I’m more relaxed than I used to be. Some days you’ll find me working after midnight. Others I’m cranking out emails at 5 a.m. This year I’ve made it to all but one of my kids’ daytime events. I exercise more, too. If any of this sounds ...

 

4 best practices for working from home and more...




4 best practices for working from home

IStock_59008810_XXLARGEI’m more relaxed than I used to be. Some days you’ll find me working after midnight. Others I’m cranking out emails at 5 a.m. This year I’ve made it to all but one of my kids’ daytime events. I exercise more, too. If any of this sounds familiar, you might work from home like I do.

From a tech perspective, most professionals can do their jobs from home. But there’s far more to working from home than technology. If you work from home, are considering working from home or manage employees who work from home, I hope the following suggestions help you set up a strong work-from-home strategy.

  1. Set goals and a schedule for work. When I worked full-time in a local CPA firm, my work days were clearly defined and separate from my home life. After I started working from home, I enjoyed more time with my family. But work sometimes crept into my “down time.” To keep my sanity, I had to schedule my day and set limits. When I sit down in my workspace, I’m at work. When I leave my workspace, I’m home. My schedule looks different than when I was in the office. Because I have such a short commute, I really do have more time and flexibility than I had in the office. I go home for lunch every day. But unscheduled trips to the refrigerator are off limits.
  2. Establish boundaries for work-life balance. At the office, my default position for home-based tasks was “no.” I couldn’t let in the plumber, take the kids to the dentist, cook dinner, take care of the kids when they were sick, and the list goes on — during the work day. My wife and I discussed these things ahead of time and figured out who could do them. When I started working at home, my newfound flexibility — though wonderful — soon turned to frustration with all the errands, interruptions and additional tasks I’d taken on by default because I was “at home.” I learned that you’ve still got to negotiate these extras with the other people in your life. Otherwise, too much of a good thing can wear you out.
  3. Schedule social time. Offices are “social” places. If you’re an extrovert like I am, you need social interaction to keep your energy up. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you need networking time with other professionals to keep current. When I worked in the office, I got my social fix without trying. Now I schedule social time, which sometimes just means taking my laptop to a coffee shop. I’ve also participated in virtual happy hours. You might feel a little odd sitting in a bar by yourself chatting with your coworkers via Skype — but it works. We’ve even held a virtual baby shower.
  4. Connect to your organization’s culture. Understanding your organization’s culture is critical to your success. If most of my organization is in the office and I work from home, it’s on me to make the extra effort to stay connected. If you’re close enough, consider going into the office one or two days a week. If you’re geographically separated from your office like I am, consider visiting the office periodically. In between, pick up the phone to handle things that you would probably email in the office. Taking advantage of instant messaging and video conferencing helps, too.

Working from home can be exceptionally rewarding and challenging. When I worked in the office full time, I missed most of my kids’ daytime events. Being there is priceless. Professionally I’ve accomplished some things (such as writing articles) since I’ve been working from home that I never would have in the office. But I have to work harder to stay connected. If you work from home or are a solo practitioner, participating in AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) Small Firm Networking Groups and events, and small firm resources can help you keep up with developments in the profession and get in some social time, too.

Jason M. Deshayes CPA, CGMA – Senior Manager – Firm Services, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants 

 

5 tax tips for the newly engaged couple and their CPA

Shutterstock_645344572I’m getting married in June, and for me, wedding planning has been relatively simple and drama-free. I’ve buttoned up the budget, signed every contract, booked travel and have a final headcount for the caterer. There’s just one thing that’s still unsettling my mind.

What’s going to happen to my taxes?

It seems like such a straightforward question, but newlyweds often find themselves on the wrong side of a tax bill. Couples may think it’s silly — or even awkward — to think about taxes just after getting engaged, but a financial head start could do wonders for a marriage (money issues are often cited as a cause of divorce). 

As a tax practitioner, you are in the unique position to help guide clients like me through this financial milestone. Knowing what to look for and how to spot potential red flags can be key to keeping them on track. For a little insight, I reached out to Tax Practice & Ethics team members Susan Allen, CPA, CGMA, CITP, and Henry Grzes, CPA.

Here are five questions they say you should ask when determining how to assist your clients through “I do.”

  1. How will the new marriage affect your clients’ withholdings?

Your client likely knows that getting married will influence their filing status, but they may not realize how it could influence their tax burden. Many factors go into determining the rate at which the couple will be taxed, including earnings, investments and other forms of income. A couple’s combined tax liability may end up being less than what it would have been individually, but that’s not always the case. When a couple with similar — and generally high — incomes marry, they may be at risk of a marriage penalty, which can be as high as 12 percent. Tax reform means that this penalty is less common.

It’s possible that a couple will experience a marriage bonus, particularly if they have disparate incomes. The higher income earner will see a reduction in taxes as some of their income will be taxed at a lower tax bracket when filing jointly. Either way, it’s key your clients determine how they will adjust their withholding to eliminate tax season surprises.

  1. Is the new couple creating a blended family?

A married couple must determine if it is in their best interest to file jointly or separately especially if they are creating a blended family. Under the new tax reform legislation, a child tax credit is worth up to $2,000 per qualifying child, with a refundable portion of $1,400. There is also a credit for dependents other than qualifying children under the new law, such as a parent or dependent over the age of 17. It’s important for the couple to remember that this credit begins to phase out at $200,000 for single and $400,000 for joint filers. Run the numbers for your clients to help them determine how they should file.

For couples who have joint or shared custody, this question can be particularly difficult to answer. By statute, a parent must have custody of the child for more than 50 percent of the year to qualify for a tax credit. Also, be sure you’ve verified whether the ex-spouse plans to claim the child as a dependent or not. Help your client have an honest conversation with their ex so both parties are on the same page to avoid potentially expensive miscommunications.

  1. Is your client changing his or her name or address?

Your clients don’t have to report their name change directly to the IRS, but they should notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) before filing their next tax return. If a child’s name changes due to marriage, your client should take a similar step in notifying the SSA. But if the child does not yet have a Social Security number, they will need to apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number to use with their taxes.

Should your client change addresses due to the marriage, you should advise they fill out an IRS Form 8822. This will ensure they don’t miss any IRS refunds, notices or other communications.

  1. Does your client have any special considerations you should keep in mind?

CPAs should review each client’s situation for special considerations. Couples with investments, property or who stand to claim a significant inheritance should be advised of the unique tax implications of their union. Likewise, issues from previous marriages such as alimony or child support payments must be reviewed. If the parent owes back child support payments and files a joint tax return with their new spouse, the entire refund may be used to pay the debt.

Clients who expect to qualify for a passive loss may get a shock when they are no longer able to qualify. Taxpayers can take up to a $25,000 passive loss (or $12,500 if married filing separately) from rental real estate and other investments, but phase out starts at $100,000 and is completely lost at $150,000 for both individual and married filers

Also note, same-sex marriage is treated the same as traditional marriage for federal tax purposes. Civil-unions and domestic partnerships are not, but state laws may require these couples to file jointly. Be sure to review state guidance.

  1. Are there any red flags your client needs to be aware of now?

A new marriage always has a few wrinkles to iron out, but sometimes a major financial red flag requires special treatment from a CPA.

Getting married could become financially tricky if one spouse owes back taxes. If your clients live in a community property state, both spouses’ incomes could be vulnerable even if the debt was procured before the marriage. Regardless of the state, if the couple plans to file a joint return, the spouse who feels they should not be held legally responsible for the debt may file Form 8379 with the return (or by itself) to request their portion of the refund. If the debt is due to one spouse omitting income or claiming false deductions or credits, Form 8857 may relieve the tax burden for the “innocent” spouse. The couple should keep in mind that both spouses’ financial contributions to the household will be taken into consideration when the IRS is determining available income for payment plan negotiations.

Counsel your clients on considerations outside of tax planning, such as the creation of wills, healthcare proxies, etc., that will protect your client’s assets. Visit 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy for helpful resources to share with your clients regarding these and other financial planning opportunities.

“Will you marry me?” is often the most crucial question a person asks — or answers — in their lives. But these four words also kick off a lifetime of financial conversations, adjustments and sometime-hardships for the couple. Suddenly, two people with likely two different incomes and tax liabilities are planning to combine into one. Or maybe, they’re not planning at all.

And that’s where you come in!

Allison Carter, Communications Manager — Tax, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

 

Needed now: female financial planners

GettyImages-748335013Mind-blowing. That is the word that pops in my head whenever I see the statistics on women needing financial planning and the corresponding number of women planners available to provide those services. The numbers tell a story that needs a new ending:    

  • Women age 65 and older are three times more likely than men to be widowed, and 46% of women over 75 live alone.
  • 55% of women between 25 and 34 prefer working with female financial advisors.
  • Women represent only 15.7% of the financial planning industry
  • Only one third of women surveyed by Prudential in 2015 said they were either on track or ahead in their retirement plan.

The current story is we have millions of women in the U.S. who need a financial planner to help them prepare for their post-retirement years and live comfortably (and perhaps independently).  But the reality is these women have limited or no options to work with a woman planner. The plot thickens when you consider almost 40% of approximately 310,500 financial advisors plan to retire within the next 10 years, according to a 2017 report by Cerulli Associates. That means even fewer female planners will be available unless serious recruitment gets underway.

Before I go on, I want to be clear that my concern over the lack of female financial planners is not a reflection in any way on male planners or an inference that women planners are better. It’s simply a different dynamic. Women planners can add another perspective. Women are wired differently (literally and figuratively), as this Forbes article points out, which enhances their ability to communicate and see the big picture, vital skills for financial planning.  

Financial planning is similar to certain other professions in that a client trusts someone with their personal information and relies on their expertise to make decisions that may substantially affect their life. Some people prefer one gender over another when they seek a planner, just as they would a doctor or a lawyer. Women may be more comfortable discussing their financial habits or learning about investment strategies with another woman, particularly if they want to admit that they don’t understand something.

So why is there such a shortage of women in the industry? The Cerulli study indicated the majority of women advisors see work-life balance as an obstacle. I find this statistic puzzling, as I see flexibility as one of the major benefits of being a financial planner. Think about it: You’re not tied to an audit or tax return deadline, and to some or even a great extent, you can meet with clients at times that work well with your schedule. Need to pick up your daughter from soccer practice at 4 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays? No problem, you simply avoid scheduling appointments during that time.

My theory is that this statistic represents a larger issue – misconceptions about the industry. I think financial planning gets lumped in with other services such as asset management and investment advising, which can discourage a woman who is more interested in helping people with life choices than acting as a broker. I suspect a lot of people have no idea that part of being a planner is knowing about things like disability insurance. Bottom line: If you have good people skills (especially listening), good math skills, and a desire to learn and help others, you could be on the way to becoming a stellar financial planner.

It’s clear what the challenge is. But the question is, how do we address it? This problem didn’t evolve overnight, so it won’t go away that fast either. But firms can take steps now so that in a few years, we will be talking about this subject differently.

Mentoring

 Mentoring is perhaps the most critical action to start encouraging women to consider financial planning as a career option. I have found mentoring extremely rewarding. I won’t sugarcoat the effort involved – it’s definitely an investment of your time and energy – but I have never regretted it. If you’re thinking of mentoring or setting up a program at your practice, I would suggest keeping an open mind about eligible mentees. We may be prone to associating mentoring with interns or junior staff, but anyone can benefit from it. Is there a senior manager who is great with clients and dropping hints she is ready for a change?

 Examine and Debunk Misperceptions  

As I mentioned before, flexibility is a benefit of being a financial planner, and the more we can educate women about that, the better. However, firms should be upfront about how much flexibility is truly allowed – touting a work-life balance will lead to problems if the firm culture doesn’t encourage it in practice. Similarly, examine the revenue model, where other misperceptions may lie –  if someone starting out does not need to take a pay cut or build a significant client base to retain their current salary, make sure everyone knows that. Finally, as a profession, we need to continue to inform women of the skills that help make a good financial planner (e.g., problem solving, listening) to encourage them to join the ranks.   

Expanding college curriculums

We also need to encourage more colleges and universities to offer financial planning courses, which would be instrumental in prompting students to consider planning as a potential career choice. Up until 10 years ago, very few schools offered it. Given the pending shortage of financial planners, I hope we see this option on more curriculums.  

I consider myself lucky to have worked for someone who understood the value of offering holistic advice to clients (a partner at Deloitte, Haskins & Sells) and brought me into this field years ago. I love what I do and I love being the first person my clients come to for advice, and I am excited about the prospect of more women pursuing financial planning and enjoying those same rewards.

Next month, I will be part of a panel at the AICPA ENGAGE conference talking about the incredible potential of female planners that has yet to be tapped, and ways that firms can recruit, reward and retain them. I hope you can join us. 


***

Hear more from Susan and dozens of other experts at AICPA ENGAGE in Las Vegas, June 9-14. Join your peers for four days of thought-provoking questions, candid insights and even some radical ideas. It’s your time to absorb, reflect, challenge and apply the best of what the CPA profession has to offer on issues ranging from technology and tax to marketing and practice management. If you can’t make it to Vegas this time, you can attend sessions online. 

Susan Bruno, CPA, PFS, Managing Director, Capital Wealth Advisors. Susan creates customized solutions for high-net-worth individuals and families. Recognized among her peers for her leadership, advocacy and philanthropy, Susan is the co-founder of DivaCFO and CollegeCFO.com. DivaCFO is a women’s empowerment platform to help women take charge of their personal finances and CollegeCFO is a student-driven initiative to help prepare young adults ages 18-24 for a successful future.

 

College grads: How to save for retirement when you can barely pay your rent

RetirementGraduated from college. ✓

Got a good job. ✓

Started saving for retirement. WHAT?!

I know what you‘re likely thinking: “I have plenty of time to save! Why would I start now?” I get it, the idea of saving for anything, let alone your distant retirement years, seems crazy. You’re not alone. You might be shocked to hear that only 46% of non-retired Americans believe they will reach their retirement goals and 20% don’t believe they ever will.

A miniscule 5% felt they had succeeded in setting aside the money they would need for retirement. No matter how unbelievable it may seem now, you can be part of that 5% since people at the beginning of their careers have the opportunity to begin saving early. Even if you’re feeling pinched financially between rent, student loan repayments and other bills, there are steps you can and should be taking to save for the future:  

Develop a cash flow analysis. This is another term for a “budget,” which is a dirty word to many people. No matter what you call it, though, it’s a great tool for establishing your cash outflows and inflows and getting a grip on your financial situation. Using a simple piece of paper or a spreadsheet, track the money you have coming in, including salary and any investments or other income. Then list your expenses, including fixed items such as rent or loan payments, as well as changeable daily outflows, such as money spent on, say, a car repair, dinner out or a vacation. It’s a good idea to track your cash flow over at least 6 months to get a sense of expenses you don’t pay every month, such as car insurance. Don’t forget to include all the cash you pull out of an ATM and where it went so that you can see what happened to that $100 you withdrew only a few days ago.

Use your analysis to find ways to adjust spending. Does your analysis show that you’re actually spending more than you earn? If so, you can make immediate cuts to keep your spending within your means. If you have some left over, you can decide how you want to use that money, including setting up regular allocations for saving and retirement. You’ll also be in a better position to manage your spending and make the best use of your money. Have you ever looked at a credit card statement and wondered, “Where did I spend all that?” With your cash flow analysis, you’ll know in advance where your money went. From week to week, you’ll be able to spot unnecessary outlays and resolve to avoid them in the future so you’re better able to meet your retirement or other savings goals. They may include many autopay accounts that shouldn’t be there, including subscriptions—such as cable or satellite TV—that you rarely use.

Take a candid look at your situation. Are your housing expenses reasonable? Many new graduates end up devoting a major percentage of their income to rent, leaving little money for anything else, including saving for the future. If that’s your situation, there are a number of options to consider. You could find a roommate, a smaller place or one that’s a little farther from your workplace if that will lower your rent, or even move in with your parents or other family members if that’s an option. Moving back home can give you time to take important steps such as paying off a student loan, which could enable you to contribute more to your retirement savings.  

Don’t leave retirement money on the table. Many employers offer retirement plans that deduct an amount you choose from each paycheck and deposit it into a retirement savings account. A large number will also match some or all of your contribution. That match amount is free money that you’re missing out on if you don’t contribute as much as possible to a plan. So, although it might mean cutting back on evenings out with friends or other indulgences, when you start your retirement savings, aim to take the greatest advantage of that match.

Focus on the Endgame. Your post-grad life is an exciting time. There’s an understandable tendency to think only about your current financial needs and wants, but don’t forget to keep a focus on your future as well. Think about your life 5, 10, 20 or 40 years down the road and prioritize expenses now while keeping that vision in mind.  If you need some motivation, use the AICPA 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy Retirement Planner to calculate how much you may need to save for the long term. It can help motivate you to start saving sooner rather than later, and the tips outlined here can help you stick to your goals.

As your financial situation becomes more complex you may be interested in seeking out the advice of a CPA financial planner. Visit www.findacpapfs.org to find a CPA/PFS.

Michael Eisenberg, CPA/PFS, Financial Services Principal, Squar MilnerMichael provides his clients with financial planning for all stages of life and advises them with a comprehensive strategy to maintain, protect and grow their assets by carefully building a diversified portfolio. He is a member of the American Institute of CPAs National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.

 

A Mother’s Day wish list

GettyImages-671753690Mother’s Day is a time when everyone comes together to celebrate the women who gave us life. It’s an opportunity for us to show our appreciation for the love, advice and support these women offered us throughout our lives. We asked CPA moms what they are hoping to receive on their special day. Here’s what they said:    

“When my boys were young, what I really wanted for Mother’s Day was some peace and quiet (and maybe some flowers). Now that I’m an empty nester and they live too far away to see regularly, I’m hoping for a video chat so I can see their handsome faces along with lots of pictures of my granddaughter. Of course, if they could swing an in-person visit, that would be even better!”

Lisa Simpson, CPA, CGMA

“Just a sunny, warm day – 80 degrees would be perfect, but I’d take 79; 9 (not 18) holes of golf with Jay, Clayton and Evan; a dirty water dog with sauerkraut and mustard - for lunch; and Avengers: Infinity War, later in the day.  Top that off with the commitment of complete funding for the Dynamic Audit Solution from the major firms, and my day would be complete!”

Sue Coffey, CPA, CGMA

“The best Mother’s Day for me is spending the day with my family. As your children grow and they move on with their own lives, you begin to realize that time shared together is a cherished commodity. So, all I want for Mother’s Day is a day with my family!”

Erin Mackler, CPA, CGMA

“All I want for Mother's Day is to do something active with my kids, and for there to be no fighting between them! On a more selfish note, I want to sleep in and get in a workout and a shower before they start calling my name or blowing up my phone asking me to do things for them. I love my girls, but a little "me" time on Mother’s Day goes a long way!”

Tamara Basso Bensky, CPA

“Good food, a nap, and an obligation-free day to hang out with my favorite girl who made me a momma.”

Lindsey Curley, CPA, CGMA

“I would like nothing more than to take a carefree trip with my family. Heading out on an adventure where I don’t have to do any of the planning sounds like the most magical thing I could ever imagine! Two or three days to unplug without one task to schedule is about as good as it gets.”

Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA

“For Mother’s Day, I most want to spend time with the two little people who made me a mother back in 2012 and 2015. Unrealistically, I would also like a day filled with no fighting, yelling, screaming, or complaining!"

Sarah Bilant, CPA 

“For Mother’s Day, I would like a pause button, a time machine or a trip to Disney World. I spend so much of my time plotting world domination that I don’t get to enjoy my little man and just be his mom. “Having it all” is a myth. On Mother’s Day, I’ll create my own pause button, live in the moment with my kiddo, and enjoy the small things: the way he giggles, how much he loves hugs, throwing a ball with him, and eating all the yummy things he craves. I wish I had a bigger pause button and could give that luxury to every mom in the world. If I had a time machine, I’d live each day twice — once for my world domination and once for my son. And, well, I always want a trip to Disney World — it’s my happy place.”

Liz Mason, CPA

What are you most looking forward to this Mother’s Day? Tell us in the comments below!

Elizabeth Rock, Associate Manager - Enterprise Social Media, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants