There may be a tax-advantaged way for people to save for the needs of family members with disabilities — without having them lose eligibility for government benefits to which they’re entitled. It can be done though an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account, which is a tax-free account that can be used for disability-related expenses.

Who is eligible?

ABLE accounts can be created by eligible individuals to support themselves, by family members to support their dependents, or by guardians for the benefit of the individuals for whom they’re responsible. Anyone can contribute to an ABLE account. While contributions aren’t tax-deductible, the funds in the account are invested and grow free of tax.

Eligible individuals must be blind or disabled — and must have become so before turning age 26. They also must be entitled to benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. Alternatively, an individual can become eligible if a disability certificate is filed with the IRS for him or her.

Distributions from an ABLE account are tax-free if used to pay for expenses that maintain or improve the beneficiary’s health, independence or quality of life. These expenses include education, housing, transportation, employment support, health and wellness costs, assistive technology, personal support services, and other IRS-approved expenses.

If distributions are used for nonqualified expenses, the portion of the distribution that represents earnings on the account is subject to income tax — plus a 10% penalty.

More details

Here are some other key factors:

  • An eligible individual can have only one ABLE account. Contributions up to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount, currently $15,000, may be made to an ABLE account each year for the benefit of an eligible person. If the beneficiary works, the beneficiary can also contribute part, or all, of their income to their account. (This additional contribution is limited to the poverty-line amount for a one-person household.)
  • There’s also a limit on the total account balance. This limit, which varies from state to state, is equal to the limit imposed by that state on qualified tuition (Section 529) plans.
  • ABLE accounts have no impact on an individual’s Medicaid eligibility. However, ABLE account balances in excess of $100,000 are counted toward the SSI program’s $2,000 individual resource limit. Therefore, an individual’s SSI benefits are suspended, but not terminated, when his or her ABLE account balance exceeds $102,000 (assuming the individual has no other assets). In addition, distributions from an ABLE account to pay housing expenses count toward the SSI income limit.
  • For contributions made before 2026, the designated beneficiary can claim the saver’s credit for contributions made to his or her ABLE account.

States establish programs

There are many choices. ABLE accounts are established under state programs. An account may be opened under any state’s program (if the state allows out-of-state participants). The funds in an account can be invested in a variety of options and the account’s investment directions can be changed up to twice a year. Contact us if you’d like more details about setting up or maintaining an ABLE account.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

No matter the size or shape of a business, one really can’t overstate the importance of sound accounts receivable policies and procedures. Without a strong and steady inflow of cash, even the most wildly successful company will likely stumble and could even collapse.

If your collections aren’t as efficient as you’d like, consider these five ways to improve them:

1. Redesign your invoices. It may seem superficial, but the design of invoices really does matter. Customers prefer bills that are aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand. Sloppy or confusing invoices will likely slow down the payment process as customers contact you for clarification rather than simply remit payment. Of course, accuracy is also critical to reducing questions and speeding up payment.

2. Appoint a collections champion. At some companies, there may be several people handling accounts receivable but no one primarily focusing on collections. Giving one employee the ultimate responsibility for resolving past due invoices ensures the “collection buck” stops with someone. If budget allows, you could even hire an accounts receivable specialist to fill this role.

3. Expand your payment options. The more ways customers can pay, the easier it is for them to pay promptly. Although some customers still like traditional payment options such as mailing a check or submitting a credit card number, more and more people now prefer the convenience of mobile payments via a dedicated app or using third-party services such as PayPal, Venmo or Square.

4. Get acquainted (or reacquainted) with your customers. If your business largely engages in B2B transactions, many of your customers may have specific procedures that you must follow to properly format and submit invoices. Review these procedures and be sure your staff is following them carefully to avoid payment delays. Also, consider contacting customers a couple of days before payment is due — especially for large payments — to verify that everything is on track.

5. Generate accounts receivable aging reports. Often, the culprit behind slow collections is a lack of timely, accurate data. Accounts receivable aging reports provide an at-a-glance view of each customer’s current payment status, including their respective outstanding balances. Aging reports typically track the payment status of customers by time periods, such as 0–30 days, 31–60 days, 61–90 days and 91+ days past due.

With easy access to this data, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus your efforts. For example, you can concentrate on collecting the largest receivables that are the furthest past due. Or you can zero in on collecting receivables that are between 31 and 60 days outstanding before they get any further behind.

Need help setting up aging reports or improving the ones you’re currently running? Please let us know — we’d be happy to help with this or any aspect of improving your accounts receivable processes.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

News of commercial database hackings may seem commonplace in 2019. But while many of these stories focus on hacked bank and credit card accounts, 401(k) plan sponsors and participants probably don’t realize that their plan assets also are at risk.

Employers who offer 401(k) plans to their employees need to take precautions against identity theft. Part of this is educating participants.

Role of sponsors

If your organization sponsors a 401(k) plan, it’s essential that you assess plan service providers’ protection systems and policies. Most providers carry cyberfraud insurance that they extend to plan participants. But there may be limits to this protection if, for example, the provider determines that you (the sponsor) or employees (participants) opened the door to a security breach.

Your plan’s documents may say that participants must adopt the provider’s recommended security practices. These could include checking account information “frequently” and reviewing correspondence from the administrator “promptly.” Make sure you and your employees understand what these terms mean — and follow them.

What participants can do

Traditionally, 401(k) plan participants have been discouraged from worrying about short-term fluctuations and volatility in their accounts, and instead encouraged to focus on the long run. However, lack of regular monitoring can make these accounts vulnerable. Instruct employees to periodically check their account balances and look for signs of unauthorized activity.

Employees also should take the same steps they follow to protect other online accounts. For example:

  • Use strong passwords and change them regularly.
  • Take advantage of two-factor authentication.
  • Don’t use the same login ID and passwords for multiple sites.
  • Don’t allow a browser to store login information.
  • Never share login information.

Such precautions can foil some of the most common retirement plan thieves — relatives and friends — from using their knowledge to gain account access. In one real-life case, a plan participant divorced his wife and moved out of the house. However, he didn’t update his address with his plan provider, change his password or review his balance regularly. His ex-wife cleaned out his more than $40,000 balance.

A few clicks

Without adequate vigilance, anybody can be a few clicks away from cleaning out your employees’ 401(k) accounts. Review your plan documents carefully and educate participants about their responsibilities for monitoring their accounts. Contact us for more information on identity theft at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Forensic accountants are best qualified to unearth the “hows and whys” of occupational fraud. But it’s up to employers to know when it’s time to call for professional help in the first place. The signs of fraud can be easy to miss, but they’re usually there.

Something doesn’t belong

Dishonest employees may use anything from fictitious vendors to false invoices to cover up theft. To ferret out potential fraud, look for such signs as:

  • Duplicate payments,
  • Out-of-sequence entries,
  • Entries by employees who don’t usually make them,
  • Unusual inventory adjustments,
  • Accounts that don’t properly balance, and
  • Transactions for amounts that appear too large or too small, or transactions that occur too often or too rarely.

An increase in the number of complaints your company receives is another warning sign. An investigation may lead to a relatively innocent explanation, such as a glitch in your shipping system — or it may lead to a fraudulent billing scheme. Pay equally close attention to declines in product quality. They could just stem from a faulty batch of paint or indicate that a thief is working in purchasing.

Living it up

Changes in an employee’s lifestyle can be evidence of fraud. Although such changes usually are difficult to spot initially, a pattern is likely to emerge over time.

For example, one piece of expensive jewelry could be a gift, and a good investment return may pay for an exotic vacation. But if your warehouse manager brags about his new state-of-the-art home theater, buys an expensive car and decides to install a backyard pool, you should question how that’s possible on the salary you’re paying.

Multiple personalities

When employees steal, especially if they’re first-time offenders, they may no longer be on their best behavior. In fact, you may not even recognize them. People who have always been cooperative may become argumentative. Or, alternatively, someone who typically is difficult to work with may suddenly become everyone’s friend.

If an employee starts drinking to excess or takes up smoking, ask what’s wrong. If they can’t sleep, or if they worry obsessively about the possible consequences of actions and resent other employees’ participation in “their” projects, be concerned. They may be wrestling with a family problem — or stealing you blind.

Don’t jump to conclusions

The signs of fraud are easy to overlook, in part because they aren’t necessarily signs of fraud. There may be explanations for suspicious behavior that have nothing to do with fraud, but you won’t know unless you investigate further. If you begin to suspect fraud, contact us at 205-345-9898.

© 2019 Covenant CPA