End of Covid Emergency Declarations Put Work from Home Benefits at Risk

Work from Home Benefits at RiskThe end of the federal emergency declaration for Covid-19 came on May 11. As a result, there are various public health policy changes. For example, vaccines and treatments will remain available, but at-home tests may no longer be covered by insurance and national CDC data reporting is subject to change.

Administratively, there are also changes to regulatory measures temporarily put in place by the emergency status that will have tax consequences. As employers struggled during the pandemic, some even to meet payroll, issues around expense reimbursements, stipends and how these are considered fringe benefits or compensation came into light.

History of Section 139

Section 139 came into being over 20 years ago after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Then President George W. Bush signed the Victims of Terrorism Tax Relief Act, which created Section 139, defining qualified disasters and providing a non-taxable status to relief payments. The emergency Covid declaration enabled Section 139 to apply under its time in existence.

Section 139

Consequently, employers were able to aid employees under the federally declared Covid-19 disaster by providing non-taxable benefits to employees while deducting 100 percent at the company level.

One of the typical principles of tax law is that in order for compensation, whether cash or in-kind, to not be taxable to the recipient, it cannot be deducted by the compensating party. This makes sense logically, as the IRS simply wants one side to pay taxes in the end. The disaster declaration allowed a sort of have your cake and eat it to the period when it came to certain employee benefits.

Impact on Benefits

So, Section 139 is the reason why some Covid-related payments never found their way onto a Form W-2. It meant that certain medical expense reimbursements such as testing and OTC treatments, dependent care expenses, and work-from-home expenses, including home office stipends, were treated as deductible for the employer providing them but still not taxable to the employee receiving them.

There was never any specific IRS guidance stipulating exactly which Covid-19 expenses qualify under Section 139. Instead, most employers looked at what benefits they would not have otherwise provided but for the COVID-19 pandemic and classified these as qualifying items.

The Big Problem

Using this logic of classifying benefits that would otherwise not exist, but for Covid-19, as the justification for their taxability under Section 139 put companies in a bind. If they want to continue these benefits, they have to be treated as taxable income to the employee, or the employer can no longer deduct them.

While some benefits, such as Covid-19 test reimbursements, are less of an issue, many employees have come to see others, such as home office stipends, as a normal benefit – especially in the context of the work-from-home (or at least partial) new normal. No longer receiving these benefits or having to pay taxes on them is going to cause a lot of consternation.


One thing is certain. The end of the emergency declaration is going to bring changes in the realm of employee benefits. While the easy solution could be to simply make these benefits taxable to employees, companies need to think about what and how they provide in the context of both tax compliance and employee engagement and retention.

Delving Into Forensic Accounting

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

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

Forensic Accounting Methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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








How To Recession-Proof Your Portfolio (Just in Case)

How To Recession-Proof Your PortfolioSome economists and market analysts have been predicting a U.S. recession ever since last fall. They’ve been wrong before – but they’ve also been right. Rather than try to predict how the stock market will react during the next recession, investors are better off planning for a range of potential outcomes. This will help reduce the risk of losses regardless of whether or not the United States experiences a recession in 2023.

Bear in mind that stock and bond markets are forward-looking and typically priced to take into account economic conditions such as higher interest rates, inflation, and commodity prices. In response to whatever factors are in hand, the market adjusts in ways to try to keep returns on par with historical norms and practices.

In its market perspective for 2023, Merrill Lynch suggested that the economic cycle would bottom out, market returns would begin turning a corner, and investors who hold diversified portfolios would see less volatility and be positioned to fully participate in a renewed bull market.

There are several strategies you can implement to help mitigate the impact of an impending recession. Be aware, too, that these strategies are sound all-weather moves designed to help reduce your risk and maximize returns over the long term, regardless of economic and market conditions.

Diversify Your Portfolio

The recent failure of established regional banks is a reminder that there are no “safe” stocks – all stock market investing is subject to a wide range of risks. However, investors should be most wary of owning a high concentration in any single stock. After all, while it is unlikely the stock market will ever be reduced to zero, it is entirely possible for an individual stock to lose total value. This can happen due to a fall in demand, bankruptcy, corruption/embezzlement, a natural disaster, or a public relations scandal. There are many situations that are unforeseen and out of an investor’s control that can lead to substantial losses.

By diversifying your portfolio across a large number of stocks, even those within the same industry (such as competing banks), you can mitigate exposure to a single stock that experiences a major decline in performance. For 2023, Merrill Lynch recommended a broad global stock portfolio with a slight overweight in U.S. equities, including large-cap value stocks and a mixture of small-cap growth and value stocks. It contends that the Energy, Financials, Healthcare, Utilities, and Real Estate sectors offer stable returns via strong cash flow and attractive valuations.

Well-established dividend stocks pay out a steady income as well as offer growth opportunities, which is a good hedge for a strong long-term total return regardless of economic conditions.

Merrill Lynch also favors global fixed-income securities, including investment-grade corporates, 10-year Treasury bonds, and longer-maturity municipal bonds.

Fund Investing

An easy way to diversify across a wide range of stocks and/or bonds is to invest in asset category-specific mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. The immense universe of funds offers a broad range of stocks (e.g., growth, value, large-, medium- and small-cap) and bond (high yield, high quality, government, corporate) fund options. A balanced fund offers a combination of both stock and bond securities to help capture growth as well as capital preservation.

If you invest regularly through a 401(k) plan at work or defer income to an IRA, note that your money will purchase more shares when prices drop, which is often the case during a recession. As long as you have vetted and have faith in your investment choices, this discounted buying opportunity can set up your portfolio for stronger gains once the market recovers.

Cash Allocation

It is always a good idea – even more so during a recession – to hold an allocation in cash or cash-equivalent vehicles such as CDs and money market funds. However, it is not a good idea to sell stocks that have lost ground just to beef up your cash allocation. It may be better to sell a stock with significant appreciation instead, especially if it is in an industry that does not tend to perform well during a recession (e.g., Construction, Manufacturing, Retail, Leisure, and Hospitality).

7 Tips to Save Money This Summer

7 Tips to Save Money This SummerSummer is here, and so are all the activities. But as we know, these activities cost money. Here are a few ways you can still have fun and, while doing so, save some cash.

Look at Your Calendar

Summer months are filled with holidays, birthdays, cookouts, weddings – the list goes on. Take a look and make an estimate of how much you want to spend on each event. When you can plan ahead and figure out your budget, you won’t be faced with surprise expenditures at the last minute. Nobody likes that.

Go on a Spending Cleanse

We’re not talking for months on end – just a few weeks. During this time, make a point to spend only on necessities. It will force you to take a look at what you want versus what you need. The money that you might have otherwise spent on wants can go into a slush fund for future summer events.

Check Out Money-Saving Sites

If you want to go to an amusement park or, say, the movies, you know how quickly this can add up. Go to Groupon or LivingSocial for some serious price-slashing coupons. Other resources to check out are AAA or AARP. For instance, AAA members get up to 30 percent off tickets to Six Flags.

Take Advantage of Free Entertainment

Inquire at your public library for free events and activities. Check out your local zoo and botanical gardens for free admission days. Go online to your local parks and recreation centers – many plan free, outdoor things to do. All you have to do is dig around a little!

Freeze Your Gym Membership

Chances are you’ll be spending a lot more time outside this summer, some of which might be working out. So why pay for a gym membership if you’re not using it? Instead of paying a hefty cancellation fee or initiation fee to rejoin, ask if you can freeze your membership for the summer. You might be charged a small fee, but in comparison to your monthly or yearly dues, you could save a lot. Plus, exercising outside is good for you.

Turn Down Your Air Conditioner When Away

After you’ve been out in the heat, coming home to an icy home undoubtedly feels great. But what doesn’t feel so great is looking at your A/C bill every month. You could turn down your A/C to a tolerable temp when you leave, then, of course, turn it up when you return. Or, you can get a programmable thermostat that will automatically adjust while you’re away. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, one of these devices can save you as much as 10 percent on heating and cooling costs.

Unplug Electronics When You Leave for Vacation

Before you head out for your summer adventure, make sure to unplug everything from your entertainment system – cable box, TV and speakers – to your small kitchen appliances like your toaster and coffee maker. These devices still consume energy when they’re plugged in. If you want to expedite this, get a power strip. With just one or two flips, you can save up to 5 percent on your energy bill.

These are just a few little things you can do to shave costs, but over time, they can add up to substantial savings. They’ll also help remove the stress that lack of money can cause. You deserve to have a relaxing, worry-free summer!


Summer Is Expensive: Here’s How To Budget Accordingly



Upholding Human Agency in an Era of Evolving Digital Systems

AI and Human AgencyTechnology has greatly contributed to improving and streamlining everyday life. However, as technology advances, there is an increased reliance on digital tools powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Unfortunately, these technologies are also challenging the fundamental notion of human agency. As a result, there are rising concerns about humans losing the ability to make independent decisions.

What is Human Agency?

Human agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act intentionally and make choices that shape their lives. Although the human agency is influenced by various factors, including social, cultural, and environmental contexts, individuals should maintain the ability to exert some degree of control and influence over their lives. As far as technology is concerned, individuals must retain control and decision-making power. This calls for technologies that support humans in making informed decisions rather than controlling the decisions made.

Concerns Over the Effects of Digital Systems on Human Agency

The Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a nonscientific canvassing to gather expert views about the future of the human agency.

The experts were specifically asked, “By 2035, will smart machines, bots, and systems powered by artificial intelligence be designed to allow humans to easily be in control of most tech-aided decision-making that is relevant to their lives?”

Of the 540 experts from different fields, 56 percent disagreed with the statement, while 44 percent agreed. Some of the main themes raised by the experts who disagreed with the statement include:

  • The agendas of commercial interests and governments will determine the future.
  • The convenience that comes with automation makes users less vigilant over technology.
  • AI technology’s complexity and rapid evolution can be overwhelming, making it difficult for users to assert their agency.

Common themes raised by participants that agreed with the statement include:

  • Humans also will evolve with technology, and there is the expectation that AI and tech companies will be regulated.
  • Expectations that businesses will protect the human agency to retain public trust and to keep ahead of the competition.
  • Technology will allow varying degrees of human agency.

Key Considerations for Upholding Human Agency

Seeing that technology will keep advancing and more automated systems will be witnessed, it’s crucial to implement ways to help uphold human agency. Some considerations include the following:

  1. Implement mechanisms that contest AI systems. An AI system is as good as the information fed to it. Therefore, it can be faulty or deliberately flawed, and there should be ways to request redress. This can be through AI policies that allow users to contest or rectify a decision made by AI systems.
  2. Empower users through systems that include meaningful choices and controls, enabling users to decide how to interact with them. For example, a system should allow users to adjust preferences, customize settings and choose the features they want. This promotes a sense of ownership and autonomy over digital experiences.
  3. Promote digital literacy and education to teach about technology capabilities and limitations. Technology users must develop critical thinking skills to exercise human agency and make informed decisions.
  4. Integrate ethical principles into technology design and deployment. This can be done by creating guiding ethical frameworks that consider the likely societal impacts and consequences of digital systems.
  5. Guarantee transparency and explainability in technologies and algorithms, providing users with accessible explanations of how decisions are made and what data is utilized. This transparency fosters trust in the technology and empowers individuals to make informed choices.
  6. Establish accountability for the design, development, and implementation of digital systems. Holding individuals and organizations accountable for the impact of their technology helps maintain human agency and promotes ethical behavior.
  7. Implement robust measures to safeguard individuals’ privacy and protect their data. This includes incorporating strong data protection mechanisms, giving users control over their personal information, and establishing clear consent mechanisms for data collection and usage, accompanied by transparent policies. Respecting privacy rights is paramount for preserving human agency in the digital realm.


The essence of being human lies in exercising control over the nature and quality of an individual’s life. However, technological advances such as artificial intelligence are raising concerns about this human ability. Humans are responsible for actively embracing and comprehending the possibilities and implications of living in a world where digital systems take over various tasks and processes. Instead of surrendering their agency, humans should view partnering with these digital systems as a means to supplement and strengthen their intelligence rather than surrendering it.

Increasing the Federal Debt Limit, Improving Disaster Resources and Attempting to Reduce Government Waste

Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 (HR 2811) – This bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX) on April 26. It would authorize and increase the federal debt limit as well as specific cuts in spending, such as repealed energy tax credits, expanded work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other programs, and nullifies regulations for the cancellation of federal student loan debt. This bill passed in the House on April 26 but was not expected to pass in the Senate.

Pharmacy Benefit Manager Reform Act (S 1339) – Co-sponsored by three Republicans, this bipartisan bill would provide for increased oversight of benefits managers that provide pharmacy management services on behalf of health insurers and employer health plans. The bill was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) on April 27. A committee report was ordered and returned on May 11, where it awaits assessment by the full Senate.

Fire Suppression and Response Funding Assurance Act (S 479) – This bill is designed to ensure that pre-deployed state and local fire suppression assets are eligible for FEMA’s Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG) in an effort to improve the federal government’s response to wildfire disasters. It would adjust the cost share for fire management assistance to no less than 75 percent of the eligible cost. The bill was introduced on March 14 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA). A committee issued its report on the bill on March 29 and it is currently under consideration in the Senate.

National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act (S 1414) – This bill is designed to improve the instant messaging service used by the National Weather Service, as well as other purposes. The bill was introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on May 3; its committee report was returned to the Senate on May 10, where it currently awaits review.

NWR Modernization Act of 2023 (S 1416) – Introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on May 3, this bill would authorize upgrading and modernizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio All Hazards Network. The Senate committee issued its report to the Senate on May 10, where it currently awaits review.

A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to “Control of Air Pollution From New Motor Vehicles: Heavy-Duty Engine and Vehicle Standards” (SJ 11) – This joint resolution nullifies the Environmental Protection Agency rule that pertains to the control of air pollution by new motor vehicles. The current rule sets high emission standards for heavy-duty engines and vehicles in order to reduce air pollution. The bill was introduced by Sen. Deb Fisher (R-NE) on Feb. 9 and passed in the Senate on April 26. It is currently awaiting review in the House.

Identifying and Eliminating Wasteful Programs Act (S 666) – Introduced on March 7 by Sen. Margaret Hassan (D-NH), this bill would require the Chief Operating Officer of each federal agency to compile a list of unnecessary programs. The assigned committee issued its report on March 29; it is currently awaiting review in the Senate.

Federal Agency Performance Act of 2023 (S 709) – This Act also is designed to improve performance and accountability within the Federal Government. It was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on March 8. The assigned committee issued its report for this bill on March 29; it is also awaiting review in the Senate.

Understanding Modified Accrual Accounting

What is Modified Accrual AccountingAccording to the Federal Register, there were about 90,000 local and state government entities throughout the country in 2022. This number is comprised of towns, counties, cities, special districts, and independent school districts. One of the commonalities these organizations share is their use of modified accrual accounting.

Understanding the Differences Between Cash and Accrual Accounting

Cash basis accounting recognizes transactions upon the exchange of cash. Expenses are not recognized until they are paid, and revenue isn’t recognized until payment has been received. Neither future obligations nor anticipated revenues are recorded in financial statements until the cash transaction has happened.

Accrual accounting treats the recognition of expenses when they are incurred. When it comes to recognizing revenue, it occurs once a business is owed compensation for its contracted complete delivery of products or services. The act of exchanging cash or payment is less important with accrual accounting.

What is Modified Accrual Accounting

This method of accounting merges the directness of cash accounting and some attributes of the more complex but equally useful accrual accounting method to account for transaction differences. One can record modified accrual accounting as each transaction is analyzed and accounted for, hinging primarily on whether an asset is short- or long-term, be it how a business recognizes revenue or incurs a liability.

Short Term Versus Long Term

This method is highly dependent on the type of asset in question. When the cash balance has been impacted by a short-term occurrence, such as a sale to a customer or the purchase of raw materials from a vendor, it must be recorded using the cash basis. This is most often recorded on the income statement.

When it comes to events that impact more than one accounting timeframe, it is referred to as long-term. If the debt that is due beyond 12 months or fixed assets are in question, these are considered long-term and must be documented on the balance sheet.

For assets such as fixed long-term debt and fixed assets, which are considered longer-term, they are recorded on the balance sheet. Such assets are then depreciated or amortized over an asset’s lifetime.

Where Modified Accrual is Used

While public companies may use this for financial statements internally, it is not permitted for public financial reporting by generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). One important consideration for private or public companies is that when the modified cash basis method is used, there is an implicit consideration that transactions recorded on a cash basis will have to be adjusted to an accrual-based accounting to be accepted by third-party auditors.

Since the financial statements submitted to be evaluated by a third-party auditor would not have been 100 percent on an accrual basis, they would fail a third-party audit, creating a crisis of confidence among outside observers. The transition from a cash basis will require less translation to a full accrual basis accounting. However, for non-publicly traded, private businesses, for internally-only used financial statements and/or no financing required, it can be useful.

One important reason this standard is widely used throughout government agencies is because the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) created the standard, and it is recognized as an established metric.

The reason governmental agencies implement this standard is because local and state governments keep their attention on present year fiscal responsibilities. This works with their dual principal purposes. The first is to document in any event if present-year monetary inflows are satisfactory to fund present-year costs. It also satisfies that each government entity can substantiate if government funds are utilized in accordance with the law.

Depending on the type of entity and how they are functioning in the economy, private or public sectors can look at how modified accrual accounting impacts their operations.

I Needed to Repay Part of My Compensation; Will I Get a Refund on My Taxes?

Repay Part of My Compensation, Refund on My Taxes?So, you filed and paid all your taxes on the money you earned in 2021. Now, the company you work for finds itself in trouble, and you are forced to pay back part of your compensation. The big question is, will the IRS refund you for the taxes you already paid related to this compensation? While this seems like a bizarre scenario at first glance, it is more common than you might think.

Reducing or holding back compensation that hasn’t been earned yet is easy. Simply pay an executive or employee less, or don’t grant the stock option or bonus. Just don’t pay it.

Things get tricky in a situation where compensation has already been paid and needs to be reversed. This is much, much tougher. If you are still within the same calendar year, then logistically, it’s easier to make an adjustment; but unwinding compensation already awarded is never simple or easy.

Requiring an employee to pay back compensation is not as uncommon as many think. The situation can be as simple as receiving a signing bonus with the stipulation to stay at least a year. IRS treatment of repaid compensation depends on the details.

Details on Compensation Clawbacks

The answer to the core question can vary, with the legal context and timing being the biggest drivers. For example, both Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Protection Act grant regulatory authority to mandate clawbacks, even in cases where the taxpayer was unaware of any wrongdoing. The Sarbanes-Oxlet Act has its own set of clawback regulations. In cases such as this, there is the possibility, due to legal concerns, that a refund is not due to the taxpayer.

Generally, in cases of contractual issues, the IRS doesn’t allow a taxpayer to undo an economic event as if it never happened. The general exception to this rule is if you receive and give back the same compensation within the same calendar year. The problem, however, is that clawbacks usually come in later years after a tax return has been filed.

If you are still employed at the same company, they could simply agree to reduce your current year salary. If you are a former employee, things get tricker. You also have the possibility of amending a prior tax return in some cases. Unfortunately, many people find themselves in a situation where they need to claim a tax refund under Section 1341 of the tax code.

Section 1341 is based on the claim of right doctrine and attempts to put a taxpayer in the same position he or she would have been in had they never received the income. To qualify for and file under this provision, the taxpayer must have included money in income in the prior year because they had an unrestricted right to it at that time and then later learned they did not have an unrestricted right to it after all, therefore having to give it back.


The rules and regulations around the taxability of compensation required to be repaid is not simple. While the core issue of whether one is voluntary or mandatory, givebacks almost always create tax problems. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to return a material amount of compensation, no matter what the source, it’s best to reach out to your trusted tax adviser for help navigating the complexities.

Defining and Understanding Reproduction Costs

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

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

It’s expressed as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplating the Cost Approach’s Drawbacks

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

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

Estate Taxes vs. Inheritance Taxes: Understanding the Differences

Estate Taxes vs. Inheritance TaxesEstate and inheritance (“death”) taxes are levied on the transfer of property at death. The difference between an estate tax and an inheritance tax is based on who pays the bill. An estate tax is levied on the estate of the deceased, while an inheritance tax is levied on the heirs of the deceased. That’s the simple explanation. As for execution, there are far more nuances based on the monetary value of a bequest; the status of the beneficiary/(ies); and where you live when you pass away.

Federal Estate Tax

An estate tax applies to the value of the assets left behind by a decedent and is paid out from the proceeds of the estate before the rest of the assets are distributed to heirs. Estate wealth is usually comprised of cash, securities, and real estate.

In 2023, if an estate is valued at more than $12.92 million ($25.84 million for couples), the estate will owe a progressive tax rate levied on the value above that amount. For example, if an estate is valued at $15 million, it will pay estate taxes on the $2,080,000 above the exemption. The federal tax rate ranges from 18 percent to 40 percent, depending on the taxable value of the estate.

Generally, the estate tax applies to only the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, and only 0.07 percent of estates end up paying the tax, according to the Tax Policy Center. Note that assets inherited by a spouse or charitable organizations are generally not subject to an estate tax.

Some states also levy an estate tax based on the location of the property. Presently, 12 states plus the District of Columbia levy an estate tax:

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Estate Tax Strategies

To minimize or eliminate estate taxes, the estate owner has several options. Among the more sophisticated are structuring an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, a Family Limited Partnership or funding a Qualified Personal Residence Trust. However, the easiest way to legally avoid estate taxes is to give assets away before you die. Estate owners can make tax-deductible contributions to charitable organizations or gift up to $17,000 in 2023 ($16,000 in 2022) a year, per person, to as many people as you want.

Inheritance Tax

An inheritance tax, on the other hand, is a state tax paid by the beneficiary (heir) of an estate. Not every state levies an inheritance tax, and the laws vary considerably by state. The tax is based on the relationship of the beneficiary to the decedent. For example, in some instances, a beneficiary who is a surviving spouse, parent, child or grandchild may be exempt from the tax, whereas a brother, sister, niece or nephew may be subject to an inheritance tax.

Presently, six states levy an inheritance tax (only Maryland levies both estate and inheritance taxes). Each state sets its own exclusion amount, ranging from $1 million to $9.1 million. Amounts above the state exclusion are then subject to a separate estate tax, which tends to range between 1 percent and 18 percent. The tax applies to decedents who lived in one of these states:

  • Iowa (phasing out tax by 2025)
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Inheritance Tax Strategies

Similar to estate tax strategies, an estate owner can minimize state inheritance taxes by transferring assets to a trust or family limited partnership or by gifting assets. Be aware that assets owned under a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) – that has been open for at least five years – are not subject to any taxes since contributions were already taxed and earnings grow tax-free. You also might consider using a portion of your assets to purchase life insurance, naming your heirs as beneficiaries. Since life insurance proceeds are not taxable, this is a way to remove money from the estate to create a larger, tax-free inheritance.

As for current estate assets, one surefire way to legally avoid inheritance taxes is to move to a state that doesn’t levy them.