How to Identify and Avoid Cash Flow Pitfalls

Cash Flow Pitfalls, Cash Flow problemsLooking at expenses for one’s business is essential to reduce cash flow issues. For example, it would show if there’s too much money leaving the business or what type of scenario the business might face if there’s an unexpected and large expense that guts the business’ cash position. Tracking expenses on a monthly basis is one way to determine a company’s financial health.  

Estimating sales by starting with last year’s month-by-month figures is one way to start. Looking at credit and cash sales from a business’ monthly income statements provides historical reference. Examining both fixed and variable past expenses, specifically, is a good starting point. However, it’s important when projecting future sales and reasonable increases to remember that the business could be impacted negatively by a new competitor or positively if one goes out of business.

Determining when payment will be received is a good way to project cash flow. If it’s cash, then it’s instant and no further calculation is necessary. However, if payment is conducted by invoices, credit lines, etc., businesses are encouraged to perform the Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) calculation. This calculates, on average, how long customers take to pay outstanding invoices.

DSO = (Monthly accounts receivables/Total sales) x Days in the month

This is a good way to measure how long customers actually take to pay invoices versus what terms are specified in contracts or invoices.

Another consideration is to look at fixed and variable expenses. While fixed expenses are just that, fixed, it’s important to monitor variable expenses because they can fluctuate. One example is inflation, which can increase the cost of input materials, salaries, overhead, etc. Depending on the volume of production or sales, electricity, commission, or similar costs can also vary.

Once this information is gathered, the current month’s projected cash flow can be calculated.

The formula is as follows: (Last month’s cash balance + Current month’s projected receipts) – Projected expenses.

Preventing Bad Debt from Happening Before Collections is Necessary

According to SCORE, there are many things a business can do to reduce the likelihood of customer debt default and increase cash flow. Businesses can check the creditworthiness of both individual and commercial clients before offering credit to determine the likelihood of defaulting. 

Similarly, if Net 30 is the standard timeframe to pay an invoice, offering a 5 percent discount if it’s paid within seven days is one way to encourage prompt payment. Businesses that get a deposit when signing the contract or before beginning work will generate a more consistent cash flow.

Operating Cash Flow Ratio Example

This looks at how easily a company can satisfy current liabilities from its cash flows that are produced from the business operations. If there’s negative cash from operations, a business might be relying too heavily on financing or selling assets to run its operations. If earnings are steady, but cash flow from operations is falling, this is a negative indication of a company’s health. It’s calculated as follows:

(Operating Cash Flow/Current Liabilities) = ($15 billion/$45 billion) = 0.33

Businesses with an operating cash flow ratio greater than 1 have produced more cash in an operating period than is necessary to satisfy current liabilities. Businesses that have a reading less than 1 did not produce enough cash to satisfy current liabilities. However, further investigation is required to ensure that it’s not taking some of its excess cash to reinvest in projects with the potential to create future rewards.

While there’s no way to predict future cash flow trends, making projections can help businesses compare actual results to projects and adjust their plans more efficiently.


How to Reduce Common Payroll Errors

Common Payroll ErrorsAccording to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), almost one-third of companies see penalties due to payroll issues. Understanding a few examples, according to the NFIB, of how companies can better comply and avoid penalties is essential to smoother operations.

Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Corporations Penalty

As long as there’s a reasonable expectation of at least $500 in estimated taxes owed, corporations are required by the IRS to file. If, however, a corporation doesn’t satisfy its estimated tax payments or pays them after their quarterly submission deadline, the IRS will assess penalties. This can occur even if the IRS owes filers a refund.

The IRS recommends the easiest way to avoid the penalty is to pay the quarterly estimated taxes by the 15th day of April, June, September, and January of the following year (the following month after each quarter). If the 15th is on a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) or it’s a legal federal holiday, payment would be due on the next regular business day.

When it comes to assessing penalties for underpayment of estimated taxes, the IRS determines the penalty based on how much-estimated taxes are underpaid, the time frame of when the payment was due and underpaid, and the IRS’ current quarterly interest rates.

Based on 2023’s third-quarter data from the IRS, the federal agency charges a 7 percent penalty annually, compounded daily.

Failure to Deposit Penalty

Another payroll tax mistake businesses may make is the Failure to Deposit Penalty. The NFIB reported that nearly 50 percent of small businesses see fines on average of $850 annually because they’re late or missing payments. In order for businesses that must make employment tax deposits, it’s imperative to do so either on the IRS’ monthly or semi-weekly basis.

Required employment tax deposits cover Social Security, Medicare, and federal income taxes, along with Federal Unemployment Tax. Employers on the monthly route are required to deposit employment taxes on payments for the prior month by the 15th of the following month. For the semi-weekly route, deposits for employment taxes on payments made between Wednesdays and Fridays are to be made by the following Wednesday. For deposits done on a Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, employment tax deposits must be made by the following Friday.

Beginning with the due date of the employment tax deposit, the penalty is calculated by the number of calendar days the deposit is late.

Between one and five calendar days, there’s a 2 percent penalty on the unpaid deposit. Between six and 15 calendar days, the penalty increases to 5 percent of the unpaid deposit. If it’s late by more than 15 calendar days, the penalty is 10 percent of the unpaid deposit amount.

If more than 10 calendar days have passed after the first written contact from the IRS notifying the filer of failing to deposit their employment taxes or the day the business receives correspondence requiring immediate payment of employment taxes, the penalty increases to 15 percent of the unpaid deposit. It’s also subject to interest on the penalty.

While these are only two ways businesses can incur payroll-related tax penalties, it’s illustrative of how businesses need to keep on top of their federal (and state) obligations.


How Businesses Can Identify and Increase Efficiency with Managerial Accounting

Managerial accounting is a form of internal reporting that helps business owners and others involved in the organization’s decision making. It looks at individual processes and products to see how they are functioning via practical data points. This is done in hopes of applying data analysis to improve the business’ operational efficiency.

It is important to keep in mind the intended audience and data structure with regard to managerial accounting versus financial accounting. While managerial accountants analyze information, it is not subject to GAAP requirements; however, financial accountants must present company information according to GAAP standards – and such information is often intended for external consumers like investors or lenders.

Measuring Inventory Levels

One way that businesses turn to managerial accounting is through scrutinizing their inventory turnover. Companies that analyze how often they have sold and replenished their inventory over a measured time period can make better decisions about their inventory cycle (production, buying new input materials, marketing, and pricing). Managerial accounting professionals help businesses identify carrying costs of inventory. It’s expressed as follows:

Inventory Turnover = Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) / Average Value of Inventory

Higher ratios usually indicate greater company sales. Lower sales generally indicate there are problems with product or service demand.

Monitoring Outstanding Accounts Receivables

Analyzing accounts receivable can provide beneficial insights on a business’ bottom line. An accounts receivables (AR) aging report categorizes AR invoices based on how long they have been outstanding. The report can categorize how late payables are (30 days or less, 31-60 days, 61-90 days and so on). Based on the results, companies can look at historical data, along with projected sales, to figure out how much they need to allocate for uncollectable accounts. Companies also can proactively reduce credit limits, determine when it’s time to stop doing business with a customer/client, and send unpaid bills to collection.

Price Variance Considerations

When a business looks at price variance, the first step is to take the final price paid for each unit, then subtract the unit’s standard cost from the former figure. The resulting figure is multiplied by however many units were actually bought. It’s a way for managerial accountants to determine the difference, either a positive variance (increased costs above the standard price) or a negative variance (decreased costs relative to the standard price), between the cost planned and the cost at time of purchase.  

The formula is expressed as follows:

Price Variance = (Actual Price – Standard Price) x Actual Quantity

If a business is planning to make a purchase for their next fiscal year, it may want only 5,000 widgets that cost $10 per widget. The business gets a bulk discount of $1 per widget, bringing it down to $9 per widget. However, when the time to purchase the 5,000 widgets comes along, it realizes it only needs to purchase 3,500 widgets. At the quantity of 3,500 widgets, the business won’t receive the bulk discount, reverting the cost back to $10 per widget, creating a variance of $1 per unit or widget.

Using the formula, it could be expressed as follows:

Price Variance = ($10 – $9) x 3,500 = $1 x 3,500 = $3,500. Since circumstances changed at the business between their initial planning and ultimate purchase time-frame, the price variance resulted in $3,500.

While managerial accounting has many different tools for analysis, the one common thread is that regardless of the tool used, managerial accountants help businesses find higher levels of operational efficiency.

Delving Into Forensic Accounting

What is Forensic AccountingAccording to a 2022 Allied Market Research report, the size of the global forensic accounting market is forecast to increase in value to $11.68 billion in 2031, up from its 2021 estimated value of $5.13 billion. Allied Market Research puts this compound annual growth rate at nearly 9 percent (8.8 percent). This same report found that the Covid-19 pandemic saw an uptick in the need for forensic accounting skilled professionals and approaches.

Forensic accounting is a specialization within the general accounting profession. Professionals in this specialized subset focus on allegations of financial fraud brought by individuals and businesses in the civil courts and government agencies in the criminal courts. Disputes can range from family members contesting assets and valuations of such assets in estate, business, or divorce proceedings. When it comes to proving criminal allegations, government agencies look to forensic accountants to investigate financial records for evidence of fraud in the quest to prove crimes such as securities fraud or identity theft.   

Forensic Accounting Methodology

According to the Journal of Accountancy and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), CPAs and specifically forensic accountants can use Benford’s Law to begin the process of identifying potential fraud. Examples of data sets that forensic accountants can build and analyze come from income statements, expense reports, ledgers, balance sheets, invoice and inventory data, accounts payable, and accounts receivable. When analyzing the leading or first digit in a data set, forensic investigators can take the data set and look at how the leading digits are distributed against the percentages that Benford’s Law sets out.

According to the ACFE, in contrast to the common belief that digits occur in equal probability, Benford’s Law states that numbers starting with 1 as the first digit occurs with the highest frequency. Then each subsequent number 2 through 9 occurs with lower probability. According to Carnegie Mellon University, per Benford’s Law, 30.1 percent of a data set will be led by a 1. The digit 2 will be the first in a data set 17.6 percent of the time. For numbers 3 to 9, the likelihood of each respective number leading the data set should become less frequent.

The ACFE gives the example of a counting exercise to illustrate Benford’s Law. When counting to 25, only one of the 25 numbers would lead with a 3; seven numbers would lead with a 2; and there would be 11 leading numbers beginning with 1. Numbers generated by a computer would give equal weighted probability to 1 to 9 being the first or leading digit. If equally weighted numbers were in fact generated, the results would deviate from Benford’s Law. However, simply because Benford’s Law is not observed in the dataset analyzed, it doesn’t automatically mean fraud occurred. But it is a tool that helps forensic accountants investigate further and determine through additional means if fraud did, in fact, occur.

Similarly, the ACFE points out that if someone wants to commit a financial crime, they would generate invoices worth a lot. It would be a lot more effective for someone to pass off invoices of $800 or $900, versus smaller $100 or $200 amounts. While this would make better use of a criminal’s time, according to Benford’s Law, if a forensic accountant were to test a data set against a few hundred invoices, they might see an abnormal percentage of them with high leading numbers, prompting further investigation.

The Journal of Accountancy reminds readers that it’s important to keep in mind a few caveats. The more numbers available in the data set, the better. It can work with as few as 50 to 100 numbers, but more is always preferred. Another consideration, per the ACFE, is where the data comprising the data set originates. Using a sports analogy, if players are between 5 feet and 8 feet tall, it would make testing the data set against Benford’s Law impossible because there’s zero chance of numbers 1 through 4 and 8 or 9 showing up in a probability test. In these scenarios, Benford’s Law wouldn’t apply.

While the method for detecting financial fraud is not black and white, the need for more forensic accountants will not slow down any time soon.


Defining and Understanding Reproduction Costs

What are Reproduction Costs, Reproduction Costs, Defining Reproduction CostsWhen it comes to businesses looking to mitigate risk, one concept that’s important to explore is reproduction costs. The first step is to distinguish between reproduction and replacement costs. Replacement cost refers to how much it would cost a company to replace an asset that will duplicate the performance of the beginning asset; however, it does not necessarily have to meet the same materials, specifications, etc. Reproduction cost refers to how much it would cost a company to reproduce the asset so that it’s constructed of the same materials, specifications, etc., based on current market prices.  

When looking to assess real estate accurately, the cost approach examines how much a builder would need to spend on the land and building outlays to replicate the original building and its functionality. This looks at what the current market conditions would assess the land for and the construction/development costs on said land. From there, it removes depreciation to obtain its property value.

It’s expressed as follows:

Property Value = Replacement / Reproduction Cost – Depreciation + Land Value

The first step is to determine the structure’s reproduction and replacement costs. The Replacement Method looks at expenses that would be incurred to build a structure featuring the same usefulness as the building under review, constructed with present-day raw materials, blueprints, specifications, etc. The Reproduction Method looks at how much it would cost to build an exact replica of the original structure, employing analogous inputs and building standards. It also requires adhering to historically accurate conventions and blueprints. Naturally, when comparing a historic property to a recent building, there would be a greater divergence between replacement and reproduction costs.

Depreciation of improvements for the next step must be estimated. This is defined as the difference between the value of renovations and the current contributing value of them, which is measured in three ways:

  • How much has the building physically deteriorated?
  • How much has the building has fallen out of favor with real estate purchasers over time?
  • How much value has the building lost due to factors beyond itself? Examples include deteriorating local economic conditions, recent and lasting environmental contamination, etc.

After calculating the three conditions in the aforementioned questions, the resulting figure is the accrued depreciation. This step entails looking at current property values to ascertain a competitive worth for the land. This can be referred to as the Estimated Assessed Value of Land to give the value a name.

From there, the accrued depreciation must be taken off the value of either the replacement cost or reproduction cost. It’s expressed as follows:

Replacement Cost or Reproduction Cost (either can be selected depending on the desired outcome) – Accrued Depreciation

The resulting figure is referred to as the Depreciated Cost of the Structure.

Once the Accrued Depreciation is accounted for, the land’s estimated assessed value must be added to the Depreciated Cost of the Structure figure. It is calculated as follows:

Completed Estimate of Real Estate = Depreciated Cost of the Structure + Estimated Assessed Value of Land

Contemplating the Cost Approach’s Drawbacks

One concern is that if there’s a problem finding the right lot, the parcel’s valuation might not reflect its true worth. Zoning or land-use restrictions can reduce the attractiveness of a parcel of land, thereby lowering its value. When it comes to calculating depreciation for older properties, age could skew the value estimate. For example, with construction materials for certain items may not be available anymore, making the calculation subject to interpretation.

Understanding how different cost assessments work allows business owners to make decisions that benefit their customers and their bottom line.