October 29, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
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 is typically paid and expressed as a cash lump sum.
Adoption of a defined benefit plan requires a commitment to fund it. These plans often provide the greatest current deduction from income and the greatest retirement benefit, if the business owners are nearing retirement. However, the administrative expenses associated with defined benefit plans (for example, actuarial costs) can make them less attractive than the second type of plan.
Defined contribution plans
A defined contribution plan provides for an individual account for each participant. Benefits are based solely on the amount contributed to the participant’s account and any investment income, expenses, gains, losses and forfeitures (usually from departing employees) that may be allocated to a participant’s account. Profit-sharing plans and 401(k)s are defined contribution plans.
A 401(k) plan provides for employer contributions made at the direction of an employee under a salary reduction agreement. Specifically, the employee elects to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by the employer on his or her behalf to the plan. Employee contributions can be made either:
- On a pre-tax basis, saving employees current income tax on the amount contributed, or
- On an after-tax basis. This includes Roth 401(k) contributions (if permitted), which will allow distributions (including earnings) to be made to the employee tax-free in retirement, if conditions are satisfied.
Automatic-deferral provisions, if adopted, require employees to opt out of participation.
An employer may, or may not, provide matching contributions on behalf of employees who make elective deferrals to the plan. Matching contributions may be subject to a vesting schedule. While 401(k) plans are subject to testing requirements, so that “highly compensated” employees don’t contribute too much more than non-highly-compensated employees, these tests can be avoided if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. A highly compensated employee in 2020 is defined as one who earned more than $130,000 in the preceding year.
There are other types of tax-favored retirement plans within these general categories, including employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).
Small businesses can also adopt a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP), and receive similar tax advantages to “qualified” plans by making contributions on behalf of employees. And a business with 100 or fewer employees can establish a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). Under a SIMPLE, generally an IRA is established for each employee and the employer makes matching contributions based on contributions elected by employees.
There may be other options. Contact us to discuss the types of retirement plans available to you.
October 28, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
Fraud doesn’t simply take a vacation during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. If your not-for-profit’s internal controls aren’t effective, crooked individuals can find ways to exploit them and steal from your organization — even if they’re working remotely. Other threats, such as financial shortfalls, might also loom.
So it’s important to continue to schedule internal audits. Comprehensive independent audits help assure stakeholders that your nonprofit is ready for anything that might come its way — including opportunities.
Looking for vulnerabilities
On its most basic level, the internal audit function provides assurance of compliance with a nonprofit’s internal controls and their effectiveness in mitigating financial and operational risk. Potential risks include fraud, insufficient funds to support programming and reputational damage.
Internal auditors, whether they’re staff members or outside consultants, start by identifying a nonprofit’s vulnerabilities and prioritizing them from high to low. Through testing and other methods, they:
- Assess the effectiveness of internal controls,
- Evaluate compliance with laws, regulations and contracts,
- Document their results in reports that include recommended improvements, and
- Follow up on management’s remediation actions to eliminate identified risks and assist external auditors, when applicable.
The effectiveness of the internal audit function hinges on auditor independence. Auditors should be independent from management and all areas they review to avoid bias or a conflict of interest. Auditors should report directly to the board of directors or its audit committee.
More to offer
Although the internal audit function is often viewed mainly through the prism of compliance and internal controls, it has a lot to offer beyond risk assessments and audit plans. Savvy nonprofits have begun to tap internal audit for strategic purposes. For example, auditors may serve as internal consultants, providing insights gathered while performing compliance and assessment work. While reviewing invoices, they could discover a way to streamline invoice processing.
A familiarity with an organization’s inner workings also affords internal auditors with an unusual perspective for evaluating strategic opportunities. Does your nonprofit have a financial weakness that could undermine plans for continuing current programs or launching new ones? Your internal auditor probably knows the answer.
Ask for more
With their cross-departmental perspective, internal auditors can help anticipate and mitigate a variety of risks, improve processes and help evaluate your nonprofit’s strategies. Social distancing guidelines can make in-person audits challenging right now. But we have strategies for conducting thorough audits while also protecting the safety of audit participants. Contact us for more information.
October 27, 2020 | BY Our Partners at Equinum Wealth Management
2020 has been a particularly trying year. The lockdowns, school cancelations, unemployment, and of course, the health crisis, have had an impact on even the strongest-minded people. To top it all off, it’s an election year. And not just any election year – one of the most divisive and heated ones in recent memory.
While the election outcome is important to us because it shapes national policies like immigration, healthcare and major social issues, from the feedback from our clients, it seems to also make an impact on people’s investment preferences.
Our clients are wondering: Should we make changes to our portfolio based on what we think the election outcome will be? Should we go to all cash until the election passes? Should the election results change our long-term investment plan?
These questions lie on the assumption that there is a certain party that is better for the market, but truthfully, it doesn’t really matter.
Since 1949 when Democrat Harry Truman was sworn into office, under Democrat presidents, the market has returned 10%. The return under Republican presidents during that same time frame has been 7.7%.
This might surprise you, as the accepted theory is that Republicans are more focused on capital, while Democrats are primarily focused on labor. What this should tell you is that the influence presidents have on the economy and the stock market is actually quite limited.
Each party brings policies that are both beneficial and unfavorable to the markets. And together, markets are built.
The bigger factor that drives the economy? Market cycles. The forces of market cycles override the political affiliation of the person occupying the White House. Bill Clinton was in office while the dot com bubble was happening, so he had amazing stock market years. George W. Bush came in at the peak of that bubble, and was in office during the great financial crisis, so he had terrible numbers. Barack Obama came in at the lows of that crisis, and guess what? His numbers were great. Obviously, market cycles play a much bigger role in the economy than the president’s party affiliation.
Even making bets on certain sectors or industries for a particular election outcome can prove to be costly. President Bush ran on promises for tax cuts, which were interpreted as bullish for the banks, but they did really badly under his tenure. President Obama was a big proponent of clean energy. While he was in office, solar energy (as tracked by the Invesco Solar ETF (Ticker: TAN)) and wind energy (tracked by the First Trust Global Wind Energy ETF (Ticker: FAN)) were both lower, while the overall market was on a tear.
So no, your investment plan should not be based on your prediction of who will take a seat in the Oval office or who will win the Senate.
The most important thing you can do to build wealth is to stay invested over time. To illustrate this, let’s assume you invested $100,000 in 1949, and only invested under presidents of a single party.
While you would have done much better under the Democrat regimes, with an ending balance of $2.9 million versus the $717,000 had you only invested during the Republican presidents, it’s incomparable to the $21 million you would have had, had you remained invested the entire time.
We’ll leave you with this: Many are predicting that we won’t have a peaceful transfer of power, which can create a lot of volatility in the market. As you know from our previous missives, we aren’t in the prediction industry. But should that occur, we’ll be ready to pounce on the opportunity it brings.
October 23, 2020 | BY Simcha Felder
Many businesses and organizations are currently maintaining some hybrid model of remote/in-person work, with even more flexibility anticipated in the future. For most workforces, navigating processes, interactions and activities which are usually completed in-person, takes more than some new technology. Problems requiring unplanned, emergent coordination that could be addressed through impromptu interaction if everyone were in the same office, now require coordinated virtual communication.
The National Bureau of Economic Research utilized information from lockdowns in 16 metropolitan areas to compare the changes it caused to business communication patterns. Compared to pre- pandemic levels, they found increases in the number of meetings per person and the number of attendees per meeting, with decreases in the average length of meetings. They also found significant and durable increases in length of the average workday and email activity.
Employees are apprehensive about the challenges they are facing. Employers are too. Leaders of a remote workforce are facing a new organizational challenge. In addition to managing affairs, managers need to adopt new ways of leading their teams. The way you connect, enable and lead your remote team now, will set the trajectory for your next success.
- Motivate and Inspire
Recognize that the dynamics of the office space must in some ways be recreated for a virtual workforce, but you can also re-envision and recreate your business for the better. A good virtual leader will start by clearly defining and then honing the virtual processes that will lead to success. Keep it simple. Move away from micro-management and delegate clear roles and benchmark goals with a heightened sense of trust. Prepare them and empower them.
- Communication, Communication, Communication
Remote work-life integration and remote teamwork can be difficult and isolating. Communication is more critical than ever. Regular feedback and open communication boosts employees’ confidence in their work, improves mutual trust and ensures that managers are aware of issues as they arise. To create a culture of communication and enhance morale, give positive feedback generously and publicly when possible. This paves the way for effective feedback that is clearly understood and taken well by your employees. Remember, people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Tackle Problems Early
When businesses are operating in an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, leaders must be sensitive to the barometer of the workforce where information is the freshest and most salient. Lead by example. Strengthen every available channel of virtual communication and be responsive and trustworthy. Conduct regular team meetings to check in, identify issues and tackle them together immediately.
Lead your virtual team with empathy and empower them to succeed.
October 19, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
It’s been a year like no other. The sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in March forced every business owner — ready or not — to execute his or her disaster response plan.
So, how did yours do? Although it may still be a little early to do a complete assessment of what went right and wrong during the crisis, you can take a quick look back right now while the experience is still fresh in your mind.
When devising a disaster response plan, brainstorm as many scenarios as possible that could affect your company. What weather-related, environmental and socio-political threats do you face? Obviously, you can now add “pandemic” to the list.
The operative word, however, is “your.” Every company faces distinctive threats related to its industry, size, location(s), and products or services. Identify these as specifically as possible, based on what you’ve learned.
There are some constants for nearly every plan. Seek out alternative suppliers who could fill in for your current ones if necessary. Fortify your IT assets and functionality with enhanced recovery and security capabilities.
Another critical factor during and after a crisis is communication, both internal and external. Review whether and how your business was able to communicate in the initial months of the pandemic.
You and most of your management team probably needed to concentrate on maintaining or restoring operations. Who communicated with employees and other stakeholders to keep them abreast of your response and recovery progress? Typically, these parties include:
- Staff members and their families,
- Banks and other financial stakeholders, and
- Local authorities, first responders and community leaders (as appropriate).
Look into the communication channels that were used — such as voicemail, text messaging, email, website postings and social media. Which were most and least effective? Would some type of new technology enable your business to communicate better?
Revisit and update
If the events of this past spring illustrate anything, it’s that companies can’t create a disaster response plan and toss it on a shelf. Revisit the plan at least annually, looking for adjustments and new risk factors.
You’ll also want to keep the plan clear in the minds of your employees. Be sure that everyone — including new hires — knows exactly what to do by spelling out the communication channels, contacts and procedures you’ll use in the event of a disaster. Everyone should sign a written confirmation that they’ve read the plan’s details, either when hired or when the plan is substantially updated.
In addition, go over disaster response measures during company meetings once or twice a year. You might even want to hold live drills to give staff members a chance to practice their roles and responsibilities.
Heed the lessons
For years, advisors urged business owners to prepare for disasters or else. This year we got the “or else.” Despite the hardships and continuing challenges, however, the lessons being learned are invaluable. Please contact us to discuss ways to manage costs and maintain profitability during these difficult times.