CPAs can give peace of mind around the Fiscal Cliff

December 17, 2012
Nicole Cassidy, CPA of Zapitelli CPAs Inc. & Andy Nentwich, CPA of GBQ Partners, LLC answer viewer calls during the NBC4 fiscal cliff call in Dec. 11.

Nicole Cassidy, CPA of Zapitelli CPAs Inc. & Andy Nentwich, CPA of GBQ Partners, LLC answer viewer calls during the NBC4 fiscal cliff call in Dec. 11.

Even if we manage to avoid the fiscal cliff as a nation, it is pretty much impossible to avoid the fiscal cliff news cycle. 24-7 updates on the web, TV and social media have bombarded Americans with pundit opinions, what-if scenarios and the specter of uncompromising politicians.

What does it all mean? Unfortunately, many Americans don’t seem to understand the potential implications to their own financial situation. That was abundantly clear during a fiscal cliff call in show airing this month on NBC4 evening news in Columbus. During the news hour, a group of Ohio CPAs fielded hundreds of calls from central Ohio viewers.

One remarked he was really surprised at the number of callers who really had no clue about what could be coming. But they took the first step to getting advice by making the call.

Now is really the time to map out a “what-if” scenario and CPAs are uniquely positioned to offer sound tax and financial advice to not only clients, but the public as well.

CPAs can help educate the public in several ways:

  • Consider authoring a blog post for your firm’s website, offering a free webinar or serving as a content curator of external articles.
  • Talk to your friends and family to make sure they understand the basics.
  • Call your local civic organization (Kiwanis, VFW Post) and ask if they would be interested in a half hour presentation on the fiscal cliff.
  • Become an OSCPA volunteer and serve as a media spokesperson for tax call ins and related interviews.

Not only will your efforts generate positive publicity for your firm, but you may also bring in new clients. Most importantly, you can use your skill set to help those less informed get ready, even if no one knows quite what to expect come January 1.

For more fiscal cliff resources, visit Financial Fitness Ohio’s Tax Tips or visit the AICPA’s resource page.


Shale oil, gas could spell resurgence in Ohio. Let’s not blow it.

April 10, 2012

by Steve Franckhauser, Esq, Director of HbK Energy

The decisions have been made: The Cracker is coming and so is the natural gas gathering and processing complex.

To most people living in the state of Ohio, all points from Jefferson County south are known as “southern Ohio.” To those who live and work there, it is simply known as the “Valley,” an abbreviated expression for the more technical description of “Upper Ohio Valley.” Further to the North, the Mahoning Valley sits nestled between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. By whatever names, these locales are buzzing—the result of two recent announcements from Dutch Royal Shell and Chesapeake place construction projects valued at between $2 billion and $4 billion and $900 million dollars, respectively. They sit within less than 60 crow flight miles of one another. As the grandson of two men named Joseph who worked for Carnegie Steel Mill (later Wheeling Pittsburgh) and Weirton Steel, the news was music to my ears.

Both of these regions share a common history and potentially, a common prosperous future. Devastated by the demise of the steel industry in particular and the continued decline of domestic manufacturing, the regions are poised for a rebound. Once again the path to renewed prosperity lies in the beautiful river from which our state gets its name and the lovely accident of geology and geography for each sit above the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations.

My recent drive south of route 7 from East Liverpool to Steubenville, on a gorgeous mid-March day, reminded me of the abundant resources we are blessed to steward in Ohio and the realities of commerce. We cannot blow this opportunity.

Location, location, location…Downtown Youngstown sits a mere 40 miles from the proposed site of the new Shell plant announced for Beaver County, Pennsylvania;  Shell estimates the project will require 10,000 people to build. Downtown Pittsburgh sits 35 miles from the site. Youngstown can also call this a “win.” The Canton/Akron metro area rests less than 60 miles from Cadiz, the county seat of Harrison County (home county of Clark Gable and George Armstrong Custer); future home of one of the natural gas gathering and processing plants announced by Chesapeake and its project partners, Midstream and EV Energy.

CPAs have four immediate challenges in the wake of these developments. To best prepare their clients to participate in the construction of these facilities OR to capture the work left behind by others. Third is to help position clients for the opportunities that will arise from a renaissance in manufacturing, and fourth, to prepare clients for the impending merger and acquisition activity likely to follow in the wake of these huge projects.

For the Shell project, direct your clients to the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Project Inquiry form located on Shell’s website for the project.

For the project to be spearheaded by Chesapeake, learn more by visiting the Chesapeake announcement found at http://www.chk.com/News/Articles/Pages/1672307.aspx. Other good tips include familiarizing yourself with the Master Service Agreements and contractor requirements used by these companies to qualify vendors.

M&A preparation. The baby boomers first reached the traditional retirement age of 65 in 2011. Many of your clients are boomers and should look to use the next few years to increase the value of their business as they prepare to transition to the next generation in family ownership, seek to buy or be bought or look for strategic partners to meet the demands of the approaching construction activity. Selling the business during an upturn may be the golden opportunity of a lifetime.

Other opportunities. Many of you will recall when Honda built its facility in Marysville. Skilled labor and businesses came in from several states to handle the construction. Again, the law of supply and demand will be at work and the void left by those selected to participate in the new facilities will create openings for others. Encourage your clients to seek out and prepare for these opportunities by placing their financial and accounting house in order. Better days are on the horizon.

Gain additional intelligence from the special report in the March/April edition of CPA Voice and from OSCPA’s recent Oil & Gas Conference. The following sessions are now available to view on demand in OSCPA’s Online Library:

Steve Franckhauser, Esq. is the Director of HbK Energy in the Boardman, Ohio office of Hill, Barth & King LLC. Steve can be contacted at sfranckhauser@hbkcpa.com.


Economists optimistic for 2011 economic recovery

December 20, 2010

It turns out there might be hope for 2011 in the job and housing markets. At least according to economists who are predicting a 4% growth in the nation’s economy for next year (up from earlier forecasts of 2.7%).

In just the past month, many forecasters have boosted their outlook for 2011, based on a series of positive economic reports, according to an article on MSNBC.com.

“Retailers are reporting a better than expected shopping holiday season. Manufacturers are seeing a pickup in production. And private sector job growth — though still very sluggish — has picked up from the first half of the year. But sadly it all adds up to another year of relatively modest growth, not nearly enough to make much of a dent in the painfully high 9.8% unemployment rate.”

Still, the economy is being hindered by the housing market with millions of homes facing foreclosure, and despite reports of a better than expected shopping season during these final weeks of 2010, consumers are still spending cautiously as a result of Ohio’s 9.8% unemployment rate (which for the first time in eight years is not higher than the national average).

In November, more than 500 OSCPA members ranked “attracting jobs” as one of the top priorities for Gov.-elect John Kasich’s administration in 2011. A full 79% of respondents in OSCPA’s eighth annual Ohio Business Poll predicted that it will take three or more years for Ohio’s unemployment rate to return to the 5.8% level at the beginning of the recession.

Poll results also indicated that the top issues Ohio leaders should focus on in 2011 include job loss (88%), government regulation (55%), municipal income tax administration (35%), and pension reform (32%).

What do you think? What are your predictions for Ohio’s and our nation’s economic state in 2011? Sound off by leaving your comment below.


Are American’s doing enough to educate on financial literacy?

August 20, 2010

creditcards Representatives from major banks and credit card companies have been popping up on U.S. college campuses for years, each attempting to reel in unsuspecting, unemployed students who have no problem racking up a little debt. Sure, having credit to your name isn’t a bad thing, but the problem becomes more than just a little debt when you have tuition to pay, books to buy, food to eat and socializing to do.

But since the passage of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, or the Credit CARD Act of 2009, college freshmen and sophomores wishing to sign-up for a shiny piece of plastic require a co-signer if they’re under the age of 21. Not only that, but the law also prevents credit card companies from participating on college campuses and at university-themed events unless a valid reason is provided. And the “swag” that comes along with signing on the dotted line? Forget it. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 outlaws the giving of gifts or any promotional items to entice students.

I never fell for the lure of these credit card companies when I was on a college campus, but I did however sign-up for my own credit card prior to my freshman year in college. I was raised with great financial values. Having worked since I was 14, I knew how to manage my money and I was paying for my own bills. I could certainly handle my own credit card, right?

It wasn’t long though, before I started using my credit card for little purchases here and there. And that low credit limit that I started out with mysteriously kept rising higher and higher. Before I knew it, I was up thousands of dollars in credit card dept and only making the minimum payments. This went on for years. And although I stopped using the credit card, the balance kept going up. Climbing interest rates can be really hard to swallow.

So here I am, nine years since opening that credit card, and just this past spring (after years of non-use and minimum payments) found myself with enough money to pay off the entire balance in one lump sum.

Does that scenario sound familiar? It’s obvious that something needs to change. According to www.creditcards.com, the average credit card debt per household is $15,788, and the Federal Reserve’s G.19 report on consumer credit cites that the total U.S. revolving debt (98% of which is made up of credit card debt) is at $826.5 billion, as of June 2010.

To prevent these statistics from rising further, Ohio’s General Assembly passed Ohio Core legislation mandating financial literacy education for students beginning high school in the 2010 academic year.

The Ohio CPA Foundation stepped up and responded with programs to help students understand the importance of being financially smart. Through the Ohio CPA Foundation, OSCPA is committed to helping elementary students and high school students through two new programs being launched this fall:

In response to requests from teachers and OSCPA members to offer a program that addresses financial literacy basics such as budgeting, saving and spending at the elementary school level, The Ohio CPA Foundation created a new classroom activity, called FETCH!™: Financial Education Teaches Children Healthy Habits™.

The High School Personal Finance Program helps students in grades 9-12. By teaming up with Junior Achievement (JA), OSCPA members have the opportunity to assist educators in meeting this educational requirement firsthand through JA’s Personal Finance Program. The Junior Achievement Personal Finance Program introduces students to the importance of making wise financial decisions. Its curriculum demonstrates the importance of planning, goal-setting, and thoughtful choices within the context of personal financial decisions.

For more Financial Literacy resources, visit OSCPA’s Financial Fitness Ohio webpage for articles on every life stage, finding a CPA, small business and financial planning resources and more.


There’s reason to come out of the bunker

March 31, 2009

Two recent presentations I attended made me think how a simple change in attitude can make a big difference during these trying times.

There’s a pervasive bunker mentality sweeping America. Hunkering down is all too easy when the news seems mostly bad. We want to hold tightly to our money, our jobs and our families until the storm passes.

Hardly anyone scoffed at Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. We’ve come to expect more of the same.

But James Glassman, a senior economist from JPMorgan Chase, helped me see the light. During OSCPA’s Corporate CPAs Conference, Glassman told members that yes, we are experiencing unprecedented times in our country’s economy. But the system is not totally broken. Problems are being solved one day at a time and he predicts the beginning of a recovery later this year. OSCPA members can logon and listen to Glassman’s presentation here.

A bigger problem is the American psyche.

Glassman notes it’s common for people to retreat into a psychological funk when a downturn follows a period of rapid growth. This makes us our own worst enemy.

When in a funk, we don’t think as clearly, have as much energy and we’re not as proactive about capitalizing on our own strengths and those of the organizations we lead.

Glassman’s advice? Businesses and leaders who act and think like winners will come out of this as winners.

So what does acting like a winner look like?

Be the solution. Things are nowhere near as bad as they were in the 1930s.Look for creative solutions to build your business and reduce risk. There are great resources everywhere to help you. Just last week, President Obama announced a new federal program to aid small businesses affected by the credit crunch. There are some key takeaways from this Wharton School post on Disruptive Innovation. Put resources like these to work along with a positive vision of what you want your company or your career to look like a year from now.

Make it easy for your clients and customers to do business with you. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the big problems, we forget the basics. Don’t. Mike Campbell, CPA, reminds you why that’s never been more important with this recent experience. Be available for clients but also show your human side, Rick Telberg advises CPAs in A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste.

Invest in yourself. Everyone is trying to cut costs. But don’t cut yourself short. Keep your skills and your network intact. Go to seminars, meet new people and get a fresh perspective. Try Bob Littell’s NetWeaving approach which is simply sharing your knowledge and your resources without expecting anything in return. OSCPA members can logon to hear Bob’s presentation here.

Pay it forward. Use your time and talent to help others who are struggling. CPAs are just as busy this year as every other tax season, but we’ve had more volunteers taking part in OSCPA consumer tax call-ins than in the past. Why? It feels good to make a difference in someone else’s life. Identify a real need you can fill and give back. Volunteer in your community or in your professional organization.

The ultimate answer to what ails our country may be far down the road. But let’s take the first steps to move ourselves in the right direction.


The silver lining in the Stimulus Act

March 11, 2009

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a great deal of media focus on the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – a.k.a., the most recent Stimulus Act. The Act will soon be followed by the “Making Home Affordable” Program. While government spending isn’t always the answer, the Stimulus Act presents a number of opportunities for individuals to save some serious money and get help when they need it the most – a silver lining if you will.

One of the “winners” in the legislation is those who have lost their job.  David M. Reape, CPA, a senior manager with Ciuni & Panichi in Cleveland and chair of the OSCPA Tax Committee, told OSCPA’s editors: “Individuals, particularly those who have recently lost their jobs, stand to gain the most from this package. For the individual who has been laid off, the government is subsidizing much of their COBRA payment. There is also a provision that allows individuals to exclude from income up to $2,400 of unemployment benefits received in 2009. Those are huge benefits for the recently unemployed.”

Former employees must have been enrolled in their employer’s health plan at the time they lost their jobs. The former employees will now only have to pay 35% of the cost of the COBRA coverage – not the full 100%.

More silver lining: the legislation extended the qualifying period for the homebuyer credit to 12/1/2009. For purchases made after 12/31/2008, the credit is $8000 and repayment is not required.

According to Michael Mares – one of OSCPA’s most popular tax instructors and a federal tax expert, “Homebuyers can treat a purchase made in 2009, as if it was made in 2008. Homebuyers can even file a modified return for 2008 and get the credit in 2009, rather than having to wait until filing your 2009 return.”

OSCPA Hot Topic WebinarsMares joined Lynn Nichols in an OSCPA hot topic webinar on March 6 and reviewed the many credits, extensions and incentives contained in the Stimulus Act with over 150 participants. “This is a very complex set of rules,” Mares told the virtual audience. “But one that is filled with significant benefits for those that really need them right now.”

An even larger silver lining: The Stimulus Act provided AMT relief – extending the individual and MFJ exemption.

“The problem with this is they haven’t increased the phaseout number since 1986, which means there are people that shouldn’t be burdened with the AMT but they still are,” Nichols said.

Mares added, “The basic problem is that since Congress has waited so long to reform the AMT, it will be cheaper to repeal the Internal Revenue Code than it would be to repeal the AMT.”

The Economic Stimulus and Your Tax ClientsNow here’s a silver lining for you: this webinar is now in the OSCPA Online Library. That means that any OSCPA member can listen to this webinar – and any of the other 100+ titles – any time at no charge. Get up to speed on the most significant business and individual credits, extensions and incentives without reading through 3,000 pages – unless you have a lot of time on your hands!


What does the future hold for IFRS?

March 3, 2009

Reading the subtle – and not so subtle – communications from the SEC make it nearly impossible to anticipate the direction the “new” SEC is going to travel with IFRS.

Under former SEC Chair Christopher Cox, the SEC moved toward a new frontier. The commission implemented IDEA – the replacement to the EDGAR database, passed XBRL for financial statements and mutual funds and proposed a landmark roadmap to transition the U.S. to the International Financial Reporting Standards (more commonly referred to as IFRS).

While most decision-makers believed the move to IFRS was inevitable, a loud majority still voiced their opposition saying the roadmap timeline was too aggressive. As Cox finished his term as SEC chairman, the SEC rushed to get the roadmap out for comment.

Then the recession took center stage. The Stimulus Act was passed in October 2008 to help the unstable economy. Job losses were mounting. Fingers began pointing to fair value and financial institutions were demanding the SEC suspend fair value. Congress mandated that the SEC undertake a study of fair value accounting. Understandably, the roadmap was delayed.

Things then went from bad to worse. The alleged Bernie Madoff $50 billion Ponzi scheme broke. And fingers again pointed to the SEC. Investigators failed to investigate many repeated allegations against Madoff over 15+ years. 

Nonetheless, even though mired in the recession and the Madoff scandal, the SEC released its proposed roadmap for IFRS. While the roadmap was significantly delayed, there was only one major change made in the timeline.

Then newly elected President Barack Obama nominated Mary Schapiro as the new chair of the SEC. A former SEC commissioner, Schapiro said from the very beginning, “I will not be bound by the existing roadmap that’s out for public comment.” And she has not. Schapiro has come in and is reinvigorating the SEC as the securities watchdog for the nation – and promises not to take it easy on corporate fraudsters.

Already Schapiro has:

Her actions and her words have made many wonder about the roadmap and the outlook for IFRS. Will the nation actually transition to IFRS or is it just being delayed? How long will the delay be? Six months? Six years? Given the current economy and the many calls from lawmakers to reform the nation’s financial regulatory system, including the SEC, this may not be the ideal time to be completing a transition such as this – one that will dramatically change financial reporting, the accounting profession and possibly litigation.

Right when many were ready to put on the brakes completely, Schapiro met with Sir David Tweedie, chair of the International Accounting Standards Board, in mid-February. Tweedie made his case for keeping the transition on its current – or close to – the current timeline. It’s also been reported that Schapiro has advised staff to review the current proposal to identify elements that can be used.

Actions do speak louder than words and the only real action to date is extending the deadline to comment on the proposed roadmap to April 20.

Next steps from the SEC . . . your guess is as good as mine. What are your expectations? Do you think the U.S. will transition to IFRS in the near future or has been this delayed extensively?

Take a look at some of these IFRS resources and recent news stories:

OSCPA IFRS Issue Monitoring home page

  • Investment executives favor IFRS
  • Big four firms push IFRS education efforts PwC unveils $700K grant, Deloitte readies materials

In May, The Ohio Society is also starting an International Special Interest Section. Watch for more details to come soon.


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