloud service; rather, they distribute their data and computing needs among several providers. Popular options include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

Various advantages

The strategy offers various advantages. For example, like any cloud computing arrangement, it provides scalability. As your needs expand or drop, you can readily adjust your storage capabilities to keep a lid on costs.

Multicloud computing also is a way to hedge your bets. Every cloud provider has downtime at some point but, if you use multiple clouds, you can switch critical workloads and applications to a cloud that’s up and running. And it helps you avoid “vendor lock-in,” or getting restricted to a single provider’s infrastructure, add-on services and pricing models.

Improved performance is another factor. Using several providers based relatively close to you geographically means fewer “network hops” between servers. This reduces latency (the delay between a user’s request and the provider’s response), jitter, packet loss and other disruptions.

Many businesses prefer the “a la carte” nature of multicloud computing. Different providers may have different features that you need to meet your technical or business requirements. For instance, you might choose a pricier but more secure cloud for applications with sensitive data and a cheaper alternative for less sensitive data. Similarly, a business that relies heavily on Windows might use Azure for internal operations but tap AWS for its website and Google Cloud for machine learning.

Potential pitfalls

Some companies find themselves engaging in multicloud computing without ever deciding to do so. Unintentional multiclouds can result from “shadow IT,” whereby different departments or business units start using public clouds on their own accord and then one day turn to IT for help.

Whether multicloud computing develops from shadow IT or a conscious strategic decision, it comes with potential pitfalls. Managing multiple clouds can prove complex. You can use integrated suites of software known as “cloud management platforms” to administer multiple clouds. But these platforms tend to take a “least common denominator” approach, treating multiple clouds as a single cloud by focusing on storage, network and computing functions. As a result, you may find it difficult to leverage each cloud provider’s distinctively useful features.

Total costs

Last but certainly not least, you must consider the total cost of ownership of any multicloud strategy. Although the availability of alternative providers may increase your bargaining power, the cost of paying several vendors can go beyond the upfront prices and monthly fees. You may also incur additional fees for items such as licensing and integration. We can help you perform a cost-benefit analysis of any multicloud solution you’re considering.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

In many industries, market conditions move fast. Businesses that don’t have their ears to the ground can quickly get left behind. That’s just one reason why some of today’s savviest companies are establishing so-called “shadow” (or “mirror”) boards composed of younger, nonexecutive employees who are on the front lines of changing tastes and lifestyles.

Generational change

Millennials — people who were born between approximately 1981 and 1996 — have been flooding the workplace for years now. Following close behind them is Generation Z, those born around the Millennium and now coming of age a couple of decades later.

Despite this influx of younger minds and ideas, many businesses are still run solely by older boards of directors that, while packed with experience and wisdom, might not stay closely attuned to the latest demographic-driven developments in hiring, product or service development, technology, and marketing.

A shadow board of young employees that meets regularly with the actual board (or management team) can help you overcome this hurdle. Ideally, the two boards mentor each other. The older generation shares their hard-earned lessons on leadership, governance, professionalism and the like, while the younger employees keep the senior board abreast of the latest trends, concerns and communication tools among their cohort.

Other benefits

You also can tap the shadow board for their input on issues that directly affect them. For example, would they welcome a new employee benefit under consideration or regard it as irrelevant? Similarly, you can use the board to “test drive” strategies targeting their generation before you get too far down the road.

And your shadow board can serve as generator of new initiatives and innovations, both employee- and customer-facing. Some companies with shadow boards have ended up overhauling their processes, procedures and even business models based on ideas that first emerged from the younger employees’ input.

Another benefit? Shadow boards can keep traditionally job-hopping Millennials from jumping ship. Many are eager to get ahead, often before they’re equipped to do so, and they don’t hesitate to look elsewhere. Selecting younger employees for a shadow board sends them the message that you see their potential and are invested in grooming them for bigger and better things. It also facilitates succession planning, a practice too many businesses overlook.

The right approach

Don’t establish a shadow board just for appearances or without true commitment. That can do more harm than good. Younger generations see lip service for what it is, and word will spread fast if you’re ignoring the shadow board or refusing to seriously consider its input. When done right, this innovative effort can pay off in the long run for everyone involved. Our firm can help you further explore the financial and strategic feasibility of the idea.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Every new company should launch with a business plan and keep it updated. Generally, such a plan will comprise six sections: executive summary, business description, industry and marketing analysis, management team description, implementation plan, and financials.

Now, ideally, you would comprehensively update each section every year. But if the size, shape and objectives of your company haven’t changed all that much, you may not need to make major revisions to the entire plan. However, at the very least, you should always review and revise your financials.

Explain your route

Lenders, investors and other interested parties understand that descriptions of a business or industry analysis may be subject to interpretation. But financials are a different matter — they need to add up (literally and figuratively) and contain realistic projections in today’s dollars.

For example, suppose a company with $10 million in sales in 2019 expects to double that figure over a three-year period. How will you get from Point A ($10 million in 2019) to Point B ($20 million in 2023)? Many roads may lead to the desired destination; your business plan must explain its route.

Let’s say your management team decides to double sales by hiring four new salespeople and acquiring the assets of a bankrupt competitor. These assumptions will drive the projected income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement referenced in your business plan.

Justify assumptions

When projecting the income statement, you’ll need to make assumptions about variable and fixed costs. Direct materials are generally considered variable. Salaries and rent are usually fixed. But many fixed costs can be variable over the long term. Consider rent: Once a lease expires, you could relocate to a different facility to accommodate changes in size.

Balance sheet items — receivables, inventory, payables and so on — are generally expected to grow in tandem with revenues. The financials in your business plan must accurately and reasonably justify the assumptions you’re making about your minimum cash balance, as well as debt increases or decreases to keep the balance sheet balanced. And these amounts must be current.

From a lending perspective, your bank will be expected to fund any cash shortfalls that take place as the company grows. So, realistic cash flow projections in your business plan are particularly critical. The financials section should outline how much financing you’ll need, how you intend to use those funds and when you expect to repay the loan(s).

Keep it fresh

Your business plan needs to tell an accurate, objective story of your company — where it’s been, where it is right now and where it’s heading. Keep the whole thing as fresh as possible but pay special attention to the numbers. We can help you review your financials, arrive at reasonable assumptions, and express your objectives and projections clearly.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Is your business depreciating over a 30-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation? If so, you should consider a cost segregation study. It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Depreciation basics

Business buildings generally have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Most times, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Identifying and substantiating costs

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

Speedier depreciation tax breaks

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold-improvement, retail-improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

Making favorable depreciation changes

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We must judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. To find out whether this would be worthwhile for you, contact us.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

“Love and marriage,” goes the old song: “…You can’t have one without the other.” This also holds true for sales and marketing. Even the best of sales staffs will struggle if not supported by a well-researched and carefully executed marketing plan. Here are six ways to ensure your marketing plan is likely to drive strong sales:

1. Keep customers aware of all your products and services. Among the fundamental objectives of any marketing plan is to familiarize those who buy from you with everything you’re offering. But what often happens is that customers get overly focused on just a few products or services, which in turn limits sales. Make sure your marketing plan maintains the visibility of your total product or service line.

2. Distinguish your products and services from those of competitors. Your salespeople will stand a much greater chance of success if your customers believe you’re the only place to get precisely what they’re looking for. Your marketing plan should emphasize the distinctive value offered by your products or services and how they differ from those of competitors. A key part of this effort involves monitoring the competition’s marketing activities and responding in kind.

3. Benchmark your marketing/advertising budgets. Are competitors outspending you? If so, your sales staff is fighting an uphill battle. To find out, use competitive intelligence and publicly available industry data to determine the average marketing and advertising budgets for companies of similar size and specialty in your area.

4. Search for new markets. While your sales staff is out on the front lines, your marketing team needs to be spending time back at the office looking for additional buyers (or types of buyers). Undertake this research carefully and methodically. When you believe you’ve found a new market, adjust your marketing plan as necessary and train salespeople on how to best traverse this unfamiliar terrain.

5. Track new leads generated through marketing. A good marketing plan not only keeps existing customers engaged and informed, but also pulls in new prospects. Do you know how successful your company has been at doing so? Your sales team may be able to generate some leads themselves, but your marketing department must do its fair share. If it’s not, something needs to change.

6. Update your marketing plan regularly. Coming up with a comprehensive, viable marketing plan isn’t easy. Once they’ve got one, many businesses make the mistake of sticking with it too long, leaving their sales departments to struggle in a dynamic, ever-changing marketplace.

Review your marketing plan often, at least quarterly, and adjust it based on both hard numbers (metrics and sales results) and feedback from your sales staff. Our firm can help you identify, track and better understand the analytical data that aligns a good marketing plan with strong sales figures.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

As an employer, you must pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on amounts up to $7,000 paid to each employee as wages during the calendar year. The rate of tax imposed is 6% but can be reduced by a credit (described below). Most employers end up paying an effective FUTA tax rate of 0.6%. An employer taxed at a 6% rate would pay FUTA tax of $420 for each employee who earned at least $7,000 per year, while an employer taxed at 0.6% pays $42.

Tax credit

Unlike FICA taxes, only employers — and not employees — are liable for FUTA tax. Most employers pay both federal and a state unemployment tax. Unemployment tax rates for employers vary from state to state. The FUTA tax may be offset by a credit for contributions paid into state unemployment funds, effectively reducing (but not eliminating) the net FUTA tax rate.

However, the amount of the credit can be reduced — increasing the effective FUTA tax rate —for employers in states that borrowed funds from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits and defaulted on repaying the loan.

Some services performed by an employee aren’t considered employment for FUTA purposes. Even if an employee’s services are considered employment for FUTA purposes, some compensation received for those services — for example, most fringe benefits — aren’t subject to FUTA tax.

Recognizing the insurance principle of taxing according to “risk,’’ states have adopted laws permitting some employers to pay less. Your unemployment tax bill may be influenced by the number of former employees who’ve filed unemployment claims with the state, the current number of employees you have and the age of your business. Typically, the more claims made against a business, the higher the unemployment tax bill.

Here are four ways to help control your unemployment tax costs:

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

2. Hire conservatively and assess candidates. 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.

It’s often worth having job candidates undergo assessments before they’re hired to see if they’re the right match for your business and the position available. Hiring carefully can increase the likelihood that new employees will work out.

3. Train for success. Many unemployment insurance claimants are awarded benefits despite employer assertions that the employees failed to perform adequately. This may occur because the hearing officer concludes the employer didn’t provide the employee with enough training to succeed in the job.

4. Handle terminations carefully. If you must terminate an employee, consider giving him or her severance as well as 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 a claimant finds a new job.

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

© 2019 Covenant CPA