Is your business tracking website metrics?

In today’s data-driven world, business owners are constantly urged to track everything. And for good reason — having accurate, timely information displayed in an easy-to-understand format can allow you to spot trends, avoid risk and take advantage of opportunities.

This includes your company’s website. Although social media drives so much of the conversation now when it comes to communicating with customers and prospects, many people still visit websites to gather knowledge, build trust and place orders.

So, how do you know whether your site is doing its job — that is, drawing visitors, holding their attention, and satisfying their curiosities and needs? A variety of metrics hold the answers. Here are a few of the most widely tracked:

Page views. This metric is a good place to start, partly because it’s among the oldest ways to track whether a website is widely viewed or largely ignored. A page view occurs when a visitor loads the HTML file that represents a given page on your website. You want to track:

  • How many pages each visitor views,
  • How long each “unique visitor” (see below) remains on the page and your website, and
  • Whether the visitor does anything other than peruse, such as submit a form or buy something.

Unique visitors. You may have encountered this term before. It’s indeed an important one. The unique visitor metric identifies everyone who comes to your website, counting each visitor only once regardless of how many times someone visits.

Think of it like friendly neighbors stopping by your home. If Artie from next door stops by twice and Betty from down the street drops in three times, that’s two unique visitors and five total visits. Tracking your unique visitors over time is important because it lets you know whether your website’s viewing audience is growing, shrinking or staying the same.

Bounce rate. At one time or another, you may have heard someone say, “All right, I’m going to bounce.” It means the person is going to depart from their current surroundings and go elsewhere. When a visitor quickly decides to bounce from (that is, leave) your website, typically in a matter of seconds and without performing any meaningful action, your bounce rate rises.

This is not a good thing. A high bounce rate could mean your website is too similar in name or URL to another company’s or organization’s. Although this may drive up page views, it will more than likely aggravate the buying public and reflect poorly on your company. An elevated bounce rate could also mean your site’s design is confusing or aesthetically displeasing.

To quantify bounce rate, unique visitors and page views — as well as many other useful metrics — look to your website’s analytics software. Your website provider should be able to help you set up a dashboard of which ones you want to track. Contact our firm for help using these metrics to determine whether your website is contributing to revenue gains and providing a reasonable return on investment.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If your business is depreciating over a 30-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation, you should consider a cost segregation study. It might allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Fundamentals of depreciation

Generally, business buildings have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Usually, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Classify property into the appropriate asset classes

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold improvement, retail improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

The savings can be substantial

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We can judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. Contact us to find out whether this would be worthwhile for you.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Some organizations struggle to prevent cyberattacks because they rely on cybersecurity tools and techniques that protect only their perimeter. Perpetrators who make it past a single line of defense (such as with a username and password) can gain unfettered access to the company’s network. They can then use ransomware to block access to data or steal customer information or intellectual property.

Zero trust security was designed to address the shortcomings of a single perimeter defense. Created by an IT industry analyst, zero trust requires companies to not automatically trust users or devices. This can be particularly effective if your business relies on cloud computing or if your employees work from home or use their own devices to access your network. 

3 principles

Three key principles underlie zero trust:

1. Trust must be earned — often. Zero trust requires initial and ongoing verification for every user and device entering and moving within an IT environment. For example, after users enter the correct network credentials, they must provide additional credentials to access its email system. And even after users are granted access, the system generates “timeouts” that force users and devices to reverify. This is intended to limit the amount of time a malicious actor can spend in the network.

2. Roles and business needs dictate access. By applying the “least privilege” concept, organizations following zero trust limit access to only the data and resources users need to do their jobs. For example, an administrative assistant typically doesn’t need access to a company’s general ledger and a salesperson doesn’t require access to HR files.

Least privilege segments a company’s IT environment into secure zones, based on users’ roles. Just as ships use bulkheads to create watertight compartments to maintain buoyancy, this micro-segmentation keeps the network “afloat,” even if a segment has been compromised.

3. Multifactor authentication is essential. Zero trust security requires verification with a high degree of confidence. Multifactor authentication (MFA) requires users to provide more than a username and password to access a network. It might entail entering a one-time password sent to a previously registered email or mobile phone. Or users might need to open a dedicated app on a mobile device and confirm that they’re seeking network access.

Building more and higher walls

If the only barrier between your IT network and a fraud perpetrator is simple perimeter security, your company’s risk of being hacked is higher than necessary. Consider adopting zero trust to build more and higher walls. Contact us for more information and cybersecurity tool recommendations.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Employers offer 401(k) plans for many reasons, including to attract and retain talent. These plans help an employee accumulate a retirement nest egg on a tax-advantaged basis. If you’re thinking about participating in a plan at work, here are some of the features.

Under a 401(k) plan, you have the option of setting aside a certain amount of your wages in a qualified retirement plan. By electing to set cash aside in a 401(k) plan, you’ll reduce your gross income, and defer tax on the amount until the cash (adjusted by earnings) is distributed to you. It will either be distributed from the plan or from an IRA or other plan that you roll your proceeds into after leaving your job.

Tax advantages

Your wages or other compensation will be reduced by the amount of pre-tax contributions that you make — saving you current income taxes. But the amounts will still be subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes. If your employer’s plan allows, you may instead make all, or some, contributions on an after-tax basis (these are Roth 401(k) contributions). With Roth 401(k) contributions, the amounts will be subject to current income taxation, but if you leave these funds in the plan for a required time, distributions (including earnings) will be tax-free.

Your elective contributions — either pre-tax or after-tax — are subject to annual IRS limits. For 2021, the maximum amount permitted is $19,500. When you reach age 50, if your employer’s plan allows, you can make additional “catch-up” contributions. For 2021, that additional amount is $6,500. So if you’re 50 or older, the total that you can contribute to all 401(k) plans in 2021 is $26,000. Total employer contributions, including your elective deferrals (but not catch-up contributions), can’t exceed 100% of compensation or, for 2021, $58,000, whichever is less.

Typically, you’ll be permitted to invest the amount of your contributions (and any employer matching or other contributions) among available investment options that your employer has selected. Periodically review your plan investment performance to determine that each investment remains appropriate for your retirement planning goals and your risk specifications.

Getting money out

Another important aspect of these plans is the limitation on distributions while you’re working. First, amounts in the plan attributable to elective contributions aren’t available to you before one of the following events: retirement (or other separation from service), disability, reaching age 59½, hardship, or plan termination. And eligibility rules for a hardship withdrawal are very stringent. A hardship distribution must be necessary to satisfy an immediate and heavy financial need.

As an alternative to taking a hardship or other plan withdrawal while employed, your employer’s 401(k) plan may allow you to receive a plan loan, which you pay back to your account, with interest. Any distribution that you do take can be rolled into another employer’s plan (if that plan permits) or to an IRA. This allows you to continue deferral of tax on the amount rolled over. Taxable distributions are generally subject to 20% federal tax withholding, if not rolled over.

Employers may opt to match contributions up to a certain amount. If your employer matches contributions, you should make sure to contribute enough to receive the full match. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on free money!

These are just the basics of 401(k) plans for employees. For more information, contact your employer. Of course, we can answer any tax questions you may have.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

What goes into a fraud damages calculation?

At first glance, calculating restitution for fraud damages may seem relatively simple. If someone steals $10,000 from a company, that person should repay that amount, perhaps with interest, right? Not quite. Financial experts also consider the profits the business lost because of the fraud — and weigh different methods of computing damages.

The appropriate approach

Experts typically use either the benefit-of-the-bargain or out-of-pocket approach to calculate damages. The appropriate method depends to some degree on the location and nature of the fraud. But in most cases, the benefit-of-the-bargain method results in greater restitution for victims.

Take, for example, a property developer who buys a parcel of land that the seller says is worth $1 million but is offering at $900,000. In truth, the seller is lying about the parcel’s value and has even falsified a valuation report. The land is actually worth about $700,000. Putting aside the developer’s failure to perform proper due diligence, how might fraud damages be assessed?

Under the out-of-pocket rule, the company would be awarded $200,000 in damages, or the difference between the land’s real value and the amount paid for it. Using the benefit-of-the-bargain rule, however, damages would be calculated at $300,000 — the difference between the seller’s misrepresented value and the parcel’s true worth.

3 common alternatives

It’s obvious why plaintiffs typically prefer the benefit-of-the-bargain method. But there are three other methods experts commonly use to calculate lost profits.

First, using the benchmark (or yardstick) method, an expert compares the fraud victim’s corporate profits to those of another, similar company that wasn’t defrauded. This method is particularly appropriate for new businesses or franchises.

The hypothetical (or model) method is also generally appropriate for businesses with little history. It requires the expert to gather marketing evidence that demonstrates potential lost sales. After calculating the total, the costs that would have been associated with the lost sales are subtracted to arrive at lost profits.

Finally, the before-and-after method typically is used for longer-established businesses. Experts look at the company’s profits before and after the fraud compared to profits during the time the fraud was being committed. The difference is the lost profits.

Don’t do it yourself

Defrauded business owners shouldn’t attempt to calculate their own fraud damages — or engage a professional who isn’t qualified to do it. To help ensure you receive the highest restitution amount, contact us or have your attorney get in touch.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

When creating or updating your strategic plan, you might be tempted to focus on innovative products or services, new geographic locations, or technological upgrades. But, what about your customers? Particularly if you’re a small to midsize business, focusing your strategic planning efforts on them may be the most direct route to a better bottom line.

Do your ABCs

To get started, pick a period — perhaps one, three or five years — and calculate the profitability contribution level of each major customer or customer unit based on sales numbers and both direct and indirect costs. (We can help you choose the ideal metrics and run the numbers.)

Once you’ve determined the profitability contribution level of each customer or customer unit, divide them into three groups: 1) an A group consisting of highly profitable customers whose business you’d like to expand, 2) a B group comprising customers who aren’t extremely profitable, but still positively contribute to your bottom line, and 3) a C group that includes customers who are dragging down your profitability, perhaps because of constant late payments or unreasonably high-maintenance relationships. These are the ones you can’t afford to keep.

Devise strategies

Your objective with A customers should be to strengthen your rapport with them. Identify what motivates them to buy, so you can continue to meet their needs. Is it something specific about your products or services? Is it your customer service? Developing a good understanding of this group will help you not only build your relationships with these critical customers, but also target sales and marketing efforts to attract other, similar ones.

As mentioned, Category B customers have some profit value. However, just by virtue of sitting in the middle, they can slide either way. There’s a good chance that, with the right mix of sales, marketing and customer service efforts, some of them can be turned into A customers. Determine which ones have the most in common with your best customers, then focus your efforts on them and track the results.

Finally, take a hard look at the C group. You could spend a nominal amount of time determining whether any of them might move up the ladder. It’s likely, though, that most of your C customers simply aren’t a good fit for your company. Fortunately, firing your least desirable customers won’t require much effort. Simply curtail your sales and marketing efforts, or stop them entirely, and most will wander off on their own.

Brighten your future

As the calendar year winds down, examine how your customer base has changed over the past months. Ask questions such as: Have the evolving economic changes triggered (at least in part) by the pandemic affected who buys from us and how much? Then tailor your strategic plan for 2022 accordingly.

Please contact our firm for help reviewing the pertinent data and developing a customer-focused strategic plan that brightens your company’s future.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic turndown in some areas, you may have family members in need of financial support. If you’re interested in lending money to loved ones in need, consider establishing a “family bank.” These entities enhance the benefits of intrafamily loans, while minimizing unintended consequences.

Intrafamily loans

Lending can be an effective way to provide your family with financial assistance without triggering unwanted gift taxes. So long as a loan is structured in a manner similar to an arm’s-length loan between unrelated parties, it won’t be treated as a taxable gift. This means, among other things, documenting the loan with a promissory note, charging interest at or above the applicable federal rate, establishing a fixed repayment schedule, and ensuring that the borrower has a reasonable prospect of repaying the loan.

Even if taxes aren’t a concern, intrafamily loans offer important benefits. For example, they allow you to help your family financially without depleting your wealth or creating a sense of entitlement. Done right, these loans can encourage responsible financial behavior, promote accountability and help cultivate the younger generation’s entrepreneurial capabilities by providing financing to start a business.

Family banks

Too often, however, people lend money to family members with little planning and regard for potential unintended consequences. Rash lending decisions can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, conflicts among family members and false expectations. That’s where the family bank comes into play.

A family bank is a family-owned, family-funded entity designed for the sole purpose of making intrafamily loans. Often, family banks are able to make financing available to family members who might have difficulty obtaining a loan from a bank or other traditional funding sources or to lend at more favorable terms. By “professionalizing” family lending activities, a family bank can preserve the tax-saving power of intrafamily loans while minimizing negative consequences.

Build a strong governance structure

The key to avoiding family conflicts and resentment is to build a strong family governance structure that promotes communication, group decision-making and transparency. It’s important to establish clear guidelines regarding the types of loans the family bank is authorized to make and allow all family members to participate in the decision-making process. This ensures that family members are treated fairly and avoids false expectations.

Ease financial hardships

It’s possible that someone in your extended family has faced difficult financial circumstances recently. Contact us to learn more about intrafamily loans and family banks.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

For many small businesses, the grand reopening is still on hold. The rapid spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has mired a variety of companies in diminished revenue and serious staffing shortages. In response, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has retooled its Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program to offer targeted relief to eligible employers.

A brief history

The EIDL program was in place well before 2020. However, the federal government has ramped up the initiative’s visibility while trying to help small businesses during the pandemic.

With the entire country essentially declared a disaster area, the CARES Act established an enhanced EIDL program for small businesses affected by COVID-19. It offered lower interest rates, longer repayment terms and a streamlined application process.

The American Rescue Plan Act upped the ante, offering eligible companies targeted EIDL advances that are excluded from the gross income of the person who receives the funds. The law stipulates that no deduction or basis increase will be denied, and no tax attribute will be reduced, because of this gross income exclusion.

Latest enhancements

The SBA’s most recent enhancements to the EIDL program offer “a lifeline to millions of small businesses who are still being impacted by the pandemic,” according to SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. (Eligible employers include not only small businesses, but also qualifying nonprofits and agricultural companies in all U.S. states and territories.)

First and foremost, the loan cap has increased from $500,000 to $2 million. Eligible small businesses can use these funds for almost any operating expense, including payroll and equipment purchases. Funds can also be applied for certain debt payments. Specifically, the SBA has expanded the allowable use of EIDL funds to prepay commercial debt and pay down federal business debt.

In addition, the agency has implemented a new deferred payment period under which borrowers can wait until two years after loan origination to begin repaying their COVID-related EIDLs.

Application details

If you believe your small business could qualify and benefit from these newly enhanced EIDLs, first identify how much money you need and how soon you need it. The SBA is offering a 30-day “exclusivity window” to approve and disburse loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans of more than $500,000 will begin after this 30-day period.

The agency has also rolled out a streamlined application process that establishes “more simplified affiliation requirements” modeled after those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The deadline for applications remains December 31, 2021. As is the case with any government loan, it’s better to apply earlier rather than later in case funds run out.

Help with the process

For further details about the new and improved COVID-related EIDL program, go to sba.gov/eidl. And don’t hesitate to contact us. We can help you determine whether your small business qualifies for one of these loans and, if so, assist with completing the application process.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Have you heard of the “nanny tax?” Even if you don’t employ a nanny, it may apply to you. Hiring a house cleaner, gardener or other household employee (who isn’t an independent contractor) may make you liable for federal income and other taxes. You may also have state tax obligations.

If you employ a household worker, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from pay. But you can choose to withhold if the worker requests it. In that case, ask the worker to fill out a Form W-4. However, you may be required to withhold Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes and to pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax.

2021 and 2022 thresholds

In 2021, you must withhold and pay FICA taxes if your household worker earns cash wages of $2,300 or more (excluding the value of food and lodging). The Social Security Administration recently announced that this amount would increase to $2,400 in 2022. If you reach the threshold, all the wages (not just the excess) are subject to FICA.

However, if a nanny is under age 18 and childcare isn’t his or her principal occupation, you don’t have to withhold FICA taxes. So, if you have a part-time student babysitter, there’s no FICA tax liability.

Both an employer and a household worker may have FICA tax obligations. As an employer, you’re responsible for withholding your worker’s FICA share. In addition, you must pay a matching amount. FICA tax is divided between Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security tax rate is 6.2% for the employer and 6.2% for the worker (12.4% total). Medicare tax is 1.45% each for the employer and the worker (2.9% total).

If you want, you can pay your worker’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you do, your payments aren’t counted as additional cash wages for Social Security and Medicare purposes. However, your payments are treated as additional income to the worker for federal tax purposes, so you must include them as wages on the W-2 form that you must provide.

You also must pay FUTA tax if you pay $1,000 or more in cash wages (excluding food and lodging) to your worker in any calendar quarter. FUTA tax applies to the first $7,000 of wages paid and is only paid by the employer.

Paperwork and payments 

You pay household worker obligations by increasing your quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from wages, rather than making an annual lump-sum payment.

As an employer of a household worker, you don’t have to file employment tax returns, even if you’re required to withhold or pay tax (unless you own your own business). Instead, employment taxes are reported on your tax return on Schedule H.

When you report the taxes on your return, include your employer identification number (not the same as your Social Security number). You must file Form SS-4 to get one.

However, if you own a business as a sole proprietor, you include the taxes for a household worker on the FUTA and FICA forms (940 and 941) that you file for the business. And you use your sole proprietorship EIN to report the taxes.

Recordkeeping is important 

Keep related tax records for at least four years from the later of the due date of the return or the date the tax was paid. Records should include the worker’s name, address, Social Security number, employment dates, dates and amount of wages paid and taxes withheld, and copies of forms filed.

Contact us for assistance or questions about how to comply with these requirements.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Corporate espionage has long been a threat for U.S. companies. Recently, intellectual property theft by foreign governments and organized crime gangs has grabbed headlines — for good reason. According to the U.S. Justice Department, 80% of its economic espionage prosecutions target schemes that would benefit China. Yet for most businesses, the threat comes from employees and former employees who take advantage of lax environments with few internal controls.

The problem … and a solution

Employees with access to trade secrets may take that information with them when they leave your company for another job — or pad their paychecks by selling it to your competitors while still employed. As with all types of fraud, workers are more likely to participate in corporate espionage if they’re unhappy in the job (motive), have access to sensitive information (opportunity) and can mentally excuse the act (rationalization). For example, thieves may rationalize selling IP because they feel underpaid and that they “deserve” the fraud proceeds.

You can reduce espionage risk from unethical employees by first identifying information that should be secured. New technology and market strategies are clearly sensitive. But customer complaints or component purchasing data may also be valuable to your competitors. Think about which competitors would benefit from what information.

Then determine how much of your sensitive information is at risk and where the vulnerabilities lie. Passwords, firewalls and other security measures are critical to protecting data, but they aren’t invulnerable. You also need to consider who has access to confidential information and how your business processes drive how the information is used.

The last step is to develop a security policy that considers your business methods, potential external weaknesses and staffing patterns. Revisit the plan periodically as your business and competitors change.

Stop loose lips from sinking ships

Be sure to educate employees about the threat of corporate espionage and let them know how to report suspicious activity such as people asking for details about their jobs. Emphasize that secrets can be revealed inadvertently.

For example, a software developer may agree to help a “student” with her research, or an operations manager may participate in a “customer satisfaction survey” by a manufacturer. Employees also need to watch what they discuss with coworkers in public places such as lunch spots and after-hours bars. They never know who’s eavesdropping.

Of course, not all research into your company is illegal. Public documents such as Federal Communications Commission and regulatory filings, content on your website and published articles on your company can give an experienced business analyst a fairly accurate idea of what you’re doing. Actual corporate espionage involves theft of information that hasn’t been made public.

Actual threats

Although your business should put most of its anti-espionage resources into preventing employees from stealing IP and selling it to competitors, actual threats may vary according to your industry or products. The IP of defense contractors and technology companies, for example, may be attractive to foreign states. Contact us to help assess your threat level.

© 2021 Covenant CPA