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

There’s a tax-advantaged way for people to save for the needs of family members with disabilities — without having them lose eligibility for government benefits to which they’re entitled. It can be done though an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account, which is a tax-free account that can be used for disability-related expenses.

Eligibility

ABLE accounts can be created by eligible individuals to support themselves, by family members to support their dependents, or by guardians for the benefit of the individuals for whom they’re responsible.

Eligible individuals must be blind or disabled — and must have become so before turning age 26. They also must be entitled to benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. Alternatively, an individual can become eligible if a disability certificate is filed with the IRS for him or her.

Here are some other key factors:

  • Distributions from an ABLE account are tax-free if used to pay for expenses that maintain or improve the beneficiary’s health, independence, or quality of life. These expenses include education; housing; transportation; employment support; health and wellness costs; assistive technology; personal support services; and other IRS-approved expenses.
  • Anyone can contribute to an ABLE account. While contributions aren’t tax-deductible, the funds in the account are invested and grow free of tax.
  • If distributions are used for nonqualified expenses, the portion of the distribution that represents earnings on the account is subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty.
  • An eligible individual can have only one ABLE account. Contributions up to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount, currently $15,000, may be made to an ABLE account each year for the benefit of an eligible person. Starting in 2018, if the beneficiary works, the beneficiary can also contribute part, or all, of their income to their account. (This additional contribution is limited to the poverty-line amount for a one-person household.)
  • There’s also a limit on the total account balance. This limit, which varies from state to state, is equal to the limit imposed by that state on qualified tuition (Section 529) plans.
  • ABLE accounts have no impact on an individual’s Medicaid eligibility. However, ABLE account balances in excess of $100,000 are counted toward the SSI program’s $2,000 individual resource limit. Thus, an individual’s SSI benefits are suspended, but not terminated, when his or her ABLE account balance exceeds $102,000 (assuming the individual has no other assets). In addition, distributions from an ABLE account to pay housing expenses count toward the SSI income limit.
  • For contributions made before 2026, the designated beneficiary can claim the saver’s credit for contributions made to his or her ABLE account.

We can help with the options

There are many choices. ABLE accounts are established under state programs. An account may be opened under any state’s program (if the state allows out-of-state participants). The funds in an account can be invested in a variety of options and the account’s investment directions can be changed up to twice a year. Contact us if you’d like more details about setting up or maintaining an ABLE account.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

One of the most laborious tasks for small businesses is managing payroll. But it’s critical that you not only withhold the right amount of taxes from employees’ paychecks but also that you pay them over to the federal government on time.

If you willfully fail to do so, you could personally be hit with the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty, also known as the 100% penalty. The penalty applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages. Since the taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over.

The reason the penalty is sometimes called the “100% penalty” is because the person liable for the taxes (called the “responsible person”) can be personally penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts the IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and the IRS is aggressive in enforcing it.

Responsible persons

The penalty can be imposed on any person “responsible” for the collection and payment of the taxes. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors, and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax, as well as a partnership’s partners or any employee of the business under such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under certain circumstances. Responsibility has even been extended in some cases to professional advisors.

According to the IRS, being a responsible person is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are paid may be responsible. There is often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. Although taxpayers held liable may sue other responsible persons for their contributions, this is an action they must take entirely on their own after they pay the penalty. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.

The net can be broadly cast. You may not be directly involved with the withholding process in your business. But let’s say you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and you have the power to have them paid. Instead, you make payments to creditors and others. You have now become a responsible person.

How the IRS defines “willfulness”

For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bowing to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes due to the government is willful behavior for these purposes. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook.

In addition, the corporate veil won’t shield corporate owners from the 100% penalty. The liability protections that owners of corporations — and limited liability companies — typically have don’t apply to payroll tax debts.

If the IRS assesses the penalty, it can file a lien or take levy or seizure action against the personal assets of a responsible person.

Avoiding the penalty

You should never allow any failure to withhold taxes from employees, and no “borrowing” from withheld amounts should ever be allowed in your business — regardless of the circumstances. All funds withheld must be paid over on time.

If you aren’t already using a payroll service, consider hiring one. This can relieve you of the burden of withholding and paying the proper amounts, as well as handling the recordkeeping. Contact us for more information.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

The U.S. economy depends on import and export markets to run as designed. After all, revenue from trade tariffs and duties contribute $30 billion annually to federal government coffers. Unfortunately, fraud regularly throws a wrench in the works of global trade, and individual businesses suffer. Your company might, for example, lose money if a seller ships substandard goods or it could get fleeced if it turns out that a shipment doesn’t exist.

The problem with letters of credit

To facilitate international trade, buyers and sellers often rely on documentary letters of credit (DLCs). For a fee, banks issue DLCs that pay sellers from buyers once the specified terms of the DLC are fulfilled. These documents theoretically shift risk to the bank offering the DLC.

According to the Uniform Customs & Practice for Documentary Credits, banks should work with “documents and not with goods, services or performance to which the documents may relate.” Therefore, sellers can present the documents specified in the DLC and receive payment, yet still defraud buyers.

To this end, a seller might:

Falsify documents about cargo status. Even though the seller receives payment under the DLC, the goods never materialize.

Sell substandard goods. Here, the seller ships goods made with lower-quality materials or less than the quantity ordered by the buyer.

Contract with more than one buyer. In this scenario, the cargo exists, but the seller “sells” it to multiple buyers. It collects payment for more than one shipment, but only one company receives the goods. Similarly, a seller might present duplicate bills of lading for the same cargo.

Solutions for protecting your business

So how can you engage in international trade and avoid crooked players? If you’re buying goods, research the seller’s background. Ask for and check references and contact the consulate general in the country where the seller is located. Third-party experts can also investigate the financial standing and business reputations of prospective international trade partners.

You might also engage an independent inspector to verify a shipment. If you include an inspection clause in your DLC, the bank will only issue payment to the seller after it receives the inspection certificate. Or, insert a clause in the DLC that allows you to inspect the goods yourself before payment is released.

Exporters should also be wary

If you’re exporting goods overseas, many of the same principles apply, including performing thorough research on your trade partner. Also, to prevent costly misunderstandings, make sure your contract includes a detailed list of buyer and seller responsibilities. For more information about exporting goods, visit the federal government’s export.gov site or contact us.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

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