What tax records can you throw away?

Posted December 4, 2020

October 15 is the deadline for individual taxpayers who extended their 2019 tax returns. (The original April 15 filing deadline was extended this year to July 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) If you’re finally done filing last year’s return, you might wonder: Which tax records can you toss once you’re done? Now is a good time to go through old tax records and see what you can discard. The general rules At minimum, you should keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your tax return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you potentially can get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2016 and earlier years. However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their adjusted gross income (AGI) by more than 25%. What constitutes...[ Read More ]
If you recently launched a business, you may want to set up a tax-favored retirement plan for yourself and your employees. There are several types of qualified plans that are eligible for these tax advantages: A current deduction from income to the employer for contributions to the plan, Tax-free buildup of the value of plan investments, and The deferral of income (augmented by investment earnings) to employees until funds are distributed. There are two basic types of plans. Defined benefit pension plans A defined benefit plan provides for a fixed benefit in retirement, based generally upon years of service and compensation. While defined benefit plans generally pay benefits in the form of an annuity (for example, over the life of the participant, or joint lives of the participant and his or her spouse), some defined benefit plans provide for a lump sum payment of benefits. In certain “cash balance plans,” the benefit...[ Read More ]
COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways, and some of the changes have tax implications. Here is basic information about two common situations. 1. Working from home. Many employees have been told not to come into their workplaces due to the pandemic. If you’re an employee who “telecommutes” — that is, you work at home, and communicate with your employer mainly by telephone, videoconferencing, email, etc. — you should know about the strict rules that govern whether you can deduct your home office expenses. Unfortunately, employee home office expenses aren’t currently deductible, even if your employer requires you to work from home. Employee business expense deductions (including the expenses an employee incurs to maintain a home office) are miscellaneous itemized deductions and are disallowed from 2018 through 2025 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. However, if you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home, you...[ Read More ]
In the COVID-19 era, many parents are hiring nannies and babysitters because their daycare centers and summer camps have closed. This may result in federal “nanny tax” obligations. Keep in mind that the nanny tax may apply to all household workers, including housekeepers, babysitters, gardeners or others who aren’t independent contractors. If you employ someone who’s subject to the nanny tax, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from the individual’s pay. You only must withhold if the worker asks you to and you agree. (In that case, ask the nanny to fill out a Form W-4.) However, you may have other withholding and payment obligations. Withholding FICA and FUTA You must withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes (FICA) if your nanny earns cash wages of $2,200 or more (excluding food and lodging) during 2020. If you reach the threshold, all of the wages (not just the...[ Read More ]
Want to increase your not-for-profit’s revenue? First try analyzing current income as a professional auditor might. Then, you can apply your conclusions to setting annual goals, preparing your budget and managing other aspects of your organization. Compare contributions Compare the donation dollars raised inpast years to pinpoint trends. For example, have individual contributions been increasing over the past five years? What campaigns have you implemented during that period? You might go beyond the totals and determine if the number of major donors has grown. Also estimate what portion of contributions is restricted. If a large percentage of donations are tied up in restricted funds, you might want to re-evaluate your gift acceptance policy or fundraising materials. Measure grants Grants can vary dramatically in size and purpose — from covering operational costs, to launching a program, to funding client services. Pay attention to trends here, too. Did one funder supply 50%...[ Read More ]
Current financial pressures mean that your not-for-profit probably can’t afford to pass up offers of support. Yet you need to be careful about blindly accepting grants. Smaller nonprofits that don’t have formal grant evaluation processes are at risk of accepting grants with unmanageable burdens and costs. But large organizations also need to be careful because they have significantly more grant opportunities — including for grants that are outside their current expertise and experience. Here’s how accepting the wrong grant may backfire in costly and time-consuming ways. Administrative burdens Some grants could result in excessive administrative burdens. For example, you could be caught off guard by the reporting requirements that come with a grant as small as $5,000. You might not have staff with the requisite reporting experience, or you may lack the processes and controls to collect the necessary data. Often government funds passed through to your nonprofit still carry...[ Read More ]
In times of turmoil, your board of directors should be your not-for-profit’s rock-solid foundation. But what if your board is understaffed or simply doesn’t provide the leadership your nonprofit requires? Think about rebuilding it — and the sooner the better. Financial, public health and other challenges are likely to remain a reality for the foreseeable future. Assess what you have Start the rebuilding effort by assessing your current board. Ask the following questions: Does the board have too few, too many or the right number of members? The right board size depends on many factors, including your organization’s size and complexity of operations. Does its makeup represent a range of diversity and inclusiveness? Diversity can cover gender, race, religion, geography, age, expertise and other factors. Inclusiveness is how well the board’s makeup mirrors your organization’s mission. How does each member align with your nonprofit’s mission? Ask members to provide personal statements that define...[ Read More ]
One of the strongest predictors of a not-for-profit’s long-term survival is multiple revenue streams. Many organizations with only one or two found that out that the hard way when they failed during the 2008 recession. The same is likely to be true for nonprofits that do — or don’t — survive the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Road map to diversification Financially stable nonprofits have a good mix of revenue sources, with no one source accounting for more than 25% or 30% of the budget. If you aren’t there, take steps to achieve the proper mix: Perform and present your initial evaluation. Your board should evaluate current revenue streams as well as future plans and associated expenses. You can help board members understand the benefits of diversification by presenting them with multiple scenarios where costs are compared to revenues with and without current revenue sources. Nudge reluctant directors to embrace greater...[ Read More ]
Not-for-profits sometimes team up with other entities to boost efficiency, save money and better serve both organizations’ constituencies. This can be a smart move — so long as your accounting staff knows how to report the activities of the two organizations. How you handle reporting depends on the nature of your new relationship. Collaborative arrangements The simplest relationship between nonprofits for accounting purposes may be a collaborative arrangement. These typically are contractual agreements in which two or more organizations actively participate in a joint operating activity. The nonprofit that’s considered the “principal” for the transaction should report costs incurred and revenues generated from transactions with third parties on a gross basis in a statement of activities. The principal is usually the entity that has control of the goods or services provided in the transaction. Payments between participants are presented according to their “nature,” following accounting guidance for the type of...[ Read More ]

Is your nonprofit’s tap running dry?

Posted September 18, 2020

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has put enormous financial stress on many not-for-profits — whether they’re temporarily shut down or actively fighting the pandemic. If cash flow has dried up, your organization may need to do more than trim expenses. Here’s how to assess your financial condition and take appropriate action. Put your board in charge Ask your board of directors to lead your review and retrenchment efforts. In addition to having oversight experience and financial expertise, board members have a passion for your organization and will do whatever they can to assist. They may already have employer backing for your nonprofit, and those companies may be willing to step up their financial support. Or board members may be able to tap their social networks. The first order of business should be to review programs relative to your nonprofit’s mission. If you identify one that isn’t critical to your mission...[ Read More ]