Anderson ZurMuehlen Blog

IRS Warns TaxPayers About Scam Groups Masquerading as Charitable Organizations

The IRS is warning taxpayers against scam groups masquerading as charitable organizations. The phony charities attempt to attract donations from unsuspecting taxpayers, using a charitable reason and the promise of a tax deduction as bait. The fraudsters often use names similar to those of nationally known organizations. Fake charities are one of the IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2018 filing season. To help ensure you can make tax deductible donations, use the IRS’s Select Check tool ( to find legitimate, qualified charities.


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How to Classify Shareholder Advances

Owners of closely held businesses sometimes need to advance their companies money to bridge a temporary downturn or provide extra cash flow for an expansion, a major expense or other purposes. Should you categorize those advances as bona fide debt, additional paid-in capital or something in between? Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the answer depends on the facts and circumstances of the transaction.

Debt vs. equity

The proper classification of shareholder advances is especially important when a company has more than one shareholder or unsecured bank loans. It’s also relevant for tax purposes, because advances that are classified as debt typically require imputed interest charges. However, the tax rules may not always sync with GAAP.

To further complicate matters, shareholders sometimes forgive loans or convert them to equity. Reporting these types of transactions can become complex when the fair value of the equity differs from the carrying value of the debt.

Relevant factors

When deciding how to classify shareholder advances, it’s important to consider the economic substance of the transaction over its form. Some factors to consider when classifying these transactions include:

Intent to repay. Open-ended understandings between related parties about repayment imply that an advance is a form of equity. For example, an advance may be classified as a capital contribution if it was extended to save the business from imminent failure and no attempts at repayment have ever been made.

Loan terms. An advance is more likely to be treated as bona fide debt if the parties have signed a written promissory note that bears reasonable interest, has a fixed maturity date and a history of periodic loan repayments, and includes some form of collateral. If an advance is subordinate to bank debt and other creditors, it’s more likely to qualify as equity, however.

Ability to repay. This includes the company’s historic and future debt service capacity, as well as its credit standing and ability to secure other forms of financing. The stronger these factors are, the more appropriate it may be to classify the shareholder advance as debt.

Third-party reporting. Consistently treating an advance as debt (or equity) on tax returns can provide additional insight into its proper classification.

With shareholder advances, disclosures are key. Under GAAP, you’re required to describe any related-party transactions, including the magnitude and specific line items in the financial statements that are affected. Numerous related-party transactions may necessitate the use of a tabular format to make the footnotes to the financial statements reader friendly.

Need help?

Shareholder advances present financial reporting challenges that can’t be fixed with a one-size-fits-all solution. We can help you address the challenges based on the nature of your transactions and adequately disclose these transactions in your financial statement footnotes.

© 2018

What is Job Cost Reporting?


Custom jobs require ongoing supervision to achieve the best financial results. Whether you’re a general contractor constructing a strip mall, a manufacturer building made-to-order parts or an architect drawing up blueprints, once a project is underway it’s easy to focus on getting the job done, rather than on the resources that are being consumed.

That’s why job cost reporting — the process of coding and allocating project expenses to track financial efficiency and profitability — is a mission-critical activity. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind.

Smart estimates

Proper job cost reporting begins with solid cost estimates. Start each job by arranging the estimates in the same cost categories that will be used to accumulate the actual job cost information. This will enable you to effectively manage contract activities. And you’ll be better able to compare the actual job costs to estimated costs.

The proper format often depends on how many job-costing levels were used in the estimate. For instance, larger jobs may require phase, activity or even unit costing. For smaller jobs, totals for, say, materials, labor and subcontracts are sufficient. If you perform service-type work, your cost information needs may include just job totals by labor, materials and other direct costs.

Information needs

What kinds of cost information do you need during and after the job? These requirements depend on the time span of that job and the nature of the work.

Jobs that will be completed over several months lend themselves to more-detailed reporting. The size and scope of the particular job, as well as the software and people available to process and monitor job cost information, also affect the amount of detail you can include.

Progress reports

Cost reporting during the job is critical to controlling costs. Monitoring actual progress to date compared with planned progress to date determines where the job is at a particular time.

Keep in mind that you can’t take corrective action until you know something is deviating from the plan. That’s why executing continuous job cost reporting from the estimate to completion is so important. But jobs completed within a few days or weeks may not benefit from detailed cost reporting because time constraints make it difficult to identify problems early enough to take effective corrective action.

Also remember, as experienced as you might be, gut feelings regarding how costs are running compared with how they were estimated are usually insufficient. You must obtain facts about the cost activities from jobs-in-process reports. Even if your “intuition” turns out to be correct, it may come too late for you to head off a major problem.

Worth the effort

Proper job cost reporting takes persistence and, ideally, a good software system. The truth is that better numbers will lead to better results in the form of less costly, more profitable projects. Need help designing an effective job cost system? Our accounting professionals can help you select software and implement a costing system that’s right for you.

© 2018

Fixed vs. Variable Costs: How to Compute Breakeven

Breakeven analysis can be useful when investing in new equipment, launching a new product or analyzing the effects of a cost reduction plan. The breakeven point is fairly easy to calculate using information from your company’s income statement. Here are the details.

Analyzing your costs

Breakeven can be explained in a few different ways. It’s the point at which total sales are equal to total expenses. More specifically, it’s where net income is equal to zero and sales are equal to variable costs plus fixed costs.

To calculate your breakeven point, you need to understand a few terms:

Fixed expenses. These are the expenses that remain relatively unchanged with changes in your business volume. Examples: property taxes, salaries, insurance and depreciation.

Variable/semi-fixed expenses. Your sales volume determines the ebb and flow of these expenses. If you had no sales revenue, you’d have no variable expenses and your semifixed expenses would be lower. Examples: shipping costs, materials, supplies, advertising and training.

Applying the breakeven formula

The basic formula for calculating the breakeven point is:

Breakeven = fixed expenses / 1 – (variable expenses / sales).

Breakeven can be computed on various levels: It can be estimated for the company overall or by product line or division, as long as you have requisite sales and cost data broken down. For example, let’s suppose Division A generates $12 million in revenue, has fixed costs of $1 million and variable costs of $10.8 million. Here’s how those numbers fit into the breakeven formula:

Annual breakeven = $1 million / 1 – ($10.8 million / $12 million) = $10 million

Monthly breakeven = $10 million / 12 = $833,333

As long as expenses stay within budget, the breakeven point will be reliable. In the example, variable expenses must remain at 90% of revenue and fixed expenses must stay at $1 million. If either of these variables changes, the breakeven point will change.

Real-world applications

Many companies use breakeven point to set revenue goals and prepare budgets. In addition, breakeven analysis can tell you the amount of incremental sales you need to recoup an investment, such as buying a new machine or hiring a new salesperson. Alternatively, breakeven can help gauge the effects of cost reduction plans. Contact us if you have questions or need help working through the calculations.

© 2018

Use Benchmarking to Swim with the Big Fish

You may keep a wary eye on your competitors, but sometimes it helps to look just a little bit deeper. Even if you’re a big fish in your pond, someone a little bigger may be swimming up just beneath you. Being successful means not just being aware of these competitors, but also knowing their approaches and results.

And that’s where benchmarking comes in. By comparing your company with the leading competition, you can identify weaknesses in your business processes, set goals to correct these problems and keep a constant eye on how your company is doing. In short, benchmarking can help your company grow more successful.

2 basic methods

The two basic benchmarking methods are:

1. Quantitative benchmarking. This compares performance results in terms of key performance indicators (formulas or ratios) in areas such as production, marketing, sales, market share and overall financials.

2. Qualitative benchmarking. Here you compare operating practices — such as production techniques, quality of products or services, training methods, and morale — without regard to results.

You can break down each of these basic methods into more specific methods, defined by how the comparisons are made. For example, internal benchmarking compares similar operations and disseminates best practices within your organization, while competitive benchmarking compares processes and methods with those of your direct competitors.

Waters, familiar and new

The specifics of any benchmarking effort will very much depend on your company’s industry, size, and product or service selection, as well as the state of your current market. Nonetheless, by watching how others navigate the currents, you can learn to swim faster and more skillfully in familiar waters. And, as your success grows, you may even identify optimal opportunities to plunge into new bodies of water.

For more information on this topic, or other profit-enhancement ideas, please contact our firm. We would welcome the opportunity to help you benchmark your way to greater success.

© 2018

Do Your Financial Statements Contain Hidden Messages?

Over time, many business owners develop a sixth sense: They learn how to “read” a financial statement by computing financial ratios and comparing them to the company’s results over time and against those of competitors. Here are some key performance indicators (KPIs) that can help you benchmark your company’s performance in three critical areas.

1. Liquidity

“Liquid” companies have sufficient current assets to meet their current obligations. Cash is obviously the most liquid asset, followed by marketable securities, receivables and inventory.
Working capital — the difference between current assets and current liabilities — is one way to measure liquidity. Other KPIs that assess liquidity include working capital as a percentage of total assets and the current ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities). A more rigorous benchmark is the acid (or quick) test, which excludes inventory and prepaid assets from the equation.

2. Profitability

When it comes to measuring profitability, public companies tend to focus on earnings per share. But private firms typically look at profit margin (net income divided by revenue) and gross margin (gross profits divided by revenue).

For meaningful comparisons, you’ll need to adjust for nonrecurring items, discretionary spending and related-party transactions. When comparing your business to other companies with different tax strategies, capital structures or depreciation methods, it may be useful to compare earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

3. Asset management

Turnover ratios show how efficiently companies manage their assets. Total asset turnover (sales divided by total assets) estimates how many dollars in revenue a company generates for every dollar invested in assets. In general, the more dollars earned, the more efficiently assets are used.

Turnover ratios also can be measured for each specific category of assets. For example, you can calculate receivables turnover ratios in terms of days. The collection period equals average receivables divided by annual sales multiplied by 365 days. A collection period of 45 days indicates that the company takes an average of one and one-half months to collect invoices.

It’s all relative

The amounts reported on a company’s financial statements are meaningless without a relevant basis of comparison. Contact us for help identifying KPIs and benchmarking your company’s performance over time or against competitors in your industry.

© 2018


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Turning Employee Ideas into Profitable Results

Many businesses train employees how to do their jobs and only their jobs. But amazing things can happen when you also teach staff members to actively involve themselves in a profitability process — that is, an ongoing, idea-generating system aimed at adding value to your company’s bottom line.

Let’s take a closer look at how to get your workforce involved in coming up with profitable ideas and then putting those concepts into action.

6 steps to implementation

Without a system to discover ideas that originate from the day-in, day-out activities of your business, you’ll likely miss opportunities to truly maximize profitability. What you want to do is put a process in place for gathering profit-generating ideas, picking out the most actionable ones and then turning those ideas into results. Here are six steps to implementing such a system:

1. Share responsibility for profitability with your management team.
2. Instruct managers to challenge their employees to come up with profit-building ideas.
3. Identify the employee-proposed ideas that will most likely increase sales, maximize profit margins or control expenses.
4. Tie each chosen idea to measurable financial goals.
5. Name those accountable for executing each idea.
6. Implement the ideas through a clear, patient and well-monitored process.

For the profitability process to be effective, it must be practical, logical and understandable. All employees — not just management — should be able to use it to turn ideas and opportunities into bottom-line results. As a bonus, a well-constructed process can improve business skills and enhance morale as employees learn about profit-enhancement strategies, come up with their own ideas and, in some cases, see those concepts turned into reality.

A successful business

Most employees want to not only succeed at their own jobs, but also work for a successful business. A strong profitability process can help make this happen. To learn more about this and other ways to build your company’s bottom line, contact us.

© 2018


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Unlock Hidden Cash from Your Balance Sheet


Need cash in a hurry? Here’s how business owners can look to their financial statements to improve cash flow. 


Many businesses turn first to their receivables when trying to drum up extra cash. For example, you could take a carrot-and-stick approach to your accounts receivable — offering early bird discounts to new or trustworthy customers while tightening credit policies or employing in-house collections staff to “talk money in the door.”

But be careful: Using too much stick could result in a loss of customers, which would obviously do more harm than good. So don’t rely on amped up collections alone for help. Also consider refining your collection process through measures such as electronic invoicing, requesting upfront payments from customers with questionable credit and using a bank lockbox to speed up cash deposits.


The next place to find extra cash is inventory. Keep this account to a minimum to reduce storage, pilferage and security costs. This also helps you keep a closer, more analytical eye on what’s in stock.

Have you upgraded your inventory tracking and ordering systems recently? Newer ones can enable you to forecast demand and keep overstocking to a minimum. In appropriate cases, you can even share data with customers and suppliers to make supply and demand estimates more accurate.


With payables, the approach is generally the opposite of how to get cash from receivables. That is, you want to delay the payment process to keep yourself in the best possible cash position.

But there’s a possible downside to this strategy: Establishing a reputation as a slow payer can lead to unfavorable payment terms and a compromised credit standing. If this sounds familiar, see whether you need to rebuild your vendors’ trust. The goal is to, indeed, take advantage of deferred payments as a form of interest-free financing while still making those payments within an acceptable period.

Is your balance sheet lean?

Smooth day-to-day operations require a steady influx of cash. By cutting the “fat” from your working capital accounts, you can generate and deploy liquid cash to maintain your company’s competitive edge and keep it in good standing with stakeholders. For more ideas on how to manage balance sheet items more efficiently, contact us.

© 2018

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2 Tax Credits Just for Small Businesses May Reduce Your 2017 and 2018 Tax Bills

Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, potentially making them more valuable than deductions, which reduce only the amount of income subject to tax. Maximizing available credits is especially important now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has reduced or eliminated some tax breaks for businesses. Two still-available tax credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits.

1. Credit for paying health care coverage premiums

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. Despite various congressional attempts to repeal the ACA in 2017, nearly all of its provisions remain intact, including this potentially valuable tax credit.

The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, if it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2017, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $26,200 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,400.

The credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.) If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2017 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away in the future if lawmakers in Washington continue to try to repeal or replace the ACA.

At this point, most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2017, you may also be able to claim it on your 2018 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.

2. Credit for starting a retirement plan

Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.

Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.

If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2017, you might still have time to do so. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions. If you’d like to set up a different type of plan, consider doing so for 2018 so you can potentially take advantage of the retirement plan credit (and other tax benefits) when you file your 2018 return next year.

Determining eligibility

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these tax credits. We’d be happy to help you determine whether you’re eligible for these or other credits on your 2017 return and also plan for credits you might be able to claim on your 2018 return if you take appropriate actions this year.

© 2018

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Footnote Disclosures are Critical to Transparent Financial Reporting

Business owners often complain that they’re required to provide too many disclosures under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). But comprehensive financial statement footnotes contain a wealth of valuable information.

Here are some examples of hidden risk factors that may be discovered by reading footnote disclosures. This information is good to know when evaluating your company’s performance, as well as when evaluating the performance of publicly traded competitors or potential M&A targets.

Unreported or contingent liabilities

A company’s balance sheet might not reflect all future obligations. Detailed footnotes may reveal, for example, a potentially damaging lawsuit, an IRS inquiry or an environmental claim. Footnotes also spell out the details of loan terms, warranties, contingent liabilities and leases.

Related-party transactions

Companies may give preferential treatment to, or receive it from, related parties. Footnotes are supposed to disclose related parties with whom the company conducts business.

For example, say a retailer rents retail space from its owner’s parents at below-market rents, saving roughly $200,000 each year. Because the retailer doesn’t disclose that this favorable related-party deal exists, the business appears more profitable on the face of its income statement than it really is. When the owner’s parents unexpectedly die — and the owner’s sister, who inherits the real estate, raises the rent — the retailer could fall on hard times and the stakeholders could be blindsided by the undisclosed related-party risk.

Accounting changes

Footnotes disclose the nature and justification for a change in accounting principle, as well as that change’s effect on the financial statements. Valid reasons exist to change an accounting method, such as a regulatory mandate. But dishonest managers can use accounting changes in, say, depreciation or inventory reporting methods to manipulate financial results.

Significant events

Outside stakeholders appreciate a forewarning of impending problems, such as the recent loss of a major customer or stricter regulations in effect for the coming year. Footnotes disclose significant events that could materially impact future earnings or impair business value.

Moving target

In recent years, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has been trying to revamp its rules to minimize so-called “disclosure overload,” without compromising financial reporting transparency. Examples of disclosure-related projects currently on the FASB’s radar include fair value measurements, government assistance, inventory and income taxes. We can help you understand the latest developments in footnote disclosures and discuss any concerns you may have when reviewing the fine print in your company’s footnotes — or in the disclosures made by other companies.

© 2018


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