Friday, October 28, 2005

Call Out for Accounting Bloggers

Back in my Master's degree days at Purdue 25 years ago, the common way for campus organizations to bring in new students was to have a "call-out" at the start of the semester. It seems appropriate to "call forth" new bloggers (take special note, graduate students in Accounting) to augment coverage in Accounting.

As those who read this blog know, I basically post in three areas: accounting, personal finance and taxation. There is plenty of room for new bloggers in all three areas; at the same time, there is a sizable number of good bloggers in personal finance (Consumerism Commentary, Financial Rounds, Free Money Finance and Frugal for Life to name just four) and likewise the tax law professorate (such as Paul Caron (Tax Prof), James Maule (Mauled Again) and Daniel Sharivo (Start Making Sense)) and tax practitioners (to name a few: Russ Fox (Taxable Talk), Kerry Kerstetter (Tax Guru) , Joe Kristan (Roth CPA Updates) and Eva Rosenberg (Tax Mama)) handle tax issues quite capably. In areas of tax other than accounting, only review of financials for corporate governance analysis (Jack Cieslelski of AAO and Michelle Leder of Footnoted) is throughly covered by blogs. There are a few other regular bloggers: Janell Grenier of Benefits Blog, Will Keller of Vanilla Accounting (entrepeneurial perspective on management accounting) and Brian Tankersley of CPA Technology Review--beyond that, few if any consistent bloggers. The entire field of Governmental Accounting is all but ignored and the substantial span of management accounting is only addressed by Mr. Keller (and occasionally me). There is tremendous opportunity for a young practitioner for a private company or a doctoral student emphasizing managerial or governmental accounting (and a sizable opportunity in financial accounting and auditing as well) to make a name for himself or herself and to make a contribution to the profession.

P. S.--My apologies for any misspellings; I will correct at an early opportunity.

House Katrina/Rita Incentives Bill Introduced

Congressman Jim McCrery announced that he brought forward the Gulf Opportunity Act of 2005. His estimate of cost for this bill, which primarily provides incentives for businesses to reinvest in the Central Gulf States, was about $7.2 billion. He also expected that the Senate would pass similar but not identical legislation.

In two other pieces of news, the Democratic push for an excess profit tax has found support from a high-profile Republican, Senate Budget Chair Judd Gregg (NH). In a separate story, (, the Internal Revenue Service announced that taxpayers affected by Wilma would be allowed extra time to file returns.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Too soon for 2005 tax planning? No way!

Lewis Braham of Newsweek updates readers on tax tips worth considering before year-end. High on his list: the elimination of the 50% ceiling on charitable contributions this year for the extra-generous, use of state sales tax (purchase car, boat, jewelry, etc.) in lieu of income tax this year for nine states (including Tennessee :)), use of combo of low capital gain rates (5%) and annual exclusion ($11,000 per donee for each donor) to start a gifting program toward reducing your future taxable estate. A concern, at least for now: the alternative minimum tax exemption goes away in 2006--if this is not changed, many middle income people will feel the wrath of the AMT. Additional issues include the higher-education deduction (or instead the lifetime learning credit) and use of traditional IRA contributions.

Not every tax expert would list these specific items, but virtually all would agree that using some planning now can reduce taxes (or increase your refund) next April.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

AICPA Going South this Winter (or Spring or Summer)?

The AICPA Council is soon to hear a proposed move to the South with the Durham, NC area most likely but Greensboro--Winston-Salem, NC, the Hampton Roads area, VA and Jacksonville, FL also possibilities. Barry
Melancon, AICPA CEO, said that the move would be designed to minimize disruption of activities and revenue, provide a return on investment within five years (present estimates show a first year cost of $49 million but a five year positive NPV of $100 million) and an attractive location for employees to relocate. Speed of the move is somewhat important; for leasing reasons of the present Jersey City, NJ office space, it would be desirable for the move to occur no later than August 2007. Other factors considered included: earnings of accountants and database workers in the area, a minimum number of CPAs and a population between 0.4-1.6 million people.

An Insider's View of How to Deal with IRS Corporate Auditors

Former IRS Commissioner Lawrence Gibbs, speaking to the Tax Executives Institute, advised listeners to avoid an overly adversial relationship with with IRS business auditors. Instead, he encouraged tax staffs of large and mid-sized businesses to develop relationships with the auditors, noting that the auditors can influence the issues raised in an audit. Gibbs also recommended disclosing more rather than less and avoiding prepackaged tax shelters unless there is a real and clear business purpose.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bernanke New Fed Point Man

Ben Bernanke, named chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in June, has been appointed as the new head of the Federal Reserve System to succeed retiring head Alan Greenspan. Bush praised Bernanke's intellectual accomplishments and integrity and lauded outgoing Greenspan as an architect of recent economic growth. Bernanke said that he planned to follow similar policies to Greenspan. It initially appears the Wall Street approves, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 170 points today. (

Tis the Season to Go Shopping--CAREFULLY!

ABC personal finance guru Mellody Hobson offered a number of tips to make Christmas/Hanakkuk/Kwanzaa shopping less of a pain for the wallet in early 2006. In addition to calling for a gift-giving budget and combining of shopping trips to reduce driving, she recommended calling to assure that desired items were available and to compare prices, use of debit cards (versus credit cards) to reduce impulse buying and advised that many online sellers would provide free shipping under the right conditions. Some other unusual ideas were giving fuel cards or energy audit (to reduce heating costs) instead of gift certificates, hunting for a holiday job to augment your earnings and look for earlier-than-usual closeout specials.

Back to More Normal Blogging This Week?

Have a crazy busy next two weeks at school, but still hope to return to a more consistent schedule than last week. Congratulations to those in the Carnivals of Capitalists, Debt Reduction and Personal Finance; I hope to submit to at least one of these next week.

Friday, October 21, 2005

PCAOB Announces 2006 Standing Advisory Group

The Public Companies Accounting Oversight Board has appointed 32 members to its Standing Advisory Group for 2006. A variety of backgrounds are included, but most are high executives in large businesses or partners in national CPA firms. This Group will meet three times per year and the FASB, GAO, SEC, U.S. Department of Labor, AICPA Auditing Standards Board and International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board will be observing organizations.

Congress to IRS: Do Not Compete in Tax Software

The Senate passed its fiscal 2006 funding provision for the IRS. A surprisingly contentious issue was an IRS attempt to provide free tax software (Free File) on its website. Sen. Ensign (R-NV) included a provision in the funding bill that prohibited the IRS from creating its own software and potentially competing with private tax software providers. Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen and several Democrats advocated providing free software on the IRS site. Another issue that came up was public release of an investigation on former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros. Senator Grassley (R-IA) argued that release should occur, as the investigation demonstrate several serious concerns about tax administration.

Want Better Business Meetings? Meet the Voice of Experience

Simon Ramo, 92 year old co-founder of TRW, has written a book on making meetings effective. He claims expertise on the bases of experience and active observation. Some of his thoughts: success is most likely to occur if the chair is well prepared and has a clear plan for the meeting; technology allows greater detail but more distractions, if you fall asleep in a meeting, ask why rather than what.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

How Bad Are Things at the PBGC?

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which initially gained attention this year when a number of airlines declared bankruptcy, clearly is in financial difficulty itself. The PBGC already has reached technical insolvency, anticipates an almost $1.5 billion net loss (or governmental accounting equivalent) this year and will likely run out of cash within 20 years unless laws are changed. Hoping to avoid an S&L-style debacle, both Congress and the White House have proposed legislation. The Congressional approach is to raise premiums paid into the fund and limit the ability of financially doubtful companies to participate; while the Administration seeks to limit the ability to use one year's overfunding to reduce further contributions while going along with a premium increase.

Loophole elimination, increase use of defined contribution plans and higher premiums will almost certainly be part of any package to solve this problem. The final package had better be effective: retirees will exact a price if their pensions even become risky--much less impaired--while taxpayers will look askance at a 1980s-style PBGC bail-out.

AICPA Takes a Stand on Tax Reform

Stating that tax reform would be difficult to adjust to but necessary, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants set forth ten policy objectives that should be goals of any tax reform package. These goals include: simplicity, fairness, economic efficiency and growth, neutrality, transparency, minimization of noncompliance, cost-effective collection, adequate revenue collection, certainty and convenience of payment. Pam Pecarich asserts that the underlying report provides a balanced look at different types of tax proposals.

Whether the AICPA has caught up with the legal profession in its knowledge of tax policy is very much open to question, but the Institute certainly has set forth reasonable objectives and deserves a place at the table in the upcoming discussion of tax reform.

Additional stories available (as of 1615 GMT) at Roth CPA Updates, Tax Analysis and WebCPA (see links at right).

Back to Blogging

I attended a conference called "Technology for CPAs: Don't Get Left Behind" in Gatlinburg yesterday, and came out with a new level of respect for Brian Tankersley and his CPA Technology blog. A substitute speaker, Scott Scrogin, was very knowledgable and had good presentation skills, but in my opinion lost track of his audience and the fact that the conference was supposed to be designed for beginning to intermediate technology skills. It is always a joy to visit the Smokies and I got a chance to pick up some apple cider coming home; the Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Knoxville traffice was less appealing.

As far as other news, congratulations to the Chicago White Sox, who are in the World Series for the first time since the older of my brothers was a month old. It looked like the Houston Astros would be the opponents in what would be their first World Series ever, but Albert Pujois homered in the ninth and now the National League representative is very much in the air. On a far more somber note, another natural tragedy brought thousands of deaths in Pakistan. Though it feels so much farther away than Biloxi, Lake Charles or New Orleans; it still is a sad event.

Friday, October 14, 2005

State Taxes in My Backyard (and a pair of well-hit Tiger Woods drives away)

A pair of Tax Analysis stories available today indicate that Kentucky (less than 1/2 mile from my house) plans a 10 cent per pack cigarette tax with proceeds available to improve the financial situation for schoolteachers. Meanwhile, homestate governor Breseden has announced that he will not push for an state income tax if re-elected (presumably, a mayor in one of Tennessee's counties will find this reticence an excuse to reach a 10% sales tax in the near future).

On the blog front, I will be in a conference augmenting my continuing education early this week. Therefore, it is unlikely that I will be able next week to meet the weekly goals recently announced. Congratulations in advance to those published in the Carnivals of the Capitalists, Debt Reduction and Personal Finance!

A Declaration of (Auditor) Independence from the IFAC

More than 150 standard setters and accountants met in Brussels Tuesday at a ethics forum hosted by the International Federation of Accountants. Proposals including expanding guidance to public sector entities, providing more specific guidance on threats to independence, developing linkages between ethical compliance and quality control and clarifying accountant independence in providing tax services. An important point made was there was a tension between principles-based ethical practice and rules-based ethical practice. The IFAC also issued Exposure Drafts 27 (Budget Presentation in Financial Statements) and 28 (Financial Information Disclosure Regarding the General Government Sector).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

IRS Sets Goals for Employee Plans (EP)

Employee Plan Director Carol Gold of the IRS announced lead goals for fiscal 2006 yesterday. Combating abuses in EPs, such as abusive Section 412 (i) plans and ESOPs for S corporations is one major goal; another is better audit techniques. A pilot study of focused audit techniques will be implemented throughout the IRS in 2006 said EP Examination Director Michael Julianelle. Julianelle also noted in increase in EP exams with a 20-25% increase last year.

Enriching Yourself with a Clear Conscience

Social issues funds, which started with the PAX fund (now a fund family) 10-15 years ago, continue to grow in popularity. This popularity does belie certain problems, such as comparatively high expense ratios, limited small cap options and limited foreign investment options. Some loose categorizations are available; funds tend to emphasize peace (military contractors, chemicals), others environment and human rights (worker treatment, recycling, pollution control), still others moral values (abortion products, gambling, pornography, tobacco). Nevertheless, there is considerable overlap between categories such as the New Covenant Fund (affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (PCUS?)), which combines the peace and moral values screens. Among funds mentioned as being worth considering were the Ave Maria funds, Calvert Social Investment and Vanguard's new Calvert Social Index, MMA Praxis International, Neuberger Berman Socially Responsible and Pax World Balanced.

Those investing in socially-oriented funds are likely to go in either of two directions: either a major investment because of moral beliefs or commitment to a cause or a minor supplement to diversify their portfolio. In most cases, the best reason to invest in one of these funds would not be financial but psychological or spiritual.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tax Reform Panel: VAT to the back-burner

Chair of the President's Tax Reform Panel Connie Mack said that the panel would not propose dramatic reform at this time; instead going with limiting home mortgage interest deductibility and tax-exempt status of health insurance plans for wealthy taxpayers. The limitation is likely to come as a ceiling, though replacement with a credit is also possible. The intent is to remove the AMT and replace revenue losses with the interest and health-insurance limitations. However, a separate article by Business Week ( indicated the political risks associated with using only the limitation on tax incentive approach to eliminate the AMT.

Mack indicated that the value-added tax could come back in future reform efforts. One possibility would be to use the revenue growth to support the personal retirement accounts envisioned by Bush as a supplement or even alternative to Social Security; another is to fund the new prescription drug benefit.

Dana: Another Auto Parts Company Restates

Auto/truck part maker Dana Company says that it will have to restate six quarters of income numbers because of improper accounting with customers and suppliers. Inflated price increases and faulty internal controls will cause a $10 million adjustment in Q2 2005. Dana promised additional investigation into recent accounting statements.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

PCAOB Continues to Get Tough with the Big Four

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board had unpleasant things to say about Deloitte and Touche's audit performance during the past year. Audits of eight unidentified companies either had significant errors or came up short on disclosure; of these, four required restatement. This follows in the footsteps of similar findings for KPMG last week. Deloitte promised improved performance and support of the PCAOB investigation. E & Y and PWC will hear from PCOAB in the near future.

One of the questions that comes to mind based on these findings: have peer reviews lost their focus and become too accepting of the reviewed firm? Interesting question, any doctoral students want to make a dissertation out of it?

"Where Were You Yesterday?--You're not Italian-American"

Yesterday's failure to blog was less a function of Columbus Day than just the way the day went. I was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance (see link in title) yesterday. While I am off topic: Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox on winning their first post-season series in 88 years (and Red Sox Nation thought they had it tough!). Also, I realize that many of you have better things to do Friday nights than watch TV but check out "Three Wishes" on NBC on TIVO if nothing else. Perhaps I am becoming a sentimental old fool but seeing a family displaced by Katrina finding a new life in the Midwest and a New Mexico single mom set up in a business and reconciled with her minister father was a real heart-tugger for me. Bravo, Amy Grant Gill and the rest of the folks associated with the show.

Hurricane Relief and Spending Management: Can GOP Kill Two Birds with One Stone?

Homestate Representative Jim McCrery (R-LA) announced that the House will try another iteration on tax relief for Katrina and Rita shortly after the Columbus Day recess. Among measures under consideration are tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, energy credits and something similar to the GO enterprise zone proposed by the Bush administration. At about the same time, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) released a four-point plan to reign in Federal spending. Among the components are an spending offset to hurricane relief, added across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending, recissions to cover hurricane rebuilding and deletions of certain programs deemed wasteful by the House of Representatives.

After an unimpressive start, it looks like leading GOP Congressmen and Congresswomen are at least to some degree realizing that a major part of their base takes Federal spending very seriously. Whether they have enough clout to convince GOP moderates and liberal Democrats to rein in spending ways (most moderate Democrats actually have been fairly restrained in recent years) in both the House and Senate is yet another question.

Cash Crisis for Commuters?

(Post #200) Mark Morrison and others point out that the exurban dream (or nightmare for environmentals) has become noticeably more expensive in recent months, especially in the northern and Atlantic states. Among other possible consequences, they note that exurbian growth has driven the relatively good economy (especially in housing) of the last several years. Carpooling, less comfortable home temperature settings and smaller cars may help, but the exurbs eventually will need employers to continue to thrive.

This is a topic I have rarely seen discussed on personal finance blogs. At what point does moving to the country (if you work in a big city) become the equivalent of supercable or a gas hog SUV from a frugality standpoint?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Delphi, Deloitte Accused of Misleading Investors

Major auto parts supplier Delphi, Inc. and auditor Deloitte and Touche have been accused of making deals with outside parties to hide financial problems. Pension funds from Mississippi and Oklahoma and other institutional plantiffs claimed that Delphi ordered employees to violate accounting rules (with D&T presumably complicit) and entered into buy-back arrangements with third parties which were detrimental to company operations. This past March, Delphi took a $200 million restatement hit, citing prior accounting irregularities and discharging its CFO. Raw materials prices and high labor costs have also hit Delphi hard; the company has losses approaching $3/4 billion for the first half of 2005.

Obviously, Delphi needs a new oracle [pun intended]. I am sorry to hear the D&T angle; we are now getting close to having all of the Big Four in legal trouble.

Another Headache for Harriett

Supreme Court nominee Harriett Miers, already under attack from some conservative sources as well as having a number of expected liberal objections, was cited today in a Senate report for allowing during her watch as head of a Dallas law firm a number of questionable legal opinions on tax shelters. Although Locke, Liddell and Sapp gave legal opinions that the shelter, a contingent deferred swap, would stand muster with the IRS, a lawyer of a client of cohort Ernst and Young claimed that the swap was "a classic sham tax shelter." This lawyer also wrote that the Locke legal opinion was based on outdated case law and failed to address the major facts of the transaction. Additionally, the lawyer claimed that the transaction had little economic significance except for tax benefits provided.

Without knowing the name and credentials of the lawyer making the assertions, it is hard to know whether these claims have merit. Nevertheless, given all the criticism that has gone her way already, this is not a good sign for her nomination.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

8.5% National Sales Tax?

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (R) has proposed a combination of an 8.5% retail sales tax and some type of business profits tax to replace the federal income tax. DeMint said that in spite of the distraction of Hurricane Katrina, the time is right for Republicans to move forward with reform.

I am not sure whether the specific proposal made by DeMint is the best, but he definitely is correct about the Republicans moving forward on reform. The GOPers have somewhat stagnated over the summer and rediscovered that a static target is easier (for the Democrats) to hit than a moving target.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Economic Cost of Our Income Tax

The General Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that direct compliance costs associated with the Federal Income Tax are at least $100 billion per year and lost economic efficiency (or welfare loss in economic parlance) approaches half a trillion dollars--amounts comparable to the economic cost of Hurricane Katrina. Though this will support those wanting to substitute a consumption tax for the income tax, the GAO warned that consumption taxes would have their own compliance costs--particularly in regard to state and local income taxes which have been tied to the Federal Income Tax.

New Ideas to Beef up Your Retirement Savings

Mary Beth Franklin brings forth seven strategies worth considering: (1) the Roth 401(k), which has no income limits and a higher contribution ceiling than the original Roth, (2) self-directed IRAs, which give you the option in investing in a business that you like but which is too small for the normal mutual fund, (3) skip early Social Security and wait until standard age (65.5-67, varies by year of birth) which provides significantly larger monthly benefits. This idea is particularly good for 60-something women in good health, (4) start a new career or new business even if you are over 50, (5) reduce housing expenses by moving to a smaller city and investment expenses by taking care of your own finances, (6) stay in your present house where realistic, even if you need to take out a reverse mortgage to remodel, (7) overhaul your portfolio and get advice on how to overhaul if you are not satisfied with where you are going.

Not all ideas are applicable to all investors and in some ways (7) is contradictory to (5), but all are worth considering. The Roth 401 (k) is particularly promising if your employer is amendable and younger investors may like the control of a self-directed IRA. (3), (4) and (6) also are good if your life circumstances are favorable.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Time Dimensional Analysis: An Anti-Fraud Tool for Internal Auditors

The author states that space and time analysis tools are a valuable supplement to traditional internal control checklists in detecting fraud and that many audit software packages include these analysis tools. Several examples of frauds detected with analysis tools included a fire claim of $200,000 where fictitious invoices would have short-circuited traditional audit procedures but the space/time tool noted that inventory quantity claimed exceeded store capacity and a sophisicated three-way derivative trading scheme where the company broker was able to pocket money with a loss to the company of about $250,000. The author does sound a cautionary note regarding legal issues, especially if some of the questionable activities occurred outside the U. S.

Who Actually Gets the Child Tax Credit?

The Tax Policy Center released a study indicating that 30% of children eligible for the child tax credit have incomes too low to take advantage of this credit. Generally, benefits go to parents earning between $20,000 and $200,000 with the $75-100K strata being particularly helped. The Center thus calls the child tax credit a middle-class tax break which may leave Black and Hispanic families behind.

Having done a similar study on the old political contributions credit for my dissertation, I am not surprised that middle-class and better-off taxpayers are major beneficiaries of this credit. I do not necessarily see this as a bad thing for several reasons: (1) some middle-class tax breaks make the tax system more acceptable to middle-class taxpayers/voters; (2) the whole goal of exemptions, refundable credits such as the EIC and the standard deduction is to keep low-income earners from paying taxes, thus with no need for nonrefundable credits. Unless Congress wants to make the child tax credit refundable; the primary goal of the child tax credit should be to help working-class and middle-income families; (3) with the increased susceptability of middle-income taxpayers to the AMT (at least for now), the tax system might be TOO egalitarian at the moment, particularly for middle-income taxpayers.

Monday, October 03, 2005

FASB Seeks Greater Institutional Investor Input

The FASB announced today that it is starting an investor task force, primarily made up of asset managers from mutual funds and other institutional investors. Sample firms included are Capital Group, Fidelity, Putnam, T. Rowe Price and Wellington (presumably with Vanguard ties). Each firm's director of research will identify analysts who can provide input on a potential initiative. Presumably, this task force would supplement participation in the User Advisory Council and Emerging Issues Task Force and blunt criticism that FASB has been too slow on soliciting advice from investors.

Can You Make Yourself Wealthy Doing Something You Love?

Contributing writer Michelle Loyalka addresses the process of determining whether a hobby or personal passion can become a successful business. For those wanting to become the next Ty Warner, the first issue to address is whether the idea will appeal to enough people--and survive those wanting to compete after they see initial success. The next issue is whether your idea is different enough from what presently exists in the marketplace that the new entrepeneur is not at the mercy of generally merciless price competition. In some cases, this means that a little improvisation may be in order (remember that Levi Strauss did not make a fortune by mining gold in California; rather he supplied clothing needs of the miners). Next, determine whether you can handle the "drudgery" of business (inventory, correspondence, accounting, etc.) or are willing to pay to "outsource" business functions. A final key is patience; even well-thought out new businesses in this arena often take two years or more to become profitable.

Many good ideas here; probably the best are creativity (see the Levi Strauss example above) and patience. Having a spouse/companion who can work elsewhere at a stable salaried job while the business is getting off the ground is a real advantage also.

An Oktoberfest of Carnivals

My "Caveat Saver..." post is included in this month's Carnival of Personal Finance at and the new Carnival of Debt Reduction is at the mighty this week. The Carnival of the Capitalists is linked in the title above.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

More time to get IRS returns in for Katrina/Rita victims

Katrina and Rita victims now have until the end of February 2006 to pay taxes and file returns. Certain taxpayers in very hard-hit areas (such as Gulfport, MS) which are deemed "individual assistance areas" get deferral automatically, while areas hit more peripherally (Houston?) are deemed to in "public assistance areas" and must mark their returns as "Hurricane Katrina" or "Hurricane Rita" in red ink. Among tax returns deferred are third and fourth quarter estimated payments, payroll taxes, non-calendar fiscal year corporate returns and even double-extended 2004 returns.

Reputation and Ethics

Mike Paul's excellent five keys to reputation management--four of which are humility in crisis is more valuable than often believed, public opinion (street cred for younger readers) is more important than legal outcomes, reputation is more substantial and lasting than image, reputations are built on honesty and transparency--emphasize that reputation and long-term sales success is ultimately tied to ethical conduct. The items immediately below by Bill Provett and Jack Mackey are also worth reading.

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