Larry Goldsmith to Address Highland Park-Highwood Legal Aid Clinic

photo of Larry Goldsmith

Larry Goldsmith

Larry Goldsmith, J.D., C.P.A., M.A.F.F., will speak on the subject of Financial Discovery at the Highland Park-Highwood Legal Aid Clinic on Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 at 7:00 pm. Financial discovery, including careful study of tax returns, is an important part of the process for uncovering useful information in legal proceedings involving divorce or other litigation matters.

Larry Goldsmith is a partner and director of litigation services at CJBS, LLC. Mr. Goldsmith is regularly engaged to be a financial forensic expert witness in matters of divorce and business litigation.

The Highland Park-Highwood Legal Aid Clinic is located at 1830 Green Bay Rd. in Highland Park, Illinois. Phone: (847) 926-1867.

Questions or comments? E-mail Larry Goldsmith at larry@cjbs.com if you have any questions about this posting or if he can be of assistance in any way.

Can You Discharge Those Unpaid 1040 Taxes in Bankruptcy?

by Larry Goldsmith, CPA, JD, CFF, MAFF

Last week, I reviewed a new client’s IRS transcript. The client apparently filed his individual income tax returns late and wanted to file bankruptcy to discharge his 1040 tax obligations. I subsequently learned that the IRS filed substitute individual income tax returns on the client’s behalf and issued an income tax deficiency before the income tax returns were filed.

 The question was: if the Internal Revenue Service files a substitute tax return on behalf of the debtor/ taxpayer, before the taxpayer files their own income tax returns would that late tax return be considered eligible for a bankruptcy discharge under Section 523 tax return?

I have to admit that it was my belief at the time that if the late filed tax returns increased the income tax assessment, the late filed tax returns would be dischargeable if the tax returns qualified under the various timing constraints. However, after further research, examining several court cases, I have concluded that if the income tax returns were filed after the IRS had issued a substitute tax return, or issued a deficiency, a bankruptcy discharge is not attainable, even where the debtor subsequently filed an income tax return.

It appears that the bankruptcy courts have not consistently held on issues of discharge where the debtor filed a late tax return prior to the IRS issuing a notice of deficiency. From the Appellate court statements I doubt if the courts would favor the discharge of the late filed income tax returns.

Here are a couple of cases exemplifying the court’s consistency in this matter:

IN RE PAYNE 431 F.3D 1055 (7TH CIR 2005)

The taxpayer failed to file a 1986 tax return, and the IRS subsequently filed a substitute tax return for the debtor. In 1992 the taxpayer filed an offer in compromise that was rejected. The taxpayer filed a Chapter 7 in 1997. The bankruptcy court discharged the 1986 tax debt.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that, the substitute tax return and an offer in compromise do not constitute a tax return and therefore the income taxes were not dischargeable.

MALLO V. INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

A married couple filing jointly, the Mallos filed their individual income taxes several years after the IRS issued notices of deficiency. Two years after filing the income tax returns the Mallos filed bankruptcy seeking to discharge the income tax obligations.

The Mallo bankruptcy court held that post assessment filings do not constitute tax returns and are therefore excepted from discharge under 523(a)(1).

The Court of Appeals held that tax debt was not dischargeable because, “the filing of a return after an assessment negates an honest and reasonable attempt to comply with tax law”.

The Court of Appeals held that, “if a Form 1040 is filed late, the tax debt is non-dischargeable under 523(a)(1)(b)(i). The court reasoned that a late tax return is not a return as defined by Section 523(a); it does not satisfy applicable filing requirements.

The Court observed that the definition of a filed tax return differs from the IRS’s definition.

The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the different interpretations and stated that further review was not warranted, thereby upholding the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit findings.

My advice after researching this matter? Always file your tax returns in a timely manner.

Questions or comments? E-mail me at larry@cjbs.com if you have any questions about this posting or if I may be of assistance in any way.

Larry Goldsmith is an experienced Financial Forensic expert and CPA who investigates and verifies financial income and assets in matrimonial matters. CJBS, LLC is a Chicago based firm that assists its clients with a wide range of accounting and financial issues, protecting and expanding the value of mid-size companies. 

Partnership Audits Increase; Other Business Audits Drop In FY 2014

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

by Michael W. Blitstein, CPA

Just released IRS audit coverage statistics show a slight increase in audits of partnerships, but decreases in audits of large corporations and S corporations in fiscal year (FY) 2014. For all types of businesses, the FY 2014 audit coverage rate was 0.57%, representing a decline from 0.71% in FY 2012 and 0.61% in FY 2013.

Audits of large corporations experienced the steepest decline, according to the IRS, but must balance its audit work with available resources.

Partnerships

Unlike other categories, audits of partnerships increased in FY 2014. In FY 2013, the audit coverage rate for partnerships was 0.42%. The audit coverage rate for partnerships increased slightly to 0.43% in FY 2014.

Since FY 2007, the audit coverage rate for partnerships has been in the neighborhood of 0.40%, the IRS reported.

Large and small corporations

For large corporations (corporations with assets more than $10 million), the audit coverage rate in FY 2014 was 12.23%, compared to 15.84% in FY 2013 and 17.78% in FY 2012. The FY 2014 audit coverage rate was 0.95% for small corporations (corporations with assets less than $10 million). The rate was unchanged from FY 2013 but reflected a decline from FY 2012, when the audit coverage rate for small corporations was 1.12%.

IRS highlighted the decline in audits of large corporations. Audits for corporations with more than $10 million in assets fell by 20% between FY 2013 and FY 2014.  Audits for large corporations are at the lowest rates in a decade.

S corporations

The IRS also reported that audits of S corporations declined. The audit coverage rate for S corporations in FY 2014 was 0.36%, reflecting a decline from 0.42% in FY 2013, and a decline from 0.48% in FY 2012.

Impact of budget cuts

IRS Commissioner Koskinen attributed the decline in audit coverage to recent cuts in the agency’s budget. The IRS budget has fallen by more than $1.2 billion in the last five years. Like overall IRS staffing, the number of compliance employees who conduct audits has also fallen sharply during this period.

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 reduced the agency’s FY 2015 budget by approximately $346 million. President Obama has proposed to fund the IRS at $12.9 billion for FY 2016, reflecting a $2 billion increase over FY 2015. This would help the IRS stop this decline in enforcement efforts and help improve critical taxpayer services, Koskinen predicted. Koskinen is scheduled to testify before House and Senate panels this week about the agency’s FY 2016 budget request.

Michael W. Blitstein, CPA is a partner with the firm of CJBS, LLC, in Northbrook, Illinois. Michael advises his clients on tax, business and retirement planning, developing short and long-term strategic plans designed to achieve success for business owners and their businesses.

He can be reached at michael@cjbs.com

www.cjbs.com

IRS Issues 2015 Inflation-Adjusted Vehicle Depreciation Dollar Limits

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

by Michael W. Blitstein, CPA

The IRS has released the inflation-adjusted limitations on depreciation deductions for business use passenger automobiles, light trucks, and vans first placed in service during calendar year 2015. The IRS also modified the 2014 limitations to reflect passage of the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 late last year.

At the end of 2014, Congress extended bonus depreciation to the 2014 tax year in the case of passenger vehicles. Congress has not, however, done the same for passenger vehicles placed in service during 2015. This means that although several of the 2015 limits have been adjusted upward for inflation, the total amount a taxpayer may deduct for a vehicle placed in service during 2015 will be effectively $8,000 lower than for a vehicle placed in service during 2014, unless Congress again provides retroactive relief this year.

Depreciation limits

The Internal Revenue Code imposes dollar limitations on the depreciation deduction for the year the taxpayer places the vehicle in service in its business, and for each succeeding year.  The IRS adjusts for inflation the amounts allowable for depreciation deductions.

Passenger automobiles

The maximum depreciation limits for passenger automobiles first placed in service during the 2015 calendar year are:

  • $3,160 for the first tax year;
  • $5,100 for the second tax year;
  • $3,050 for the third tax year; and
  • $1,875 for each succeeding tax year.

Trucks and vans

The maximum depreciation limits under for trucks and vans first placed in service during the 2015 calendar year are:

  • $3,460 for the first tax year;
  • $5,600 for the second tax year;
  • $3,350 for the third tax year; and
  • $1,975 for each succeeding tax year.

Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) in excess of 6,000 pounds continue to be exempt from the luxury vehicle depreciation caps based on a loophole in the operative definition.

Michael W. Blitstein, CPA is a partner with the firm of CJBS, LLC, in Northbrook, Illinois. Michael advises his clients on tax, business and retirement planning, developing short and long-term strategic plans designed to achieve success for business owners and their businesses.

He can be reached at michael@cjbs.com

www.cjbs.com

Top Tax Developments of 2014 with Impact on 2015

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

by Michael W. Blitstein, CPA

2014 was a notable year for tax developments on a number of fronts. Selecting the top tax developments for 2014 requires judgment calls based upon uniqueness, taxpayers affected, and forward looking impact on 2015 and beyond. With respect to David Letterman, the following list of 2014 tax developments reflects this prioritization in no particular order.

Passage of the Extenders Package
2014 was not a year for major tax legislation in Congress. In fact, Congress even failed to pass its usual two-year extenders package, instead settling on a one-year retroactive extension to January 1, 2014. As one senator put it, “This tax bill doesn’t have the shelf life of a carton of eggs,” referring to the fact that the 50-plus extenders provisions expired again on January 1, 2015. Instead, it has been left to the 114th Congress to debate the extension of these tax breaks in 2015 and beyond, and for taxpayers to guess what expenses in 2015 will again be entitled to a tax break.

Affordable Care Act
In many ways, 2014 was a transition year for the Affordable Care Act. One of the most far reaching requirements, known as the “individual mandate”, took effect on January 1, 2014. Unless exempt, individuals who fail to carry minimum essential health coverage will make a shared responsibility payment in 2015. Another key provision, the “employer mandate”, was further delayed to 2015. Employer reporting for 2014 is voluntary. The IRS also developed new forms for reporting many new requirements.

Repair Regulations
In 2014, the IRS finished issuing the necessary guidance on the treatment of costs for tangible property under the sweeping “repair” regulations. The most important development was the issuance of final regulations on the treatment of dispositions of tangible property, including the identification of assets, the treatment of dispositions, and the computation of gain and loss. The complexity of the repair regulations has not gone unnoticed by many tax professionals, who have asked the IRS to simplify some of the provisions.

IRS Operations
IRS predicted a complex and challenging 2015 filing season due to cuts in the Service’s funding. This dictates the Service having to do more with less because of budget cuts. The IRS is funded $1.5 billion below the amount requested. IRS could face another round of budget cuts under the new Republican controlled Congress for 2016.

Net Investment Income Tax
Many higher income individuals were surprised to learn the full impact of the net investment income tax (“NII”) on their overall tax liability during the 2014 filing season when their 2013 returns were filed. Starting in 2013, taxpayers with qualifying income have been liable for the 3.8 percent net investment income tax. Recent run ups in the financial markets, combined with the fact that the thresholds are not adjusted for inflation, have increased the need to implement strategies that can avoid or minimize the NII tax.

Retirement Planning
A number of changes were made during 2014 affecting IRAs and other qualified plans, which cumulatively rise to the level of a “top tax development” for 2014:

  • Distributions from a qualified retirement plan account are now able to have the taxable and non-taxable portions of the distribution directed to separate accounts.
  • 401(k) plans can now offer deferred annuities through target date funds.
  • A Tax Court ruling held that a taxpayer is limited to one 60-day rollover per year for all IRA accounts rather than one 60-day rollover per year for each IRA account. The IRS stated that the new interpretation of the rollover rules would be applied to rollover distributions received on or after January 1, 2015.
  • A 2014 Supreme Court decision found that inherited IRA accounts were not retirement assets and therefore not subject to creditor protection under the Bankruptcy Code.
  • The IRS announced the 2015 cost-of-living adjustments for qualified plans. Many retirement plan contribution and benefit limits increase slightly in 2015.

Identity Theft
Although clearly not confined to the area of Federal tax, identity theft has been a major issue for both the IRS and taxpayers. In 2014, the IRS put new filters in place and took other measures to curb tax related identity theft. The agency also worked with software developers, financial institutions and the prepaid debit card industry to combat identity theft.

Tax Reform
Although 2014 was clearly not the year for tax reform, the foundations for serious tax reform discussions were laid in 2013 and 2014. Looking ahead to 2015 and beyond, it is possible that Congress will complete some form of tax reform in 2015 or 2016.  The major difference of opinion, however, surrounds whether or not the reform would only address corporate tax provisions or also include individual provisions. Many leaders have called for tackling comprehensive tax reform on both the business and individual side. The Senate Finance Committee expects to hold tax reform hearings in 2015.

Conclusion
So what does this all mean? To continue the theme from the last few years, the tax world is ever evolving with increased complexity. Both current and long term planning is as essential as ever. Other 2014 developments may prove more significant to your particular situation.  Be sure to seek advice from a dental specific tax accountant to discuss your unique circumstances.

Michael W. Blitstein, CPA is a partner with the firm of CJBS, LLC, in Northbrook, Illinois. For more than 30 years, Michael has worked closely with the dental community and is intimately familiar with the unique professional and regulatory challenges of creating, running and maintaining a successful dental practice. Michael advises his clients on tax, business and retirement planning, developing short and long-term strategic plans designed to achieve success for dental practice principals and their businesses.

He can be reached at michael@cjbs.com

www.cjbs.com

House Bill Would Expand 529 College Savings Plans

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

by Michael W. Blitstein, CPA

Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas), and Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin), introduced legislation that would expand and strengthen tax-free Section 529 college savings plans. The bipartisan measure stands in stark contrast to President Obama’s proposal to end the program, which the administration outlined earlier and was referred to in the president’s State of the Union Address.  However, in a late-breaking development, the president, after pressure from Republicans and Democratic leaders, indicated that he would drop his proposal to end the tax break for Section 529 college savings plans.

The decision was made shortly after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), appealed to the president to drop the proposal in his budget, due out on February 2nd. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-California), and House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), also asked the president not to include the proposal in his budget.

The bill would clarify that computers are a qualified expense for Section 529 account funds and remove all distribution aggregation requirements. The current rules were designed for when earnings were taxed to the beneficiary at distribution. However, since 2001, the tax treatment changed and Jenkins said there is no policy need for such aggregation. This would also eliminate a paperwork burden for Section 529  plan administrators.

In addition, the bill would permit refunds to be re-deposited without taxes or penalties within 60 days of the student withdrawing from the college due to illness or other reason. Currently, the refund would be subject to income tax on the earnings and a 10% penalty.

“This bill would expand Section 529 plans to further promote college access and eliminate barriers for middle class families to save and plan ahead,” said Jenkins. “This bipartisan, sensible legislation strengthens an extremely popular savings plan for middle-class families so that all Americans have the opportunity to send their children to the college institution of their choice.”

Since the creation of Section 529 in 1996, the savings plan has grown to nearly 12 million accounts and resulted in college savings of more than $225 billion, according to figures released by Jenkins’ staff.

Michael W. Blitstein, CPA is a partner with the firm of CJBS, LLC, in Northbrook, Illinois. For more than 30 years, Michael has worked closely with the dental community and is intimately familiar with the unique professional and regulatory challenges of creating, running and maintaining a successful dental practice. Michael advises his clients on tax, business and retirement planning, developing short and long-term strategic plans designed to achieve success for dental practice principals and their businesses.

He can be reached at michael@cjbs.com

www.cjbs.com

Navigating the Tax Obstacles of Investing in 2014

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

Michael Blitstein, CJBS

by Michael W. Blitstein, CPA

It’s never been easy to navigate the various tax consequences of buying and selling securities and investments. Among the many obstacles investors need to consider in 2014 is the relatively new net investment income tax (“NIIT”). This 3.8% tax may apply to your net investment income if your income exceeds certain levels. And the tax can show up when you least expect it – for example, passive activity and qualified dividend income are subject to the tax. Some other tax issues related to investing should also be considered.

Capital Gains Tax and Timing
Although time, not timing, is generally the key to long-term investment success, timing can have a dramatic impact on the tax consequences of investment activities. Your long-term capital gains rate might be as much as 20 percentage points lower than your ordinary income rate. The long-term gains rate applies to investments held for more than 12 months. The applicable rate depends on your income level and the type of asset sold. Holding on to an investment until you’ve owned it more than a year may help substantially cut tax on any gain.

Remember, appreciating investments that don’t generate current income aren’t taxed until sold. Deferring tax and perhaps allowing you to time the sale to your advantage can help, such as in a year when you have capital losses to absorb the capital gain. If you’ve already recognized some gains during the year and want to reduce your 2014 tax liability, consider selling unrealized loss positions before the end of the year.

Loss Carryovers
If net losses exceed net gains, you can deduct only $3,000 ($1,500 for married filing separately) of the net losses per year against ordinary income. You can carry forward excess losses indefinitely. Loss carryovers can be a powerful tax-saving tool in future years if you have an investment portfolio, real estate holdings or a practice that might generate future capital gains. Also remember that capital gain distributions from mutual funds can absorb capital losses.

Income Investments
Qualified dividends are taxed at the favorable long-term capital gains tax rate rather than the higher, ordinary income tax rate. Qualified dividends are, however, included in investment income under the 3.8% NIIT.

Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary income rates, which are now as high as 39.6%. Stocks that pay qualified dividends may be more attractive tax wise than other income investments, such as CD’s, money market accounts and bonds. Note some dividends are subject to ordinary income rates.

Keep in mind that state and municipal bonds usually pay a lower interest rate, but their rate of return may be higher than the after tax rate of return for a taxable investment, depending on your tax rate. Be aware certain tax-exempt interest can trigger or increase alternative minimum tax.

Mutual Funds
Investing in mutual funds is an easy way to diversify your portfolio. But beware of the tax ramifications. First, mutual funds with high turnover rates can create income that’s taxed at ordinary income rates. Choosing funds that provide primarily long-term capital gains can save you more tax dollars.

Second, earnings on mutual funds are typically reinvested, and unless you keep track of these additions and increase your basis accordingly, you may report more gain than required when you sell the fund.

Additionally, buying equity mutual fund shares later in the year can be costly tax wise.  Such funds often declare a large capital gains distribution at year-end. If you own shares on the distribution record date, you’ll be taxed on the full distribution amount even if it includes significant gains realized by the fund before you owned the shares. And you’ll pay tax on those gains in the current year, even if you reinvest the distribution.

Paying Attention to Details
If you don’t pay attention to details, the tax consequences of a sale may be different from what you expect. For example, the trade date, not the settlement date, of publicly traded securities determines the year in which you recognize the gain or loss. And if you bought the same security at different times and prices and want to sell the high tax basis shares to reduce gain or increase a loss to offset other gains, be sure to specifically identify which block of shares is being sold.

Passive Activities
If you’ve invested in a trade or business in which you don’t materially participate, remember the passive activity rules. Why? Passive activity income may be subject to the 3.8% NIIT, and passive activity losses generally are deductible only against income from other passive activities. Disallowed losses can be carried forward to future years, subject to the same limitations.

The Internal Revenue tax code is ever evolving and recent tax law changes have provided increased complexity. Tax obstacles related to investing is just one reason why it’s important to plan ahead and consider taking advantage of strategies available to you. You should always consult with your tax adviser to determine the best course of action.

Michael W. Blitstein, CPA is a partner with the firm of CJBS, LLC, in Northbrook, Illinois. For more than 30 years, Michael has worked closely with the dental community and is intimately familiar with the unique professional and regulatory challenges of creating, running and maintaining a successful dental practice. Michael advises his clients on tax, business and retirement planning, developing short and long-term strategic plans designed to achieve success for dental practice principals and their businesses.

He can be reached at michael@cjbs.com

www.cjbs.com

Considering a Forensic CPA? Remember That Credibility Means More Than the Sticker Price

by Larry Goldsmith, CPA, JD, CFF, MAFF

I just hung up the telephone with a tire kicker — someone who is shopping for a financial forensic expert to use their expertise to confirm or deny the existence of damages. And, like all tire kickers, this person intends to make their decision primarily based on price; in this case, the forensic expert’s fees.

It reminds me of the true story of a doctor client of mine who was building a medical center for his practice and was outraged by the fees being charged by the general contractor. The doctor, believing himself to be smarter than the contractor, decided he would save money by overseeing the construction himself. Obviously, the doctor did not possess the skills learned through experience that the general contractor possessed. The building’s completion was delayed by two years and suffered a 100% increase in overrun costs as the subcontractors played the doctor for the fool that he was. The project ultimately went into bank foreclosure and the unfinished building was sold at auction. The moral: experience and training are key elements when considering the retention of an expert. Price can be a factor but it should not be the primary factor.

The practice of forensic accounting has recently become a hot service. Both CPA firms and non-CPA financial accounting companies are claiming “expertise” in this area and clamoring for business. I regularly meet with CPA’s and non-CPA’s who claim to be financial forensic experts, and I generally find that their claim to be an expert is based on one of the following:

  1. They are a CPA and have worked in auditing companies
  2. They are a CPA who was grandfathered the designation of a Certified Financial Forensics (CFF) because they had a CPA license for 10 years and paid a fee.
  3. They have a keen eye and were self taught.

Here’s an example of what can happen when a person involved in a legal action does not verify the credentials of their accounting team:

Awhile back I received a call from a woman sobbing on the phone. She said that she was in the middle of a divorce, her husband of several years had stolen her premarital money, and she needed to hire a forensic CPA immediately. After calming her down I asked her where she was in the divorce process. She said that she had just left the courtroom having learned that her “expert witness” lacked the credentials of an expert, had never testified before, and was not even a CPA. Apparently, her so-called expert’s only credentials were that she was a self-taught bookkeeper for 10 years. The Court refused to accept the presented witness as an expert.

In this case, the woman who called me suffered because her “expert’s” findings and opinion were excluded and never heard or read by the court. Her husband’s expert, however, was permitted to present his opinion. Sadly, I had to explain to her that an expert can only be retained in the window of time permitted by the Court. Once that time ends, only the court can grant a party the authority to retain an expert. Her attorney recommended the attorney’s friend as an expert, the attorney and the expert failed to provide the expert’s credentials to the client.

Forensics is the science of investigating people and money. As a science there is methodology, there is testing and there is specific analysis that an experienced financial forensic expert will use. The methods may differ but results should be constant given the similarity of assumptions.

Everyone on my staff at CJBS, including myself, are CPAs who have received at least 40 hours of class room instruction before taking a test in financial forensics. All of us were required to work on engagements to gain experience, and write an actual expert opinion report that was then graded by the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts before we received our Masters Analyst in Financial Forensics designation (MAFF). Our expertise in forensic accounting is not wishful thinking; it’s the result of hard work and experience.

CPA’s and other professionals who have not been schooled in forensics may have professional skills but those skills may not be forensic skills. It is important to remember that there is a difference between an auditor and a financial forensic expert: the job of an auditor is NOT to detect fraud but rather is to verify the accuracy and correctness of financial reporting.

The financial forensic expert may be retained to determine if there is a misstatement of financial information, calculate damages, or detect financial misappropriations. They begin studying the people involved before analyzing the data. They keep an open mind in their investigation and let the facts dictate the findings. In my view the forensic expert tries to look at a larger view of a given situation; the auditor only looks at a narrow section of the financial picture.

Last year I was retained to analyze an expert’s report as to damages. The expert retained by the other side of the case calculated damages using an accounting definition of damages; standards that would have been acceptable by the court. For example, he excluded from profits the salaries and benefits of the business shareholders. When my report called attention to the numerous errors in the report and the miscalculations by the other side’s expert, the opposing side conceded rather than risk an embarrassment.

Your financial expert does matter. Your expert has to be able to investigate and to communicate the findings to your attorney, and to be able to communicate the findings to a judge and write a convincing opinion. Your expert must be able to educate the client and their attorney as to the findings and be objective in interpreting the results.

If I retain an expert, such as a medical specialist, I want to know their successes and failures; I want to know their experience handling cases like mine. Is the expert a “part time” expert, accepting engagements during slow periods, or does the expert specialize in my type of case? Is the person able to communicate and appear professional? Finally is the expert a good listener and are they paying attention to my issues and concerns? My last concern will be the cost. “Pennywise and pound foolish” is never more appropriate than when it is applied to choosing a forensic expert.

Questions or comments? E-mail me at larry@cjbs.com if you have any questions about this posting or if I may be of assistance in any way.

Larry Goldsmith is an experienced Financial Forensic expert and CPA who investigates and verifies financial income and assets in matrimonial matters. CJBS, LLC is a Chicago based firm that assists its clients with a wide range of accounting and financial issues, protecting and expanding the value of mid-size companies. 

Overcoming the Myths: Taking Control of Your Money & Your Future

Larry Goldsmith, CJBS, moderates this dynamic conversation about women and finance.

Thursday, September 11th at The East Bank Club, 4:30 to 6:30 pm.

ModeratorLarry G. Goldsmith, C.P.A., J.D., C.F.F., and M.A.F.F.

Panelists are dynamic, experienced professionals who are passionate about empowering women to take control of their financial future.

Julie Murphy Casserly, CLU, ChFC, CFP  JMC Wealth Management Inc. Julie  is an 18year veteran of the financial services industry and has often  been referred to as a financial healer and visionary.

Carolyn Leonard, Founder and CEO DyMynd. Carolyn is a serial entrepreneur and was one of the first women to trade at the CBOE. She spent 21 years in the pits before starting  DyMynd.

Linda A. Lucatorto, M.Ed., CPC, Divorce Coach and Mediator, mentors clients during the transitions of divorce. She helps clients: learn about their options, set realistic expectations, make solid decisions and prepare for consultations with attorneys.

Women often forget all the financial decisions they effectuate. They make most of the health care decisions for family members and choose the specialists they see. They arrange for child care and make many of the important school decisions for their children, from pre-school to college. They also have crucial input about the purchase of family cars and household needs. They may even pay the household bills. Although They are always making financial decisions for others, most women don’t feel they are financially savvy. It is time to bust that myth!

I hope you can join Larry, Julie, Carolyn and Linda on September 11th at the lovely East Bank Club. De-stress after the work day and join us for interesting and thought provoking discussion, food, drink and camaraderie!

Questions or comments? E-mail me at larry@cjbs.com if you have any questions about this posting or if I may be of assistance in any way.

Larry Goldsmith is an experienced Financial Forensic expert and CPA who investigates and verifies financial income and assets in matrimonial matters. CJBS, LLC is a Chicago based firm that assists its clients with a wide range of accounting and financial issues, protecting and expanding the value of mid-size companies. 

Ethics On The Front Lines

by Larry Goldsmith, CPA, JD, CFF, MAFF

I want to share three quick stories where ethical considerations were considered when accepting or continuing engagements.

Case #1:  A Partnership Dispute, or, The Devil and Larry Goldsmith

The Forensic Accounting portion of my business was uncharacteristically slow. Cases had been settled, and depositions and trials were delayed for months.

Then the devil presented me with the opportunity of a large new case which involved disputing business partners. The engagement required an analysis of expenditures, bank accounts, and the use of business proceeds.  Reading the complaint, I was mystified how the basic facts of the case could be presented so differently by the two parties.

During the interview process for the engagement, as I sat with the referring attorneys and listened as they explained to me their visions of the case, my mental calculator was adding up the staff hours that would be required from my firm. My hands were sweating with excitement.

The more I looked into the matter, the more I became concerned. The accounting records and general bookkeeping was weak. The prospective client took sizable amounts of cash from the company, allegedly to pay sub contractors. No Form 1099’s were issued and only some of the contractors would be willing to sign affidavits that they received the cash. It was explained to me that the company saved money by hiring contractors at a discount by paying cash. The prospective client asked me if I could simply accept his affidavit that the cash was properly spent for business purposes – even though this could not and would not be verified by anyone. Did I mention that the accounting records and the bookkeeping were weak?

Though I suggested alternative techniques where I could quantify the non-verified cash, it seemed that the prospective client only wanted me to investigate the egregious acts of his former partner. The whole thing seemed fraught with potential problems.

I was left with the question: should I accept this proposed engagement? If I answered entirely based on the size and cost of the engagement the answer would likely be yes. But I was concerned about possible ethical issues which seemed very likely to arise. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has published various professional standards to provide guidance in cases such as the one that confronted me.

The professional standards say:

Rule 102 of the AICPA professional standards.

In the performance of any professional service, a member shall maintain objectivity and integrity, shall be free of conflicts of interest, and shall not knowingly misrepresent facts or subordinate his or her judgment to others.

This is further discussed in the Litigation Services and Applicable Professional Standards publication 03-1 by the AICPA; “The expert does not serve as an advocate for the client’s position and, therefore should not subordinate his or her judgment to the client. The expert’s function is to assist the trier of fact in understanding complex or unfamiliar concepts after having applied reliable principles and methods to sufficient relevant data.”

Rule 201, General Standards, of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct requires that engagements be conducted with “Due Professional Care” using “Sufficient Relevant Data.” According to AICPA Publication 03-1, “Due care requires diligence and critical analysis of all work performed.”  Furthermore, the AICPA requires that the practitioner “Obtain relevant data that is sufficient to provide a reasonable basis for conclusions or recommendations for any professional services performed.”

“The practitioner should consider analyzing key assumptions to determine whether they are reasonable. In several recent cases, experts had their testimony excluded because their opinions were based on assumptions that were deemed not reasonable.”

And finally, Rule 501-01, Acts Discreditable of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, states that a, “Member shall not commit an act discreditable to the profession.” Rule 501-04 states that a member shall be considered to have committed an act discreditable to the profession when, by virtue of his or her negligence the member, “Signs, or permits or directs another to sign, a document containing materially false and misleading information.”

Do I accept an engagement with my hands tied?  Do I accept an engagement where my objectivity is being compromised?  You’ll find my decision at the end of this article.

Case #2:

What to Do When Independence is Compromised?

An attorney referred me to provide financial forensic analysis to a woman going through a divorce. In discussions with her I quickly realized that, not only did I know her husband personally, but I had invested in some of her husband’s projects. The wife was impressed with my knowledge of her husband’s complex business structure and sources of revenue. And she was eager for my help. Though I had not been an investor in any of the husband’s projects/deals in the last ten years, I felt that questions concerning personal and professional integrity, independence and objectivity were sure to come up.

Again, I turned to the AICPA for guidance. The AICPA requires objectively rather than independence as a standard. Objectivity is a soul searching determination. Independence is fact driven.

I called the husband. I laid my cards on the table and told him that his soon to be ex-wife wanted to hire me to investigate his finances. Then I asked him if he found there to be a conflict.

The husband emailed me, his attorneys and her attorneys. In the email he stated that he and I (the two of us) had a previous business relationship; he welcomed my retention by his wife, but wanted his wife to be comfortable that we had a past financial relationship.

The husband told me that my professionalism and my fairness were comforting to him. He had heard stories of experts who performed needless analysis to increase fees and experts who would be an obstacle to any settlement.

During the engagement, we cut the husband no slack; we verified all business and personal assets including sources of income. My past relationship with the husband allowed my firm’s team to ask the right questions and know where to look for future income sources. This experience and knowledge saved the parties money, and gave the wife comfort that there was complete disclosure.

Case #3: An Unexpected Meeting…

I arrived at the charitable golf outing dressed in the height of sporting fashion, wearing my pink plaid golf shorts, my white gym shoe golf shoes and my pink polo golf shirt. To my surprise, the gentleman I was paired with had the same name as the attorney I was retained to testify against in an upcoming malfeasance case.

Maybe it was a coincidence, I thought. People often do have the same names.

I returned to the golf cart after practicing my putting and shanking some drives off the practice tee.  In the cart sat a disheveled man in his sixties who was lifting his glasses past his nose to read his cell phone.

After the introductions, handshake and chit chat, I realized that the man next to me, who looked like Mr. Magoo, was the subject of the malfeasance and he was the individual whom I would be testifying against.

I initially wondered if our golf game was an ethical violation. And my next thought was, did he know who I was and would he kill me?

The fact is, there was no violation of ethics in playing golf with the gentleman. We did not discuss his case and there was no disclosure on either part of our professional situations.

I was fortunate; he did not have a clue who I was. In fact three months later when I deposed him, Mr. Magoo failed to remember that we had ever previously met.

So… did I accept the engagement in Case #1…? 

One engagement can make or break a career. The grim thought of handcuffs being placed on me and seeing my career in tatters was all I needed to make my decision to walk away. This was one of those gut wrenching times when you just need to bite the bullet and say No.

I believe that our professional standards, were created to be a guide.  Sometimes our soul searching will provide the needed guidance.  Sometimes the engagement that we turn down is a blessing.

Questions or comments? E-mail me at larry@cjbs.com if you have any questions about this posting or if I may be of assistance in any way.

Larry Goldsmith is an experienced Financial Forensic expert and CPA who investigates and verifies financial income and assets in matrimonial matters. CJBS, LLC is a Chicago based firm that assists its clients with a wide range of accounting and financial issues, protecting and expanding the value of mid-size companies.