Author Archives: mattmjtcpacom

Sync.com Reviewed

Sync.com has a lot going for it, and you can see the main features here www.sync.com/features. Pricing makes it a great alternative to the industry standard box.com at $50/year for 500 GB (additional users can be added free or at a similar cost). The software works great for file syncing between my iMac & Macbook Pro, and sharing files securely with clients. The Desktop integration is particularly smooth. After using Sync for a year I have made some comments below, and added tips that aren’t covered in the manual.

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  • The sync is not a backup solution, even though files are stored in the cloud (and locally). To backup files you need to manually copy them to the Vault, which is not synced with devices.
  • Folders are shared with clients via password protected links. Links are emailed to clients from within sync, or pasted into email. However customers receive a long and complicated URL, which is not particularly inviting, especially to less computer savvy users. Also bookmarking the shared folder yields a title of the URL, not the name of the folder or some other customized name (name of the firm for example).
  • There’s no option to download all files in a shared folder. Files have to be downloaded one at a time (even though all can be checked off).
  • Documents cannot be opened for real time editing like in Box. Documents must be downloaded, edited, and re uploaded. You also cannot preview files in the browser, they must be downloaded to view.
  • If the name of a linked folder is changed, it breaks the link (and clients will need to be  sent the new link)
  • The interface is user friendly, but not the most space efficient (a huge gripe of mine with Quickbooks Online) when working and scrolling through a folder with many files.
  • Linked folders do not share folders contained within.
  • Folders/files ending with a period (.) will not sync.
  • All synced files are stored locally as well as in the cloud. Editing large files can be tricky and lead to conflicted versions. For example, editing a large Quickbooks file can cause changes to the local file that is in the process of uploading. Or if you close your laptop and the upload hasn’t completed, but then begin editing on the desktop. Sync will create a duplicate CONFLICT file (see below) with new changes. I try to avoid syncing large files, and push most of my clients to Saas accounting options to avoid this. The vast majority of my files are small size Office files or PDF’s and this is not a problem.

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My file structure for sharing is each client folder contains a folder labeled Share “Client Name.” I then create a link for this folder, a password, and share with the client. This also creates a detailed list of shared folders under the Links tab on sync.com. All documents passed back and forth go here.

Sync.com is a budget friendly option and great for the sole practitioner. Updates are being rolled out, and hopefully some of these issues are addressed in the future.

3 Cornerstones of the CFO-For-Hire Role

The CFO-for-Hire role is a high level service that goes beyond accounting and bookkeeping. Three cornertstones of this role are: financial reporting and analysis, cash flow, and taxation. To succeed, the CFO-for-Hire needs a diverse background that includes accounting, tax, general business knowledge, and technology. These skills aren’t learned in College, or by doing 1120S returns for 10 years. There is no CPE (that I’m aware of). It takes a combination of formal education, self-education, diverse work experience, and determination.

Financial reporting and analysis

Generating accurate financial statements is important, but real value is added by translating financial information into meaningful, actionable items. A few examples:

  • What accounting framework makes sense for internal use & interim financials (often small business uses an OCBOA framework that resembles modified-cash-basis, with some exceptions)?
  • How does this OCBOA framework reconcile to cash on hand and the Statement of Cash Flows? How does this effect reasonable compensation, shareholder loans, and distributions (in the case of S-Corporations). How do I explain to management where all the cash went?
  • Custom reports requested by management, for example unpaid vendors by job or inventory turns by product. Further analysis on these reports is always required.
    • Why is this vendor under deposited? If this cash was used elsewhere, where, and what caused the shortage?
    • How does this product’s turn compare to prior periods? Why the variance? Why did sales volume decrease with a particular customer? Does the customer have a new purchasing agent, change in terms?
  • What does net income look like YTD and annualized for tax planning use? Vs. the prior year? Variance analysis?
  • A comprehensive review of expenses such bank fees, merchant fees, insurance costs, telephone for reasonableness and other cost-effective options.

There is no go-to method for the above. Only careful analysis of detailed activity and conversations with management can the CFO-For-Hire determine the best strategy. Management still makes all decisions, but can be confident they have and understand all relevant financial information.

Cash flow

Small businesses’ top concern is cash flow. The traditional accountant is looking at the prior year for Audit or Tax purposes, and is not in a position to assist with cash flow. When a client does reach out for help, it’s too late. The time needed for the external Accountant to get up to speed is too much. The CFO-For-Hire understands Company operations, is familiar with the detailed, day to day activity, and has found his rhythm working with management on an ongoing basis. The CFO-For-Hire is in a position to provide timely and comprehensive answers. Crucial cash flow items include:

  • Cash inflow: revenue patterns, contracts in force, collection efforts, early payment incentives, future capital investments, loans from stakeholders, short and long term borrowings.
  • Cash outflow: Historical expense activity, payroll, float time on disbursements, debt and debt consolidation options, often volatile fees such as bank fees, merchant fees, payroll fees, retirement plan fees.

With this information a projection of cashflow can be made, highly customized to the client. I’ve found that isolating the profit in this projection, and scheduling the inflow of profit on a weekly or monthly basis particularly helpful for projecting cash on hand. Add to this an overhead budget and you know the where and when on your cashflow.

Taxation

The 3rd cornerstone is taxation. Tax planning based off a Bookkeeper’s 6/30/XX financials is productive, but not nearly as effective as when done by the CFO-For-Hire. High level tax planning done by the CFO-For-Hire before major decisions are made allows for a range of options to be considered, and all pro’s & con’s to be evaluated. Specific examples include:

  • Planning for fixed asset purchases – depreciation consequences including 179, 179 phase out, bonus on new purchases, state 179 limitations, AMT adjustments, constructed assets and date placed in service.
  • Inventory – stock levels, valuation options, write downs, 263A adjustments.
  • Reasonable compensation issues including wage & bonus amounts, distribution levels, and loans to shareholders.
  • Income projections at the business & individual level.
  • Reviewing qualified plan options at the entity level, and corresponding options at the individual level
  • Recommend applicable deductions & credits such as Domestic Production Activities Dedication, R&D credit, health insurance credit, etc.
  • Interface with & review 3rd party tax preparation (often firms retain their outside preparer as they’ve had a long standing relationship)

Financial reporting and analysis, cash flow projections, and taxation are the three cornerstones, and also the most frequently requested services of the CFO-For-Hire. However the work doesn’t end there. Other common issues include multi-entity setups, software & technology, inventory management, personal finances, Qualified Plans, Federal & State Compliance, and countless more.

401k Record Keeper Conversion

I recently assisted a CFO-For-Hire client with the transition of their 401k plan to a new record keeper. The process was much more lengthy then expected, and I thought I’d share my experience.

The client has a 401k plan with less than 10 employees utilizing an Alliance service between Paychex and Legg Mason. The client likes this delivery model as it offers the convenience and cost savings of combined payroll, workers compensation,  and 401k record keeping, while also having access to 3rd party investment experts. An unbundled service is too costly for small business, and the idea of a bundled service puts too much faith in one party.

The client had a number of complaints with the current keeper which lead to the transition. This included limited fund options, poor fund performance, high fees (including fees on other services such as payroll and worker’s compensation insurance), a mishandling of account funds during the Lehman Brothers fall out (some investments went “unaccounted for” for a period of time), and poor website interface. So with these issues in mind, ADP was chosen by the client to take over.

Key points

Documents with the new keeper were signed, and the ball is rolling. The new keeper handles all contact with the prior keeper, and coordinates the transition. ADP has a team specifically for these conversions. At this point the Company has a number of decisions to make, and their involvement is crucial. A couple of important points:

  • There is a fee to leave the current keeper, in this case $1,500.
  • You are at the complete mercy of the current keeper as to the timeline of the conversion. They have to prepare plan documents for transfer and wire funds, and are not in a rush to do this (and give up fees). Our conversion process took approximately 5 months start to finish.
  • Now is a good time to update your Adoption Agreement, as this can be done without charge by the new keeper. Attributes such as matching amounts, eligibility requirements, and loan options, can all be updated.
  • Clean out old employees. Legacy plans often show participants that have long since left the company. For those without balances, these can be deleted. Participants with balances under $5,000 can be forced into IRA’s, and participants with larger balances should be contacted about rolling over their funds.
  • The new keeper will have different investments options with their Partner. You will have the option to transfer investments to similar funds (called matching), or transfer all balances to cash.
  • Upon receipt of the plan by the new keeper, a 30 day blackout period begins. No adjustments to accounts can be made while the plan is being set up, and no new participants can be enrolled.
  • During the blackout period the new keeper will review plan compliance, update the Adoption Agreement for any changes, and request any needed missing information (birthday’s, addresses, etc.)
  • The new service has an employee portal, so employees can manage their 401k accounts. This is convenient (and safer?) for the employer, as employees can adjust contribution rates, loan money, take distributions, access statements, etc. at their discretion.

Bottom line is the conversion took longer than expected. Our black out date kept getting pushed back as Paychex delayed the conversion, and the employees were kind of bewildered. This delay, along with the cost of management and consultant time, should be factored into a decision to convert.

What’s Good for the Client is Good for Me

The AICPA Code of Professional Conduct is a 186-page document which contains the Principles of Professional Conduct that accountants strive to practice by. The Principals require a responsibility to exercise professional and moral judgment, a practitioner to serve the public interest, to act with integrity, to act with objectivity and independence, and exercise due care. These seem clear; until a situation arises that sends the practitioner scrambling for clarification (for example the Code has 76 pages of Independence interpretations due to the almost limitless situations that can occur).

Accounting ethical dilemmas are more common than you might think. I don’t perform Attest services, so Independence is not an issue. Common ethical dilemmas, especially for solo practitioners that are dependent on a few larger clients, can be:

  • Over billing for hours not worked
  • Decreasing productivity to bill more hours
  • Taking commissions for referrals (investments, payroll, insurance)
  • Recommending unnecessary services
  • Accepting clients who may present a conflict of interest

I strive for long term client relationships, it’s a win-win for both parties. A Company’s prosperity can be directly linked to a successful professional/client relationship (and visa versa I hope). So I’ve found a good rule of thumb to be – what’s good for the client is good for me.

None of the items I’ve listed above are good for the client. Would over billing make or break a Company? No, but what if all vendors and consultants billed unethically? Then sure, that could bring down a Company. And there goes that long-term relationship I’m striving for.

For arguments sake, let’s say one were to round up billings. How much? Just once, or indefinitely? This leads down the slippery of slope of rationalization (a major fraud risk). The company wouldn’t notice X amount, or can handle Y amount with no downside. And no one will find out, so what’s the harm? And from there things can quickly get out of hand. In my experience, once people taste that easy money, there is no quenching that thirst.

So I strive to practice while keeping in mind, what’s good for the client is good for me. Now, like everything in life, there are exceptions. If acting in a client’s best interest is detrimental to my Practice or to another client, or would require me to violate the Code of Professional Conduct, or is illegal, that’s another matter. But the rule of thumb simplifies that 186-page document enough that I can practice by it without getting bogged down in the details.

Apple Macintosh in Accounting

Using Apple Macintosh in Public Accounting is virtually unheard of (taboo?). However with the advent of cloud software, this has become a viable option. I’ve used an IMac/MacBook Pro combo for the last five years, and it’s been one of my best decisions. Below are my thoughts on the Macintosh Platform.

Stability – To me the Mac feels more stable (panic crashes, random program shutdowns, driver conflicts, blue screens of death), although Windows has improved significantly. Apple has no 3rd party drivers, as they control all hardware used in the computers, and design the Platform to work specifically with each component. No updating drivers or unsupported hardware.

Design – Accountants spend a lot of time at their computer. People discount how important ascetics are to the overall experience, and a computer that is pleasing to the eye makes long stretches more tolerable. I would compare this to working in an office with a window vs. working in a cubicle. The iMac design comes across to me as clean, modern, uncluttered, and of high quality.

Workflow – One word: Spaces. A feature in OS X, Spaces allows multiple instances of your desktop to exist side by side. This allows you to organize work areas by client, by type of work, by personal vs. work, or however you can think. This is essential when I’m on my laptop with a single, small, 13-inch screen. Below is a screenshot of the zoomed out management view for Spaces, where you can assign applications or individual windows to the Space of your choosing. On the left are work windows, and the right personal windows (iMessage, iTunes, iCal, a Card index). Other workflow advantages include hot corners, an excellent built in search function, hourly and automatic backups with Time Capsule, and Back to Mac via iCloud.

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iCloud – iCloud saves me time by syncing information across all devices, and plays nice with my iPhone. Contacts, Passwords, Email, Reminders, Bookmarks, Photos, Music, Text Messages, and Backups all sync with no action on my part. I do not like wasting time managing these items.

Virus Software –I’ve never needed any, and never had a virus. No more virus scans or paying for virus software. Although Windows has improved their built in security quite a bit.

Computer Life – my Macs seem to last a long time. I used the last one regularly for 6 years. This along with the free software (all OS X upgrades are free) and excellent customer service should be factored into the high cost. In my mind Macs are not more expensive.

Remote Work – I often work remotely, and log into client PC’s through Microsoft Remote Desktop. The program is robust and dependable. Cloud software makes this less of an issue.

Accounting Software – This is where Accountants may give pause. I do not offer Attest services, however I believe all Attest related software is PC only. Some accountants get by with Word/Excel, but this is definitely an area to give consideration if you perform these services.

  • Tax – I use Intuit Tax Online, a Cloud Platform, and therefore browser based. Works great on my Mac (no Adobe Flash post 2012!).
  • Accounting – there are a number of Accounting Software options that work on Macs. I support Xero and QuickBooks Online, both Cloud based. However I also use QuickBooks for Mac desktop, and convert client’s PC QuickBooks files when needed.

Windows on the Mac – I do have Microsoft Windows installed on my Mac via Boot Camp. On rare occasion this is handy. I use it to convert PC QuickBooks Files (for those clients not in the cloud), open Quicken Files, use TaxTools, and occasionally Lacerte (very popular tax software here in California). Using Windows in Boot Camp is not ideal, but handy in a pinch.

For many traditional firms Macs are not an option due to the limited Software options (for Attest and Tax software and other specialized accounting software). However for the Practitioner without these issues, Macintosh can make sense. I’m also curious to hear from other Practitioners who have made the switch or are considering Macintosh.

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S Corporations – Higher Wages, Lower Distributions

The traditional thought is that tax savings in S Corporations are realized through taking reasonable compensation as wages, and additional money withdrawn as distributions. Distributions are not subject to payroll taxes. In many cases this makes sense, and is an appropriate strategy. But not always. Below is a list of reasons to avoid distributions, and paying the extra payroll taxes might be worth it.

Loans & Mortgages

Unfortunately lenders consider the W-2 as the gold standard when extending credit. They should consider multiple items when evaluating credit worthiness of a client with a pass-through entity—wages, distributions, loan activity, contributions, and 401k/profit sharing activity. Unfortunately, lenders are not savvy enough to understand the complete picture, and often discount or ignore the K-1 activity. Considering this activity is necessary in an analysis of cash flow from the S Corporation to the Shareholder. If the shareholder wants maximum buying power at minimum rates, the W-2 is the hassle-free answer.

California Income Tax

California imposes a 1.5% tax on S Corporation net income. In a case where the shareholder is exceeding the FICA cap on wages of $118,500, distributions only save 1.4% on payroll taxes (the combined Medicare tax of 2.9% less California income tax of 1.5%). Yes the shareholder may be subject to the additional .9% Medicare tax. However as a percentage, distributions saving on payroll taxes is not as high as many presume.

Research & Development Credit

In a case where the Owner is performing Research and Development, his wages may be considered qualified expenses for the R&D credit. Distributions are not eligible. With high wages, this credit can be significant (however is often subject to the General Business Credit Limitations, especially AMT). The credit does carry forward, and through careful planning, it can often be worth paying additional taxes to secure.

Defined Benefit Plan Benefit Limitations

For Clients who have a Defined Benefit Plan or dual plans, contributions are limited based upon compensation amounts. Contributions cannot exceed 100% of wages, and with a contribution limit for a dual plan being up to $265,000, high wages are needed to reach the maximum contribution. Also in profit sharing allocations, the Annual Compensation Limit of up to $265,000 is used, allocating more to Ownership. These scenarios often arise in the Professional Services field.

IRS Scrutiny

Wages vs. Distribution is a hot topic for debate. Guidance on this topic varies widely, from exact ratios to circumstantial calculations. IRS opinion of reasonable compensation likely varies from agent to agent. Maximizing wages removes this as an issue in the event of an exam.

Above are some items to consider when determining shareholder wages. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. However in certain cases, high wages make sense, and the practitioner should discuss these considerations with the client.