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Blog Tax and Financial News

The IRS is Auditing Fewer Returns than Ever

IRS is AuditingOne of the perennial fears of taxpayers is getting audited by the IRS. Financially, few scenarios strike such fear into the heart of taxpayers. However, taxpayers can probably breathe a sigh of relief – at least for now. This is because the rate at which the IRS is initiating audits of individual taxpayers is dropping like a stone.

Decline in Audit Rates

The rate at which the IRS is auditing individual taxpayers has declined overall between the years of 2010 and 2019 (2020 data is too new and 2021 returns are still being filed through the extension period). According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), nearly 1 percent of all taxpayers were audited in 2010 compared to only 0.25 percent for the tax year 2019. The GAO chart below shows the ski slope-like drop in individual tax audit rates over the period.

IRS is Auditing

Table #3 from the GAO Report

While the IRS continues to audit higher earning taxpayers more often overall, during the 10-year period audit rates consistently declined for all levels of taxpayers, except those with the highest incomes. The audit rate for taxpayers with income between $200k and $500k experienced the largest drop, with the audit rate declining from 2.3 percent down to 0.2 percent; a 92 percent reduction in audits. Taxpayers with the highest incomes, defined as $10 million or more, saw a resurgence in audit rates from 2017-2018; however, even they experienced an overall decline, dropping from 21.2 percent in 2019 to only 3.9 percent in 2019 – equating to an 81 percent decline.

Impact on the Treasury

There is the theory that the prospect of a tax audit leads to greater voluntary compliance. In other words, if people think they won’t get audited, then they are more likely to cheat on their taxes.

Non-compliance with tax laws and regulations have a material impact on the Treasury. According to the IRS, it is estimated that on average, individual taxpayers under-reported nearly $250 billion a year for the period 2011-2013. This obviously leads to the non-collection of taxes that are otherwise owed the government and raises issues of fairness for taxpayers who are playing by the rules.

Why the Decline in Audit Rates?

One of the main drivers is a lack of resources at the IRS, a combination of both reduced funding and less auditors on staff. The number of agents working for the IRS has declined across the board since 2011. Tax examiners, the type who handle basic audits by mail, have dropped by 18 percent. Meanwhile, revenue agents, who handle the more complex cases in the field, declined by more than 40 percent over the same period.

Demographics point to an increase in these trends as there are a wave of coming retirements in the IRS. Over the next three years, nearly 14 percent of current tax examiners and 16 percent of revenue agents are expected to retire. Stack on top of this the fact that the inexperience of newer agents and the time to complete audits is also taking longer.

Conclusion

The IRS claims it is missing out on millions in legally due tax revenues due to the inability to maintain enforcement. They say they need more funding to hire more agents to perform more audits, which not only find fraud in the audits themselves but also increase overall compliance due to the pressure this creates.

Currently, there is no political focus on bringing major new resources to the IRS, so it’s not likely to see an uptick in individual tax audit rates anytime soon. The trend of focusing on the highest earners, however, will likely continue as this is where the IRS can find the most bang for its buck.

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Blog General Business News

Measuring the Margins

Operating Margin DefinedCorporate profits, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, grew by $20.4 billion in the final quarter of 2021, a 0.7 percent increase. For the first quarter of 2022, corporate profits fell by 2.3 percent or $66.4 billion. On an annualized basis, corporate profits fell 5.2 percent in 2022, but grew 25 percent in 2021. With the economy facing inflation, the uncertainty of the Russia/Ukraine conflict, and the world working its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty abounds. For companies, measuring margins is one way to evaluate performance and strategize ways to survive and thrive in a dynamic economy. Here are a few common margins that businesses can determine to measure their financial performance.

Operating Margin Defined

Also referred to as return on sales, this measures the profit a business makes on a percentage basis, per dollar, from its core operations. It accounts for manufacturing costs that fluctuate, such as paying employees and input stock. The operating margin is determined by obtaining the business’ earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) and dividing it by its net sales or sales revenue.

Operating Margin = Operating Earnings (EBIT) / Revenue

Operating Earnings = Revenue – (cost of goods sold (COGS) + overhead expenses, except tax and loan servicing costs)

Assuming a business had $10 million in revenue, $1.5 million of COGS and $750,000 in related overhead expenses, it would be as follows:

Operating Earnings = $10 million – ($1.5 million + $750,000) / $10 million

Operating Earnings = $10 million – ($2.25 million) / $10 million

Operating Earnings = $7.75 million / $10 million = 0.775 or 77.5%

Understanding the Operating Margin

This doesn’t factor in things such as taxes, interest on loans or other non-core business expenses. However, it gives a picture of what’s remaining for its non-core operating expenses, such as servicing outstanding loans. By looking at a company’s past operating margins, the trends can determine a company’s performance. Ways to improve the margin include reducing staff redundancy, negotiating better deals on raw materials or reaching more receptive customers.

Marginal Revenue Product (MRP)

If a piece of equipment or employee can create an output of X (the marginal physical product or MPP) and each additional unit of production sells at Z price (marginal revenue or MR), the MRP of the piece of the new investment is MPP x MR. Accepting that all other costs remain constant, if the business owner pays less than or equal to the MRP, it may be profitable. Otherwise, it’s not a good decision.

Using the example of a furniture manufacturer looking to respond to increased demand, this illustrates how it can guide business decisions. If a new employee can produce 100 tables every week that will retail for $100 per table, this is the MPP. Based on the calculation, the MPP of 100 multiplied by the marginal revenue (MR) of $100 = $10,000. If the business can hire and retain a new employee for less than $10,000 per week to increase their production by 100 tables per week, it can signal a positive investment.

Marginal Cost of Production

This metric is a way for businesses to determine efficient manufacturing costs. Looking at production volume, this calculation can determine if adding an additional unit to production would add profitability by examining fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs don’t change with modifications in production levels.

A static or fixed cost can be spread out over more units of increased production. However, if expanding production capacity requires additional fixed costs, it can add to the marginal cost of production, which will be explained shortly. When it comes to variable costs, as the name implies, as more production occurs, the costs similarly vary.

Assume company A makes widgets with $1 in variable costs and fixed costs of $10,000 per month, producing 5,000 widgets monthly. This would lead to $2 in fixed costs ($10,000 in fixed costs/5,000 widgets).

This final cost per widget comes to $3 ($2 fixed + $1 variable cost).

If company A chose to produce 10,000 widgets a month and they could use existing machinery, employees, etc., their fixed costs would drop to $1 ($10,000 in fixed costs/10,000 widgets).

Assuming the same variable cost of $1 per widget, plus the $1 in fixed costs, it would cost $2 per widget if the 10,000 widgets were produced. However, if additional investments (equipment, etc.) were needed to produce widget 5,001 to 10,000, this consideration would need to be factored in the marginal cost of production. If additional equipment costs $1,000 to increase production, the business would need to factor this in to see if it’s still profitable.

Essentially, if this additional production cost is less than the price of an additional individual unit, there’s the potential for a profit for the business.

Contribution Margin After Marketing (CMAM)

This measures how much cash is earned from a single unit sold after accounting for promotional and variable expenses. Example expenses include input stock, freight, inventory, etc. It’s important to distinguish between pre-planned marketing expenses over a set period of time (per month, quarter, etc.), and variable sales commissions that can fluctuate. CMAM is calculated as follows:

Contribution Margin After Marketing = Sales Revenue – Variable Costs – Marketing Expense

Looking at how much each unit can add to a business’ profitability:

CMAM for every Unit = Sales Revenue for every Unit – Variable Expenses for every Unit – Marketing Expense for every Unit

From there, a business’ net profit or loss can be found using this ratio:

Net Operating Profit = CMAM – Fixed Costs

Considerations

A smaller or negative CMAM is indicative of a product that’s likely uncompetitive. Conversely, a high CMAM, especially over a long time, can indicate the product is well regarded. It can help businesses to determine their most profitable products and/or what products to discontinue, etc.   

With economic uncertainty expected to continue, keeping an eye on past, present and future margins is a key way to maintain a business’ chance of thriving in 2022 and beyond.

Sources

https://www.bea.gov/data/income-saving/corporate-profits

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Blog Financial Planning

Building Wealth Through Home Equity

Building Wealth Through Home EquityOften the first house a person buys is an affordable condominium, townhouse or older single-family dwelling, also referred to as a “starter home.” It might be small and lack features they dream about, from new appliances in the kitchen, to dual sinks in the bath, to a large yard or a garage.

However, the key to a starter home is not to acquire your dream house, it is to build equity that you can eventually deploy to buy your dream home. It’s important not to wait until you have enough money for the ideal property. Start as early as you can and buy something affordable to get your foot in the door of homeownership.

Interest Rates and Maintenance Expenses

Buying a home when mortgage interest rates are low offers a key advantage for building wealth because it reduces your loan payment, thereby freeing up more discretionary income to put toward other investments, home upgrades or pay down the mortgage balance.

When deciding your price range for purchasing a home, it’s also important to budget common maintenance costs, such as utilities, repairs and upgrades, as well as homeowner’s insurance and property taxes. These costs can be substantial, yet many new homebuyers do not account for them in their budget. They only take into consideration whether or not they can afford the monthly mortgage. It is always a good idea to have a lower payment that you can well afford in order to avoid relying on savings or credit to pay for maintenance expenses as they arise. And remember, maintenance of your property is critical because it can help improve your sale price when you move, which is key to building wealth.

Building Home Equity

The next step to building wealth through homeownership is to sell for a substantial profit. Home equity, which is the market price for which you can sell the home minus your remaining mortgage balance, is achieved in two ways. One way to build equity relies on the real estate market. Over time, houses generally increase in price, so most people are able to sell their home for more than they paid for it. How quickly home prices rise will depend on the overall economy and your home’s particular appeal. That’s why it’s important to make an attractive location one of your top requirements. For example, even if you don’t have children or want children, buying a home in a sought-after school district will likely increase the value of your home faster. Other location features include easy access to shopping districts, major highways and even an airport.

The second way to build equity is through the monthly payments you make on the mortgage, which reduce the balance owed. If you can afford it, adding more to your monthly payment and directing the excess toward your principal balance helps build home equity faster. Another payment option that can help build equity faster is to apply for a shorter-term loan than the standard 30-year mortgage. For example, a 15-year term mortgage features a lower interest rate and the borrower pays off the loan in half the time. Note that monthly payments will be higher, but a homeowner can save thousands of dollars in interest with a shorter-term loan.

Transaction Costs

The garden variety advice is to remain in your home for at least five years. That’s because selling your home and buying a new one involves substantial transaction expenses, from closing costs to initiating a new loan, as well as paying commission fees to both the seller’s and buyer’s real estate agents (usually 3 percent each). Therefore, you need to have lived in the property long enough to build equity through payments and market appreciation to offset these expenses and still make a profit.

Sales Tax

Be aware that it is advantageous to live in your primary residence for at least two years before you sell. Otherwise, your sales profit could be subject to capital gains taxes on the first $250,000 for single tax filers, and as much as $500,000 for married filing jointly. The tax rate is the same as your ordinary income tax rate if you owned property for less than one year; after that, the capital gains rate is based on your tax bracket (15 percent or 20 percent).

Trade Up, Then Down

Over many decades, you can build wealth by buying a home and then periodically “trading up” once you attain substantial equity. The tactic of trading up means you invest your profits in a more expensive home and then begin building equity again. One way to save for retirement is to keep trading up until you retire, then downsize to a less expensive home with lower maintenance expenses. At that point, you can redeploy the profit derived from the home equity you have accumulated into a stream of retirement income.

Today’s Market

In recent years, high prices and low inventory in the residential real estate market have made it harder for young adults to buy a starter home. For those currently shut out, keep saving until the market stabilizes, because the higher your down payment, the lower your monthly payments will be – and the more equity you’ll have in your home. You can still build wealth through homeownership, even if you start late.

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Blog Tip of the Month

How to Drive and Get the Best Fuel Efficiency

How to Get the Best Fuel EfficiencyWe’re all feeling the pain at the pump. Unless you decide to walk, bike or take public transportation, you might feel stuck. But all is not lost. Here are some fuel-efficient driving techniques that can help you save hundreds of dollars in fuel each year.

Don’t Drive Too Fast

Of course, when you’re on the highway, you must maintain a certain speed. However, cars, vans and pickups are typically the most fuel-efficient when driving between 50 and 80 mph. If you go any faster, you’ll use more gas. Consider this: When you’re driving roughly 75 miles per hour, you use 20 percent more fuel than you would if you were going around 60 mph. On a 15-mile trip, if you’re driving faster, you’ll only save two minutes. Only you know if shaving two minutes and gulping extra gas from your tank is worth it.

Maintain a Steady Speed

When you drive in bursts, slowing down and then accelerating, your fuel consumption increases. Specifically, tests have shown that varying your speed up and down between 75 and 85 mph every 18 seconds can bump up fuel usage by 20 percent. If your car has cruise control, use that. Word from the wise: Slow and steady wins the race.

Accelerate Gently

The heavier your foot is when putting the pedal to the metal, the more gas you use. Here’s how to accelerate and save gas: From a stop, take five seconds to get to 12 mph. You’ll speed on up after that, but the point is to pay attention to when you’re just starting and ease into your journey.

Coast to Decelerate

If you tend to have a heavy brake foot, you’re thwarting your forward momentum. Granted, you want to control your car if you’re in rain or snow. But here’s the trick: Look ahead to see what traffic is like and, if you have some room when you’re headed down that hill, take your foot off the gas and the brake, and enjoy the ride – you’ll conserve fuel and save money.

Try Not to Idle

Except when you’re in traffic, if you’re stopped longer than a minute, turn off your engine. The average vehicle with a three-liter engine drinks in over a cup of fuel for every 10 minutes it idles. Ouch!

Measure Tire Pressure

Do this every month. If your tires are under-inflated by 56 kilopascals (aka 8 pounds per square inch), fuel consumption rises by up to 4 percent. If you don’t know the right tire pressure for your car, look on the edge of the driver’s side door. If your tires are low, it also can reduce the life of them. Make it a habit to check your tires.

Use Credit Cards with Gas Rewards

These cards are usually issued in partnership with a bank and offer a discount on gas, like saving five or six cents off a gallon. Yes, mere pennies; but when you add it up, it makes a difference. A few of the top cards to check out are Citi Custom CashSM Card, Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, and Discover it® Cash Back. Here are a few more. Another smart way to save is to get an app like GasBuddy that shows you the cheapest gas near you.

No one knows when gas prices will go down. In the meantime, the only thing you can do is try to work around the situation as best you can. The good news is that nothing lasts forever.

Sources

https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy-efficiency/transportation-alternative-fuels/personal-vehicles/fuel-efficient-driving-techniques/21038

https://money.com/people-combatting-high-gas-prices/

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Blog What's New in Technology

Big Data Storage: What You Need to Know

Big Data Storage: What You Need to KnowToday, businesses have to grapple with vast amounts of data from different sources, including emails, mailing lists, customer orders, system logs, mobile apps, social media networks, etc. This data is crucial to businesses in various ways. When analyzed, a business can identify operational issues, personalize the customer experience and manage supply chains – all contributing to better decision-making.

However, big data also has challenges, especially regarding its storage due to size and other factors such as collection speed, processing, retrieval and format. This becomes more complicated as the data keeps growing with time and cannot be stored in traditional storage devices, necessitating a need for facilities that store and process the data efficiently.

Depending on the business type, a choice can be made between storing data in a warehouse or in the cloud. A data warehouse is a building facility that stores and processes data for a business. This in-house data storage offers the advantage of speed. However, when more space is needed, it will be necessary to acquire more physical storage.

On the other hand, a business may choose to opt for cloud storage. Cloud storage offers the benefit of convenience, accessibility, cost and maintenance, which the service provider handles.

Considerations in Storing Big Data

Regardless of the means a business chooses to store its data, there are various issues to consider:

  • Understand your data – before choosing a data storage method, it is essential to first understand the company’s data in terms of the type of data collected, quantity, storage period, retrieval speeds, use cases, etc. This helps choose a data management system that can handle the data efficiently.
  • Data governance – with so much data collected and with data growing exponentially, it is likely that users can be lost in a sea of data. Therefore, a business should define a strategy that aligns with business goals to avoid collecting unnecessary data that takes up storage space.
  • Data integration tools – data is collected from multiple sources, and it is necessary to have adequate integration tools that allow for different file formats.
  • Cost – it is difficult to determine the actual cost of storing data. Hence, a business should not base the cost decision on the upfront cost alone. This is because other factors are involved, including operating costs, the need for scalability, training or hiring users, new technologies, and the cost of backup. Businesses must evaluate whether the initial investment in the best data storage technologies is worthwhile by looking at the potential long-term results.
  • The data storage provider – before settling on a service provider, thorough research should be conducted. Some considerations when choosing from a variety of providers should include the availability of technical support to solve problems quickly, scalability, fault tolerance, pricing models, and reviews from existing customers.
  • Disaster recovery plan – ensure it is possible to recover data quickly. This is crucial with attacks that deny access to data without paying a ransom. A business should consider keeping secure offsite backups.
  • Enhanced security is required – the expanding IoT network adds to the number of endpoints and devices storing or retrieving data. Therefore, big data comes with a huge responsibility to preserve data in an environment where hackers are pervasive and never stop coming up with new ways to break into systems. It is recommended to choose the safest option even when it costs more, as data security is vital for the survival of any business.
  • Employee training – big data may require a business to hire new staff to help in analytics, such as data scientists. Regardless, a business should consider training existing employees on handling big data and using new tools that will be introduced. Big data also requires collaboration among different departments in an organization. Data-literate employees can better interpret data, ask the right questions, and generally make data-driven decisions.

Compliance with data security regulations – this especially applies to highly regulated industries such as finance or health. It is essential to ensure that even when outsourcing data storage and management, the service provider adheres to compliance regulations to avoid heavy fines that come with a violation. 

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Blog Congress at Work

Protecting SCOTUS, Veterans in Special Circumstances, Disaster Victims, Potential Firearm Victims, and America’s Water Resources

America's Water ResourcesSupreme Court Police Parity Act of 2022 (S 4160) – In response to potential threats and protests outside the homes of Supreme Court judges following a leak of their preliminary judgement on a case related to Roe vs. Wade, this bill authorizes extra security for the justices and their families. Specifically, Supreme Court justices and their families would be provided with security detail similar to that of other top government officials and families in the executive branch (e.g., the president and vice president) and legislative branch (e.g., Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader). This type of detail generally cannot be declined. The bill was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on May 5. It passed in both the Senate and the House on June 14 and was signed into law by the president on June 16.

Honoring our PACT Act of 2021 (HR 3967) – Introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) on June 17, 2021, this bill recently passed in both the House and the Senate, but was returned with changes to the House on June 16. PACT is an acronym for Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act. The bipartisan legislation, with 100 sponsors, would permit veterans who were exposed to burn pit smoke and other environmental hazards that caused cancers and other illnesses during their service, to receive health coverage for those ailments.

Air America Act of 2022 (S 407) – Air America was a government-owned airline deployed between 1950 and 1976 for the purpose of conducting certain covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. This bill is designed to restore benefits to the employees who worked for Air America during that period. Benefit applications must be filed within two years of the bill’s enactment. This legislation was introduced on Feb. 24, 2021, by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). It passed in the Senate on June 14 and is currently in the House for consideration.

Post-Disaster Assistance Online Accountability Act (HR 2020) – Introduced by Jenniffer González-Colón, Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico (R-PR) on March 18, 2021, this bill establishes a centralized website to publish information on disaster assistance. The Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies that provide disaster assistance must submit the following information for publication on a quarterly basis: 1) the total amount of assistance provided by the agency; 2) the amount provided that was disbursed or obligated; and 3) a detailed list of all projects and activities to which assistance was allocated. The bill passed in the House on May 13 and is under consideration in the Senate.

Protecting Our Kids Act (HR 7910) – The bill was introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) on May 31 and passed in the House on June 8. The purpose of this legislation is to ban the sale or transfer of certain semiautomatic firearms to anyone under age 21; establish new federal criminal offenses for gun trafficking; regulate guns that do not have serial numbers (ghost guns); regulate the storage of firearms on residential premises at federal, state and tribal levels; regulate bump stocks under federal firearms laws; and generally prohibit the import, sale, manufacture, transfer and possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The bill is currently facing significant challenges in the Senate, where a bipartisan committee is working on an alternative.

Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (HR 1766) – This legislation authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement projects associated with water resources development, including water supply and wastewater infrastructure, flood control, navigation and ecosystem/ shoreline restoration. The Act was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on May 16. It passed in the House on June 8 and is currently under consideration in the Senate along with other similar bills.