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  • 03/18/2021 8:16 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    March 17, 2021

    Washington, D.C. – Following weeks of calls from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), Members of Congress and other groups to extend the April 15th filing and payment deadline, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced today that it would extend the filing and payment deadline for some – but not all – taxpayers for the 2021 tax season from April 15th to May 17th.

    “While we appreciate the IRS’ recognition that a filing deadline postponement is indeed necessary, the announcement is far too selective in who is receiving relief,” said AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA. “In fact, the taxpayers who are most likely to benefit from this additional time are taxpayers who are able to meet the original filing deadline.”

    According to an IRS press release, the relief does not include estimated tax payments that are due on April 15th. This IRS extension does not extend to the millions of small business owners and individuals who pay estimated taxes and the following:

    • Trust income tax payments and return filings on Form 1041
    • Corporate income tax payments and return filings on various Forms 1120

    “Americans, individuals and small businesses have been impacted immeasurably. The fact is virtually all aspects of the federal government and state and local governments have also been impacted. A fair assessment might conclude, for a variety of reasons, that the IRS has been affected more than other federal agencies. I believe taxpayers and practitioners understand this,” Melancon continued. “It is commendable that the IRS wants to demonstrate a return to normalcy. However, the IRS, through no fault of their employees, is seeing significant backlogs, inundated phone lines, unopened mail by the millions and systems sending out unwarranted notices. Extending all tax returns due to June 15th exhibits an understanding of the IRS' impact on the American public.”

    In letters to the Department of the Treasury and the IRS, AICPA has emphasized that the benefits of extending the payment and filing deadline to June 15th would ease the impact of the pandemic on taxpayers – especially small businesses – and tax practitioners and help many states maintain revenue levels within their current fiscal years.

    Failure to include estimated payments nullifies any benefit of a postponement since the tax return work has to be done to calculate estimated payments. More than 9.5 million individual returns filed in for the 2018 tax year included estimated payments.

    “This selective decision by the IRS unfortunately creates more bureaucracy and confusion and is out of sync with real world stresses that taxpayers, tax practitioners and small businesses are dealing with,” said Melancon.

    BACKGROUND:

    • In a letter sent earlier last month, the AICPA called attention to the hardship that millions of taxpayers and tax practitioners are facing while making good faith efforts to comply with their tax obligations. The AICPA called for relief from underpayment and late payment penalties for the 2020 taxable year.
    • Late last month, the AICPA sent a letter urging the Department of the Treasury and the IRS to provide taxpayers with more certainty and stability by announcing any pending tax filing and payment deadline postponements. Additionally, the AICPA called for Treasury and the IRS to provide underpayment and late payment penalty relief, delay collection activities and expand the temporary e-signature relief to the millions of taxpayers affected and working through the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • A subsequent statement released by the AICPA again urged action by Treasury and the IRS and reiterated the need for filing and payment extension and urgency of doing it now.
    • The AICPA released a statement yesterday addressing criticism of a deadline postponement and reiterating the need for a payment and filing deadline extension to June 15th.
  • 03/15/2021 1:40 PM | Deleted user

    Amanda Ross Edwards PhD

    As CPAs and their clients work through the massive business changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, they confront a variety of fraud schemes, business continuity issues and damages concerns. Fraud in particular thrives in times of crisis as bad actors take advantage of fear and confusion. Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF®) credential holders have the knowledge and expertise to assist clients during these unprecedented times.

    The CFF® is granted exclusively to CPAs and other recognized equivalents who demonstrate expertise in financial forensic accounting through their knowledge, skills, experience and adherence to professional standards.

    The CFF® adds credibility and indicates expertise and competency in areas that include:

    • fraud detection, prevention and response

    • financial statement misrepresentation

    • digital forensics

    • bankruptcy and insolvency

    • damages calculations and dispute resolution

    • expert witness services

    • investigations

    • family law services

    Now is the time to upskill

    Responding to the COVID-19 crisis is a primary concern for clients and employers across the globe. With specialized knowledge in fraud matters, dispute resolution, damages calculations, and bankruptcy; CFF® professionals are well positioned to guide businesses through crisis management, recovery of operations, and future preparedness. Earning the CFF® credential demonstrates the knowledge and business acumen of a CPA or recognized equivalent combined with financial forensic accounting expertise in a day and age where specialized knowledge has never been more critical.

    CFF eligibility requirements

    To qualify for the CFF® credential, a candidate must:

    • Be an AICPA member in good standing

    • Pass the CFF® Examination

    • Obtain 1,000 hours of forensic accounting experience in the CFF® Body of Knowledge within the five-year period preceding the date of the credential application

    • Complete 75 hours of forensic-related continuing professional development (CPD) in the CFF® Body of Knowledge within the 5-year period preceding the date of the credential application

    • Hold a valid and unrevoked CPA certificate or license issued by a legally constituted state authority or recognized international equivalent

    There are multiple ways to earn the CFF® Credential. Study for the two part comprehensive exam using the review course which includes The Essentials in Forensic Accounting Textbook. Or complete the Core and Specialized Forensic Accounting Certificate Programs. Completion of both certificate programs and the corresponding exams satisfies all credential application requirements except for the 1000 hours of related business experience.

    Visit here to learn more about the CFF® credential, it’s benefits, and the pathway to becoming a CFF® credential holder. Start your path toward becoming a CFF® and register for the CFF® Exam today.


  • 03/11/2021 9:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    March 10, 2021

    By Alistair M. Nevius, J.D.

    The House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan Act, H.R. 1319, on Wednesday by a vote of 220–211. It now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. He is expected to sign it quickly.

    H.R. 1319 was first passed by the House on Feb. 27. The Senate made several amendments and passed its version of the bill on March 6. The bill then came back to the House for a final vote on Wednesday.

    Among the act’s many provisions are several tax items. Most of the tax provisions that were in the House version of the bill were unchanged in the Senate’s version, but the tax treatment of 2020 unemployment benefits, the phaseout ranges for economic impact payments, and the treatment of student loan debt forgiveness were changed by the Senate.

    Here is a look at the final version of the tax provisions:

    Unemployment benefits

    The act makes the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits tax-free in 2020 for taxpayers making less than $150,000 per year.

    Recovery rebates

    The act creates a new round of economic impact payments to be sent to qualifying individuals. The same as last year’s two rounds of stimulus payments, the economic impact payments are set up as advance payments of a recovery rebate credit. The act creates a new Sec. 6428B that provides individuals with a $1,400 recovery rebate credit ($2,800 for married taxpayers filing jointly) plus $1,400 for each dependent (as defined in Sec. 152) for 2021, including college students and qualifying relatives who are claimed as dependents. As with last year’s economic impact payments, the IRS will send out the advance payments of the credit.

    For single taxpayers, the credit and corresponding payment will begin to phase out at an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000, and the credit will be completely phased out for single taxpayers with an AGI over $80,000. For married taxpayers who file jointly, the phaseout will begin at an AGI of $150,000 and end at AGI of $160,000. And for heads of household, the phaseout will begin at an AGI of $112,500 and be complete at AGI of $120,000.

    The act uses 2019 AGI to determine eligibility, unless the taxpayer has already filed a 2020 return.

    COBRA continuation coverage

    The act provides COBRA continuation coverage premium assistance for individuals who are eligible for COBRA continuation coverage between the date of enactment and Sept. 30, 2021. The act creates a new Sec. 6432, which allows a COBRA continuation coverage premium assistance credit to taxpayers. The credit is allowed against the Sec. 3111(b) Medicare tax. The credit is refundable, and the IRS may make advance payments to taxpayers of the credit amount.

    The credit applies to premiums and wages paid after April 1, 2021, and through Sept. 30.

    Under new Sec. 6720C, a penalty is imposed for failure to notify a health plan of cessation of eligibility for the continuation coverage premium assistance.

    Taxpayers who receive the COBRA continuation coverage premium assistance credit are not also eligible for the Sec. 35 health coverage tax credit.

    Under new Sec. 139I, continuation coverage premium assistance is not includible in the recipient’s gross income.

    Child tax credit

    The act expands the Sec. 24 child tax credit in several ways and provides that taxpayers can receive the credit in advance of filing a return. The act makes the credit fully refundable for 2021 and makes 17-year-olds eligible as qualifying children.

    The act increases the amount of the credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under 6). The increased credit amount phases out for taxpayers with incomes over $150,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, $112,500 for heads of household, and $75,000 for others, reducing the expanded portion of the credit by $50 for each $1,000 of income over those limits.

    The IRS is directed to estimate taxpayers’ child tax credit amounts and pay monthly in advance one-twelfth of the annual estimated amount. Payments will run from July through December 2021.

    The IRS must set up an online portal to allow taxpayers to opt out of advance payments or provide information that would be relevant to modifying the amount.

    The taxpayer in general will have to reconcile the advance payment amount with the actual credit amount on next year’s return and increase taxable income by the excess of the advance payment amount over the actual credit allowed. But taxpayers whose modified AGI for the tax year does not exceed 200% of the applicable income threshold ($60,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly) will have the increase for an excess advance payment reduced by a safe harbor amount of $2,000 per child.

    Earned income tax credit

    The act also makes several changes to the Sec. 32 earned income tax credit. It introduces special rules for individuals with no children: For 2021, the applicable minimum age is decreased to 19, except for students (24) and qualified former foster youth or homeless youth (18). The maximum age is eliminated.

    The credit’s phaseout percentage is increased to 15.3%, and the phaseout amounts are increased.

    The credit would be allowed for certain separated spouses.

    The threshold for disqualifying investment income would be raised from $2,200 to $10,000.

    Temporarily, taxpayers would be allowed to use their 2019 income instead of 2021 income in figuring the credit amount.

    Child and dependent care credit

    The act makes various changes to the Sec. 21 child and dependent care credit, effective for 2021 only, including making it refundable. The credit will be worth 50% of eligible expenses, up to a limit based on income, making the credit worth up to $4,000 for one qualifying individual and up to $8,000 for two or more. Credit reduction will start at household income levels over $125,000. For households with income over $400,000, the credit can be reduced below 20%.

    The act also increases the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance to $10,500 for 2021.

    Family and sick leave credits

    The act codifies the credits for sick and family leave originally enacted by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), P.L. 116-127, as Secs. 3131 (credit for paid sick leave), 3132 (credit for paid family leave), and 3133 (special rule related to tax on employers). The credits are extended to Sept. 30, 2021. These fully refundable credits against payroll taxes compensate employers and self-employed people for coronavirus-related paid sick leave and family and medical leave.

    The act increases the limit on the credit for paid family leave to $12,000.

    The number of days a self-employed individual can take into account in calculating the qualified family leave equivalent amount for self-employed individuals increases from 50 to 60.

    The paid leave credits will be allowed for leave that is due to a COVID-19 vaccination.

    The limitation on the overall number of days taken into account for paid sick leave will reset after March 31, 2021.

    The credits are expanded to allow 501(c)(1) governmental organizations to take them.

    Employee retention credit

    The act codifies the employee retention credit in new Sec. 3134 and extends it through the end of 2021. The employee retention credit was originally enacted in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, P.L. 116-136, and it allows eligible employers to claim a credit for paying qualified wages to employees.

    Under the act, the employee retention credit would be allowed against the Sec. 3111(b) Medicare tax.

    Premium tax credit

    The act expands the Sec. 36B premium tax credit for 2021 and 2022 by changing the applicable percentage amounts in Sec. 36B(b)(3)(A). Taxpayers who received too much in advance premium tax credits in 2020 will not have to repay the excess amount. A special rule is added that treats a taxpayer who has received, or has been approved to receive, unemployment compensation for any week beginning during 2021 as an applicable taxpayer.

    Student loans

    The act amends Sec. 108(f) to specify that gross income does not include any amount that would otherwise be included in income due to the discharge of any student loan after Dec. 31, 2020, and before Jan. 1, 2026.

    Miscellaneous tax provisions

    The act amends Sec. 162(m), for years after 2026, to add a corporation’s five highest-compensated employees (besides the employees already covered by Sec. 162(m)) to the list of individuals subject to the $1 million cap on deductible compensation.

    The act extends the Sec. 461(l) limitation on excess business losses of noncorporate taxpayers for one year, through 2027.

    The act also repeals Sec. 864(f), which allows affiliated groups to elect to allocate interest on a worldwide basis.

    The act provides that targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grants received from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are not included in gross income and that this exclusion from gross income will not result in a denial of a deduction, reduction of tax attributes, or denial of basis increase. Similar treatment is afforded SBA restaurant revitalization grants.

    The act temporarily delays the designation of multiemployer pension plans as in endangered, critical, or critical and declining status and makes other changes for multiemployer plans in critical or endangered status.

    For more on the nontax provisions in the act, see “House Gives Final Approval to $1.9 Trillion Pandemic Aid Bill.”


  • 03/03/2021 8:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    March 2, 2021

    By Jeff Drew

    The AICPA called on Congress to extend the application period for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by at least 60 days. 

    The current deadline for PPP applications is March 31, but many applications have run into problems in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) PPP processing platform, which has refused to accept some applications due to system problems and has caught thousands of other applications in validation checks designed to prevent fraudulent applications from being approved. These validation checks can produce dozens of different error codes, many of which require significant manual labor on the part of lenders and borrowers to rectify.

    “The PPP process issues are many,” Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, AICPA president and CEO, said in a press release Tuesday. “It is well documented that small businesses, nonprofits, and the CPAs who advise them are experiencing error codes when submitting a PPP loan application. We continue to provide input to the [SBA] about these problems and are hopeful more progress will be made soon.”

    Adding to the stress is an announcement the administration of President Joe Biden made Feb. 22 saying that the PPP loan calculation formula for sole proprietors, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors would be changed to help those individuals receive more financial support. The SBA has yet to release guidance detailing those changes, though it is expected to do so this week.

    The Biden administration also said in its release that the SBA would accept PPP applicants only from businesses with fewer than 20 employees during a two-week period that started Feb. 24 and ends March 9.

    “We applaud the Biden administration’s efforts to make PPP more inclusive and accessible to underserved businesses,” Melancon said. “However, these changes make it even harder for the smallest business entities — the self-employed and independent contractors — to meet the March 31 deadline.”

    Despite the processing issues, the SBA approved almost 2.2 million PPP loans for a total of $156 billion from the program’s reopening on Jan. 11 through Feb. 28. Congress allocated $284.5 billion to the program in the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act, P.L. 116-260.

    The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, H.R. 1319, which is under consideration in the Senate after being passed by the House early Feb. 27, provides $7.25 billion more in PPP funds but does not extend the March 31 deadline. The AICPA recommended in its release that Congress extend the deadline in a separate vote.

    AICPA experts discuss the latest on the PPP and other small business aid programs during a virtual town hall held every other week, including March 4 at 3 p.m. ET. The webcasts, which provide CPE credit, are free to AICPA members and $39.99 for nonmembers. Go to the AICPA Town Hall Series webpage for more information and to register.

    The AICPA’s Paycheck Protection Program Resources page houses resources and tools produced by the AICPA to help address the economic impact of the coronavirus.

    Accounting firms can prepare and process applications for the PPP on the CPA Business Funding Portal, created by the AICPA, CPA.com, and fintech partner Biz2Credit.

    For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit the JofA’s coronavirus resources page or subscribe to our email alerts for breaking PPP news.

    — Jeff Drew (Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA senior editor.


  • 02/25/2021 8:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    February 24, 2021

    By Alistair M. Nevius, J.D.

    In a recent letter to Treasury and the IRS, the AICPA called for greater certainty for taxpayers and tax practitioners and for underpayment and late-payment penalty relief, both of which will provide greater assistance to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In the letter, sent on Tuesday from Christopher Hesse, CPA, chair of the AICPA Tax Executive Committee, the AICPA urged Treasury and the IRS to announce any pending tax filing and payment deadline postponements by March 1. The AICPA also requested underpayment and late-payment penalty relief, a delay in collection activities, and an expansion of the temporary e-signature relief. The letter noted that many taxpayers and tax professionals continue to struggle to calculate and make tax payments and prepare and file tax returns.

    The IRS has said that taxpayers and tax professionals should assume that the April 15 deadline will not change, but it has also been reported that the IRS will not commit to keeping an April 15 filing deadline if Congress approves another round of economic impact payments.

    Specific AICPA recommendations include:

    • If Treasury and the IRS determine they cannot hold to the April 15 deadline, that decision should be announced by March 1 and the postponed date should be June 15.
    • Taxpayers should receive relief from underpayment penalties if they paid at least 70% of the tax due for the current year or paid 70% (90% if adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $150,000) of the amount of tax shown on their U.S. income tax return for the prior year.
    • Taxpayers should also receive relief from late-payment penalties if they timely request an extension of time to file their income tax return and pay at least 70% of the taxes owed with the request.
    • The IRS should halt compliance actions until it is prepared to devote the necessary resources for a proper and timely resolution of the matter.
    • The IRS should expand the existing temporary e-signature relief currently being provided to the millions of taxpayers affected by and working through the challenges created by the pandemic.

    — Alistair M. Nevius, J.D., (Alistair.Nevius@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA’s editor-in-chief, tax.


  • 02/22/2021 10:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Mon February 22, 2021

    By Katie Lobosco, CNN 

    (CNN)The Biden administration announced several changes Monday to the Paycheck Protection Program in an effort to reach minority-owned and very small businesses that may have previously missed out on accessing loans to help weather the coronavirus pandemic.

    Starting Wednesday, small businesses with fewer than 20 employees will have a two-week exclusive window to apply for the funding. Bigger businesses will be blocked during that time period.

    The administration will also change some eligibility rules, effective the first week in March. The self-employed, sole proprietors and independent contractors can now qualify for more money. They previously were excluded altogether or received as little as $1 because the loan amounts were calculated based on the number of employees.

    The loan program will also open up to small business owners with non-fraud related felonies, those delinquent on their federal student loans and some non-citizen residents, such as Green Card holders or those in the country on visas -- all of who were excluded earlier.

      "While the Paycheck Protection Program has delivered urgent relief to many businesses across the country, the initial round of PPP last year left too many minority-owned and mom and pop businesses out while larger, well connected businesses got funds quickly," said an administration official on a call with reporters Sunday.

      Initial hiccups

      Covid relief went to hair salons, restaurants, law firms -- and some members of Congress

      Congress created the forgivable loan program last March to help hard-hit small business owners who had to close their doors because of state and local pandemic lockdown measures. The first round of loans was slow to reach the smallest businesses and those without an existing relationship with a lender may have missed out.

      The first program closed in August, but lawmakers added funding in December and reopened the program so that owners could apply for a second loan. Congress targeted the new loans to those with fewer than 300 employees that have seen drops of at least 25% of their revenue during the first, second or third quarters of 2020. Lawmakers also carved out $12 billion for minority-owned businesses.

      Since the program reopened, about $134 billion has been lent to 1.8 million small business owners. About half of the funds allocated in December remain and will be available through March 31.

      More money on the table

      The Democratic-backed relief bill making its way through Congress would add $7 billion to the program and would make more non-profit organizations eligible.

      Another $175 million would be used for outreach and promotion, creating a Community Navigator Program to help target eligible businesses.

        The bill would also provide $15 billion to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program, which provides long-term, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. Severely impacted small businesses with fewer than 10 workers will be given priority for some of the money.

        It also provides $25 billion for a new grant program specifically for bars and restaurants. Eligible businesses may receive up to $10 million and can use the money for a variety of expenses, including payroll, mortgage and rent, utilities and food and beverages.

        Arlette Saenz and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.


      • 02/19/2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        FEBRUARY 17, 2021 

        MATTHEW ERSKINE

        When I help settle an estate the most challenging task is mediating what is the “best” way to divide the jewelry, art, furniture and other tangible personal property of the deceased among their heirs. People behave irrationally when they feel that they were promised something under the will. They already feel that the item is theirs.  This is compounded by the friction between and among family members that existed during the decedent’s lifetime. 

        So, what is the best way to divide your assets? The fact is that there is no “best” way to divide assets, but there are some things you can do, or refrain from doing, to help avoid a family fight.

        First, do not tell someone that you will give them something in your will. If you want to give them something, give it to them today; otherwise, if you sell or give the item away to someone else, or even if it gets lost, the person you promised the item to will be disappointed. In the worst case, they may even be mad enough to sue the estate for the value of the item, especially when they have done work for you before your death with the expectation that they will get the item in return. I have had one client who promised a family necklace to a daughter who later forgot and gave it to a daughter-in-law. It was not so much that the mother had given the necklace away that hurt, it was that she had forgotten that she had promised it to her daughter. Fortunately, the daughter-in-law was gracious enough to give the necklace to her sister-in-law, and bad feelings where averted, but it could have been a very bad situation.

        Second, ask your heirs if they want it. Tastes change from generation to generation and things like formal china and silver sets for 28 is not something a 25-year-old single grandchild living in a studio apartment in LA is going to be able to take, even if they wanted it. Sometimes children and other heirs are very forthright in expressing their interest in certain things. Others may feel awkward about coming out and asking. My recommendation is to ask them what they would like. Sometimes they will surprise you with what they would like to have as a remembrance of you. Conversely, if you are gifting the item to another, or to charity, tell those who want it that they are not getting it and why. 

        Third, write out how you want to have things divided after your death, but keep it confidential.  If you have specific things you wish to go to specific people, write it down, and put it with your original will. Such a memorandum may not always be as binding as a trust, but it has great moral, and some legal force. You can also provide a method, or person, to break any stalemates. If there is no resolution, you can instruct that the items be sold. 

        Fourth, if you have artwork or collectibles, consider appointing someone who is knowledgeable about the items as a special personal representative to handle the division and possible sale of the collection. Your heirs probably do not have the same experience and knowledge you have about your collection, and too often heirs become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff and end up selling, or giving away, very valuable items for a song. 

        Fifth, if you have things of local, social or historical interest, donate them to a local historical society. Many times, people keep the newsletters and other materials of the clubs and papers from their schools that are of not monetary value, but are not something that the local historical society or school alumni association has, and they value the item even if no one else does. I once had a client who came across a catalog of one of the first coin auctions held in Boston in the 1840s. It had notes as to who bought what, and for how much, written on the margins. According to an ephemera expert, it was not worth anything, but a local research library that had a collection of auction catalogs going back into the 19th century was delighted to get the piece.

        Finally, try to organize what you have. By this, I mean go through and inventory what you own as well as you can. Tell the history of the items, where you acquired it, with whom and why. Further, tell what items you consider good, which are better, and which are the best, and why.  Do not be afraid of getting some professional help. I have at times worked with local colleges to get help cataloging the papers of a writer or composer and allowing them to use the materials in their research. Getting access to this expertise is not always easy, but it is possible.

        There are a number of online services that provide a way to designate assets, though I have not tried any. I do feel, however, that these suggestions are relevant whether you use one of those services or not. These steps do not guarantee a conflict-free settlement of your estate, as there are some people who just want to have a fight, no matter what the excuse. In most cases, these suggestions, will help to minimize bad feelings all around.     

        Matthew Erskine is managing partner of Erskine & Erskine in Worcester, Mass., which provides legal and fiduciary services for unique assets.


      • 02/16/2021 9:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        February 10, 2021

        By Cheryl Meyer

        Chad Davis, CPA (Canada), had been successfully working remotely for years when the coronavirus pandemic forced many accounting firms to go fully remote. He and Josh Zweig, CPA (Canada), founded LiveCA, a fully virtual accounting firm in Canada in 2013. Zweig was focused on tax and Davis on technology, so the two meshed well, especially since neither of them wanted to work from a brick-and-mortar office.

        “We spent two days in the woods, camped, and emerged with a handshake and a new company,” Davis said.

        Eight years later, LiveCA is thriving, employing about 80 people, and handling both Canadian and American clients. Adventurous Zweig, originally from Toronto, travels the world and works from various posts. Davis, from Nova Scotia, works full time from his large RV, which he shares with his wife, two children, and two dogs.

        In January 2021, Davis was sitting in his RV office in a beautiful part of Canada. “I’m in a campground on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and came here to isolate for the winter,” he said. Meanwhile, Zweig was caught in a lockdown in Argentina.

        Davis and Zweig have been at the forefront of a trend the pandemic accelerated.

        Only 4% of 223 CPA firms polled in the summer of 2020 said they were fully virtual heading into the pandemic, according to research by ConvergenceCoaching, a U.S. company offering training services to the public accounting profession. About three-fifths (61%) of the firms said they had some remote talent, and 27% said they had been strictly in-office pre-coronavirus.

        Once the pandemic ends, 81% of firms expected an increase or a significant increase in remote working among their employees, the survey said. Nearly one-third (30%) projected reducing their office footprint post-pandemic.

        The coronavirus has changed the business landscape significantly. Many accounting firm leaders, who were once reluctant to allow employees to work from home or other locations, now realize the value of a remote workforce, especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. But working remotely can also create challenges, such as communicating with and managing employees, setting up necessary technology, and establishing and enforcing processes and policies for a virtual working environment.

        9 ways to make remote working successful

        What does it take for accountants to thrive when working virtually? Does it require changing interaction styles with clients or prospective employees?

        “Networking is about building relationships, and whether this is face-to-face or online, it’s about getting people to connect with you, and we do this through our personality, our behavior, and our communication,” said Sue Tonks, a UK-based leadership coach and entrepreneur, at the online 2020 AICPA & CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summit in November.

        However, people only have three seconds to create an effective first impression when communicating with others online, Tonks said. “All people can see of you is a rectangular box,” she said about Zoom and other online platforms. “This is our stage.”

        Other challenges include feeling isolated, tired, or lonely; lacking motivation; dealing with distractions, often from children or barking dogs; and cohabitating with family, all day, every day.

        “The dynamic of being together 24/7 is a big shift for a lot of people and has caused a lot of struggles,” said Rohit Bhargava, founder of the Non-Obvious Company and author of seven books, including The Non-Obvious Guide to Virtual Meetings and Remote Work, published in 2020 (second edition coming in March 2021). Bhargava has shared his insights with organizations such as Microsoft, the World Bank, and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

        The future of work, he predicts, will be a hybrid of remote and in-office work, and thus it’s imperative that people know what it takes to flourish in a remote environment. Bhargava, Tonks, and Davis offered the following tips for prospering in a virtual world:

        Take up technology. “Embrace technology and learn how to be effective,” Bhargava said. When the pandemic started, he watched YouTube videos about lighting and setting up a professional home studio and soon after upped his video quality, which helped his business tremendously.

        Also, use video and invest in a good microphone and internet package, Davis said. “There’s nothing worse than slow internet or low-quality sound,” he said.

        It’s also important for organizations to set up policies that govern in-home technology setups. Davis suggests focusing first on tasks such as “password management, VPN usage, encryption, and what can and can’t be on your personal devices.” From there, move on to more firm-specific policies that address equipment ownership, internet speed requirements, and minimum-security practices. “Then move on to education and safe usage practices with every employee,” he said.

        Refine your routine. Don’t start your day reading email for hours, because your day can quickly unravel. “When you wake up, center yourself, do deep breathing, and think about what your priorities for the day are going to be,” Bhargava advised. If you still want to check email first thing during your morning cup of coffee, then cap it to an hour. “Literally set yourself an alarm,” he said. Then, move on.

        Be candid. Expect that noises — children, dogs, or the weed-whacking gardener — can occur when you’re working remotely, but be truthful about other things that could impact a video or phone chat. “If I had bad Wi-Fi, I will tell [clients] what I’m doing and not try to hide it, and normally it creates a more positive spin on the conversation,” Davis said.

        In addition, spell out your weaknesses to customers or others, which can naturally build trust. “That realism and truth helps speed up the relationship-building portion of an online relationship,” he noted.

        Be flexible and cognizant of communication styles. To build rapport, adapt your communication style to the person you are connecting to, Bhargava said. Determine which method garners the quickest response, and use that mode for that specific person. However, be cognizant that misinterpretation can occur if you send something off too quickly without much thought. “Be aware of the potential for misunderstanding in digital communications, and address them through a personal conversation instead of solely relying on email,” he advised.

        Davis’s firm has dealt with “communication sensitivity” for years, and this issue is a continual work in progress. “Sometimes communication issues can be avoided with more effective incentive structures and procedures that tend to be the source of communication breakdowns,” he said. “So, we’ve taken a more ‘root-cause’ approach to communication over the years.”

        Be punctual. LiveCA started using Zoom in 2015, and the cameras have always been on, Davis said. But building relationships virtually differs from doing so face to face. “Meetings start on time and end on time, and that has taught me to be a more functional communicator and to make sure we address the issues early and set expectations,” he noted.

        According to Davis, being a functional communicator “means that you’re more aware of the outcome that’s required for that meeting, and if you don’t get to address something, you effectively communicate the repercussions towards the end of the call to get back on track,” he said. “This is the opposite of intuitive communication that’s more free-flowing and may not get to a resolution within that scheduled time frame.

        “I’ve found working remotely emphasizes more respect for people’s time and, without the functional side of communication, it's really hard to replicate and delegate processes as you grow,” Davis added.

        Sparkle. Since you only have three seconds to make an impression online, make it count. “Just smile,” said Tonks in her presentation. “It’s warm, friendly, open, approachable.” Also, make eye contact as if you were face-to-face, pay attention to what others are saying, and don’t fidget, she said.

        Introduce yourself effectively. Tonks uses a technique, the “pause and effect,” which works especially well when you’re on a conference call with multiple people and want to be noted. State your first name, then pause, then state your first name again, and “then with effect and gusto and confidence, your surname,” she said. “So, my name is Sue [pause], Sue Tonks.”

        In addition, she stated, be specific when telling people what you do for a living. Don’t just say you’re a mergers-and-acquisitions consultant. Instead, she advised, say, “You know when major organizations want to buy out the other organizations? I help major international companies find the right partners, and as a result, they merge seamlessly.”

        Ask questions and follow up. When speaking with others online, ask questions. “Be visible. Don’t be invisible,” Tonks said. To stand out, she advised, take notes and mention people’s names on the chat. Say something like, “Oh, that was a really good point, Joe.”

        Also, realize your commonalities to kick off a conversation: You all live somewhere and have traveled; you’ve all been invited to an online event by the same person or organization; you’re all headed into the weekend or a holiday break; and you all have to deal with the weather, she said. And once you meet someone who can help your business or career, follow up. Ask if you can email them or connect on LinkedIn. “If you ask permission, you will never be a pest,” she noted.

        Be yourself. We’ve all been taught to act certain ways in professional environments, but the pandemic has changed the landscape, allowing people to be more individualistic in their approach to business communication and to work from almost any locale. The pandemic has had a life-altering effect on everyone, Davis said.

        “The things that make you unique will attract the right customers to you,” he said, adding, “embrace your homeschooling kids who barge into your call, pet the dog that wants attention, and don’t be afraid to sneak a quick snack. The pandemic has had a life-altering effect on everyone, and we’re all human at the end of day.”

        — Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, a JofA senior editor, at Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com.


      • 02/11/2021 9:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        February 10, 2021

        By Jeff Drew

        The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced changes Wednesday designed to reduce delays in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) approval process.

        Millions of small businesses have applied for PPP forgivable loans since it reopened Jan. 11 with $284 billion in fresh funding. A significant percentage of those applications has been held up by process and system issues stemming from additional validation checks put in place to flag potential fraudulent applicants.

        The AICPA sent a letter Feb. 3 urging the SBA to address the problems, which were causing the SBA’s E-Tran and PPP Loan Processing system to either reject or require more documentation for around 30% of PPP applications. Often the system didn’t allow lenders to submit the documentation or directly address other errors, such as data mismatches, that were preventing otherwise acceptable applications from being approved. The AICPA also called on the SBA to provide more frequent and clear communications to lenders and small businesses about the PPP issues.

        To address the concerns raised about the PPP process, the SBA said it would allow lenders to directly certify the eligibility of borrowers for first- and second-draw loans and would not require lenders to submit supporting documentation of borrowers with validation errors until they apply for loan forgiveness. The changes are designed to speed up the flow of funds to PPP applicants while “maintaining the integrity” of the program, according to the SBA.

        The SBA also said it would create additional communication channels with lenders, including an immediate call with national lenders to brief them on the PPP platform’s added capabilities.

        How much the SBA changes will smooth out the application process will be revealed as the platform tweaks are implemented with lenders. Accounting firms with small business clients whose applications are on hold may want to continue to preach patience as the SBA works to improve its platform and procedures.

        Despite the system and process issues, the SBA approved almost 1.3 million PPP loans totaling $101 billion from Jan. 11 through Feb. 7. The program is scheduled to continue accepting applications through March 31.

        AICPA experts discuss the latest on the PPP and other small business aid programs during a biweekly virtual town hall. The webcasts, which provide CPE credit, are free to AICPA members and $39.99 for nonmembers. Go to the AICPA Town Hall Series webpage for more information and to register.

        The AICPA’s Paycheck Protection Program Resources page houses resources and tools produced by the AICPA to help address the economic impact of the coronavirus.

        Accounting firms can prepare and process applications for the PPP on the CPA Business Funding Portal, created by the AICPA, CPA.com, and fintech partner Biz2Credit.

        For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit the JofA’s coronavirus resources page or subscribe to our email alerts for breaking PPP news.

        — Jeff Drew (Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA senior editor.


      • 02/10/2021 10:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        February 1, 2021

        By Susan C. Allen, CPA/CITP, CGMA

        The COVID-19 pandemic caused 2020 to shape up as one of the most difficult years ever for taxpayers and tax practitioners alike. Taxes and other financial matters have also been significantly complicated by new relief provisions, both for tax professionals to interpret and advise clients on and for the IRS to execute and enforce. Nationwide shutdowns and a historic volume of unopened IRS mail add to these complexities as the IRS's automatic notice stream continues to churn out notices and its services continue to be limited.

        These extenuating circumstances likely mean that practitioners will need to help more clients than usual with IRS penalty and collection issues. Here are some strategies and best practices that practitioners should keep in mind when requesting penalty abatement from the IRS on behalf of clients.

        TALKING THE 'IRM' TALK

        It's important to understand and refer to the IRS's Internal Revenue Manual (IRM). This administrative handbook explains the procedures IRS employees should follow in the course of their work. Part 20 of the IRM discusses penalties and interest. Specifically, IRM Section 20.1.1.3 (10/19/20), Criteria for Relief From Penalties, spells out the four categories of penalty relief:

        • Correction of IRS error;
        • Statutory and regulatory exceptions;
        • Administrative waivers (e.g., first-time penalty abatement); and
        • Reasonable cause.

        The underlying guidance for each category in the IRM gives practitioners the criteria they need to fight penalties effectively for their clients. And quoting IRS language (and providing the IRM citation) in a penalty abatement request can often help the IRS process the request more quickly and improve the taxpayer's odds for a successful penalty abatement.

        FIRST-TIME ABATEMENT AND REASONABLE-CAUSE DEFENSES

        Though corrections of errors and statutory/regulatory exceptions are certainly viable options in certain circumstances, practitioners are likely finding their go-to penalty abatement defenses are either the first-time penalty abatement waiver (an administrative waiver) or reasonable cause.

        As a refresher, first-time penalty abatement is based on a clean compliance history and can be applied only against failure-to-file, failure-to-pay, and failure-to-deposit penalties. It does not apply to other types of penalties, such as the accuracy-related penalty. Essentially, it helps taxpayers who have an isolated, rare filing/payment compliance issue. But it is only available to use once every three years, meaning taxpayers should use it conservatively and weigh the dollar amount of the penalty carefully so as to potentially preserve this option. See the AICPA Tax Section's IRS First-Time Penalty Abatement page for more guidance.

        Reasonable cause is a facts-and-circumstances test where taxpayers spell out their situation and try to prove how they exercised ordinary business care and prudence. Many types of penalties allow for reasonable-cause defenses (and a reasonable-cause defense can be applied to multiple tax years/periods). The IRM describes categories of reasonable cause, several of which may be invoked for COVID-19—related issues and complications:

        • Death, serious illness, or unavoidable absence (IRM §20.1.1.3.2.2.1): For example, the taxpayer could have been sick or caring for a loved one with COVID-19.
        • Fire, casualty, natural disaster, or disturbance (IRM §20.1.1.3.2.2.2): COVID-19 was declared a natural disaster.
        • Unable to obtain records (IRM §20.1.1.3.2.2.3): Office closures and shutdowns may have prevented taxpayers from obtaining their records on time.
        • Erroneous advice or reliance (IRM §20.1.1.3.2.2.5): Tax legislation came out quickly, yet guidance sometimes lagged, making it hard to effectively advise clients.

        It's noteworthy that COVID-19's having been declared a natural disaster may help with proving reasonable cause. On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump declared a nationwide emergency pursuant to Section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, P.L. 100-707, to avoid governors' having to request individual emergency declarations. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories have been approved for major disaster declarations to assist with additional needs related to COVID-19.

        Often, a compelling reasonable-cause defense may argue multiple categories in the IRM to showcase how the taxpayer's circumstances were complicated but the taxpayer nonetheless exercised ordinary business care and prudence.

        TAXPAYER RELIEF INITIATIVE

        The IRS in November announced a new program, the Taxpayer Relief Initiative, to help taxpayers who are unable to pay their taxes because of the pandemic (News Release IR-2020-248). Taxpayers who can't pay their tax debt have always had options such as short-term extensions, installment agreements, and offers in compromise, but now they have more flexibility with these agreements. The initiative also highlights reasonable-cause and first-time penalty abatement options to help with penalties.

        Tip: For clients who need a payment arrangement, it's wise to wait until the tax is paid in full before requesting penalty abatement. The failure-to-pay penalty will continue to accrue until the tax is paid in full. Thus, to help clients get the entire penalty removed (and not just a piece of it), wait until the balance is paid off to request abatement of the full penalty.

        A COLLABORATIVE PROCESS

        Remember that those who don't request penalty abatement won't receive it. Many penalty issues can be resolved fairly quickly over the phone with the IRS; other issues may require a straightforward letter to the IRS.

        And don't forget that the IRS's Independent Office of Appeals is always a viable option if the issue can't be resolved through normal channels. Appeals employees have more flexibility with penalty abatement, as they are instructed to apply the "hazards of litigation" standard. Also, for special circumstances that can't be resolved with the IRS, the Taxpayer Advocate Service is there to help (see "Tax Practice Corner: Enlist an Ally in TAS," JofA, Jan. 2021).

        As we navigate this unprecedented time, the AICPA continues to advocate for streamlined and improved penalty abatement procedures, and the IRS continues to work collaboratively with tax practitioners and taxpayers. Fortunately, the IRS has now expanded the avenues by which taxpayers may defend against or seek abatement of tax penalties. Tax practitioners who understand how to conduct their clients along these routes to obtain penalty waivers will be performing a much-appreciated service.

        Susan C. Allen, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is an AICPA senior manager—Tax Practice & Ethics. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Paul Bonner, a JofA senior editor, at Paul.Bonner@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4434.

        AICPA member and Tax Section resources



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