July 31, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
Timely, relevant financial data is critical to managing a business in today’s unprecedented conditions. Similar to the control panel in a vehicle or machine, dashboard reports provide a real-time snapshot of how your business is performing.
Why you need a dashboard report
Everything in a dashboard report can typically be found elsewhere in the company’s financial reporting systems, just in a less user-friendly format. Rather than report new information, a dashboard report captures the most critical data, based on the nature of the business. It can provide an early warning system for potential problems, allowing you to pivot as needed to minimize losses and jump on emerging opportunities in the marketplace.
To maximize the effectiveness of dashboard reports, make them accessible to managers across your organization via the company’s internal website or weekly email blasts. Widespread, easy access will allow your management team to quickly identify trends that require immediate attention. Additionally, businesses that are struggling during a reorganization or debt restructuring sometimes share these reports with their lenders as a condition of their continued support.
Metrics that matter
When deciding which information to target, look at your company’s loan covenants — lenders usually have a good sense of which metrics are worth monitoring. Then conduct your own risk assessment. What’s relevant varies depending on your industry, general economic conditions and the nature of your business operations.
In addition to tracking cash balances and receipts, most dashboard reports include the following ratios:
- Gross margin [(revenue – cost of sales) / revenue],
- Current ratio (current assets / current liabilities), and
- Interest coverage ratio (earnings before interest and taxes / interest expense).
From here, consider adding a handful of company- or industry-specific performance metrics. For example, a warehouse might report daily shipments and inventory turnover. A hotel that’s struggling to reopen might provide a schedule of net operating income, average room rates and vacancy rates compared to the previous week or month. A law firm might report each partner’s realization rate.
A diagnostic test
Comprehensive financial statements are the best source of information about your company’s long-term stability and profitability — especially for external stakeholders. But dashboard reporting is critical for internal purposes, too. These reports can help assess a sudden change in market conditions, interim performance or potential downward trend in your financial performance. Contact us to help you compile a meaningful dashboard reporting process for your organization.
July 30, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
You’ve probably seen it in the movies or on TV: A close-knit family gathers to find out what’s contained in the will of a wealthy patriarch or matriarch. When the terms are revealed, a niece, for example, benefits at the expense her uncle, causing a ruckus. This “bad blood” continues to boil between estranged family members, who won’t even speak to one another.
Unfortunately, a comparable scenario can play out in real life if you don’t make proper provisions. With some planning, you can avoid family disputes or at least minimize the chances of your will being contested by your loved ones.
Start at the beginning
Before you (and your spouse, if married) set the table for your will, which is the centerpiece of any comprehensive estate plan, discuss estate matters with close family members who’ll likely be affected. This may include children, siblings, adult grandchildren and possibly others. Present an outline regarding the disposition of your assets and other important aspects.
This doesn’t mean you should be specific about everything in the will, but it’s a good idea to provide a basic overview of your estate. Consider the input of other family members; don’t just pay lip service to their feedback. In fact, they may raise issues that you hadn’t taken into account.
This meeting — which may require several sessions — may head off potential problems and better prepare your heirs. It certainly avoids the kind of “shockers” often depicted on screen.
Means of protection
Although there are no absolute guarantees, consider the following methods for bulletproofing your will from a legal challenge:
Draft a no-contest clause. Also called an “in terrorem clause,” this language provides that, if any person in your will challenges it, he or she is excluded from your estate. It’s often used to thwart contests to a will.
This puts the onus squarely on the beneficiary. If he or she asserts that the estate isn’t divided equitably, the beneficiary risks receiving nothing. Be aware that, in some states, this clause may not be enforceable or may be subject to certain exceptions.
Choose witnesses wisely. You may want to use witnesses who know you well, such as close friends or business associates. They can convincingly state that you were of sound mind when you made out the will. You also may want to choose witnesses who are in good health, preferably younger than you and easily traceable.
Obtain a physician’s note. A note from a physician about your health status is recommended. For instance, it can state that you have the requisite mental capacity to make estate planning decisions and thus will be useful in avoiding legal challenges.
Last but not least
After your will is drafted, don’t make the mistake of putting it in a safe where you may forget about it. Review it periodically with your attorney. By fine-tuning the will, you improve the likelihood that it’ll deter a legal challenge and, if necessary, prevail in court. Contact us with any questions regarding your will.
July 29, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
When the COVID-19 crisis exploded in March, among the many concerns was the state of the nation’s supply chains. Business owners are no strangers to such worry. It’s long been known that, if too much of a company’s supply chain is concentrated (that is, dependent) on one thing, that business is in danger. The pandemic has only complicated matters.
To guard against this risk, you’ve got to maintain a constant awareness of the state of your supply chain and be prepared to adjust as necessary and feasible.
Products or services
The term “concentration” can be applied to both customers and suppliers. Generally, concentration risks become significant when a business relies on a customer or supplier for 10% or more of its revenue or materials, or on several customers or suppliers located in the same geographic region.
Concentration related to your specific products or services is something to keep a close eye on. If your company’s most profitable product or service line depends on a few key customers, you’re essentially at their mercy. If just one or two decide to make budget cuts or switch to a competitor, it could significantly lower your revenues.
Similarly, if a major supplier suddenly increases prices or becomes lax in quality control, your profit margin could narrow considerably. This is especially problematic if your number of alternative suppliers is limited.
To cope, do your research. Regularly look into what suppliers might best serve your business and whether new ones have emerged that might allow you to offset your dependence on one or two providers. Technology can be of great help in this effort — for example, monitor trusted news sources online, follow social media accounts of experts and use artificial intelligence to target the best deals.
A second type of concentration risk is geographic. When gauging it, assess whether many of your customers or suppliers are in one geographic region. Operating near supply chain partners offers advantages such as lower transportation costs and faster delivery. Conversely, overseas locales may enable you to cut labor and raw materials expenses.
But there are also risks associated with geographic centricity. Local weather conditions, tax rate hikes and regulatory changes can have a substantial impact. As we’ve unfortunately encountered this year, the severity of COVID-19 in different regions of the country is affecting the operational ability and capacity of suppliers in those areas.
These same threats apply when dealing with global partners, with the added complexity of greater physical distances and longer shipping times. Geopolitical uncertainty and exchange rate volatility may also negatively affect overseas suppliers.
Challenges and opportunities
Business owners — particularly those who run smaller companies — have always faced daunting challenges in maintaining strong supply chains. The pandemic has added a new and difficult dimension. Our firm can help you assess your supply chain and identify opportunities for cost-effective improvements.
July 28, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
If you’re a partner in a business, you may have come across a situation that gave you pause. In a given year, you may be taxed on more partnership income than was distributed to you from the partnership in which you’re a partner.
Why is this? The answer lies in the way partnerships and partners are taxed. Unlike regular corporations, partnerships aren’t subject to income tax. Instead, each partner is taxed on the partnership’s earnings — whether or not they’re distributed. Similarly, if a partnership has a loss, the loss is passed through to the partners. (However, various rules may prevent a partner from currently using his share of a partnership’s loss to offset other income.)
While a partnership isn’t subject to income tax, it’s treated as a separate entity for purposes of determining its income, gains, losses, deductions and credits. This makes it possible to pass through to partners their share of these items.
A partnership must file an information return, which is IRS Form 1065. On Schedule K of Form 1065, the partnership separately identifies income, deductions, credits and other items. This is so that each partner can properly treat items that are subject to limits or other rules that could affect their correct treatment at the partner’s level. Examples of such items include capital gains and losses, interest expense on investment debts and charitable contributions. Each partner gets a Schedule K-1 showing his or her share of partnership items.
Basis and distribution rules ensure that partners aren’t taxed twice. A partner’s initial basis in his partnership interest (the determination of which varies depending on how the interest was acquired) is increased by his share of partnership taxable income. When that income is paid out to partners in cash, they aren’t taxed on the cash if they have sufficient basis. Instead, partners just reduce their basis by the amount of the distribution. If a cash distribution exceeds a partner’s basis, then the excess is taxed to the partner as a gain, which often is a capital gain.
Here’s an example
Two individuals each contribute $10,000 to form a partnership. The partnership has $80,000 of taxable income in the first year, during which it makes no cash distributions to the two partners. Each of them reports $40,000 of taxable income from the partnership as shown on their K-1s. Each has a starting basis of $10,000, which is increased by $40,000 to $50,000. In the second year, the partnership breaks even (has zero taxable income) and distributes $40,000 to each of the two partners. The cash distributed to them is received tax-free. Each of them, however, must reduce the basis in his partnership interest from $50,000 to $10,000.
Other rules and limitations
The example and details above are an overview and, therefore, don’t cover all the rules. For example, many other events require basis adjustments and there are a host of special rules covering noncash distributions, distributions of securities, liquidating distributions and other matters.
July 27, 2020 | BY Joseph Hoffman
You may think of trusts as estate planning tools — vehicles for reducing taxes after your death. While trusts can certainly fill that role, they’re also useful for protecting assets, both now and later. After all, the better protected your assets are, the more you’ll have to pass on to loved ones.
Creditors, former business partners, ex-spouses, “spendthrift” children and tax agencies can all pose risks. Here’s how trusts defend against asset protection challenges.
Tell creditors “hands off”
To protect assets, your trust must own them and be irrevocable. This means that you, as the grantor, generally can’t modify or terminate the trust after it has been established. (A “revocable trust,” on the other hand, allows the grantor to make modifications.) Once you transfer assets into an irrevocable trust, you’ve effectively removed your rights of ownership to the assets. Because the property is no longer yours, it’s unavailable to satisfy claims against you.
It’s important to note that placing assets in a trust won’t allow you to sidestep responsibility for debts or claims that are outstanding at the time you fund the trust. There may also be a substantial “look-back” period that could eliminate the protection your trust would otherwise provide, as well as other restrictions.
Build a fence
If you’re concerned about what will happen to your assets after they pass to the next generation, you may want to consider the defensive features of a “spendthrift” trust. Despite the name, a spendthrift trust does more than protect your heirs from themselves. It can protect your family’s assets against dishonest business partners and unscrupulous creditors. It also can protect loved ones in the event of relationship changes. For example, if your son divorces, his spouse generally won’t be able to claim a share of the trust property in the divorce settlement.
Several trust types can be designated a spendthrift trust — you just need to add a spendthrift clause to the trust document. Such a clause restricts a beneficiary’s ability to assign or transfer his or her interests in the trust, and it restricts the rights of creditors to reach the trust assets, as allowed by law.
Trustees play a role in keeping your trust safe. If a trustee is required to make distributions for a beneficiary’s support, a court may rule that a creditor can reach trust assets to satisfy support-related debts. So, for increased protection, consider giving your trustee full discretion over whether and when to make distributions. You’ll need to balance the potentially competing objectives of having the access you want and preventing creditors and others from having access.
Make asset protection a priority
If securing your assets is a priority — and it should be — talk to us about whether a trust can provide the protection you need. There may also be other ways to help shelter wealth — for example, maximizing your use of qualified retirement plans.