March 2015 Newsletter
Social Dimensions of Taxation – Stay-home parents pay extra, while share speculations are tax-free. Fair?
Over at Hagley – Second chance for people wanting to learn about NFP accounting.
Paying Back Grant Money – It’s not your money until you’ve done something for it.
The Road to 2016 – Cash Accounting Take 2: Money can be saved – are you up for it?
Social Dimensions of NZ’s Taxation Laws
With New Zealand’s not-for-profits sometimes being under scrutiny for their tax exemptions, it is worth remembering that the biggest exemption from income tax in our tax system benefits predominantly quite wealthy private individuals and some large companies.
I am talking about the tax exemption on capital gains. New Zealand is in an almost unique position amongst developed nations to offer this exemption to everyone, not just private homeowners. It means that, amongst other things, income from gains in share values is not taxed.
If Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Bill Gates (Microsoft) had been New Zealand residents they would not have had to pay a single cent of Income Tax on the billions they made when selling their shares in their respective companies. Our own prime minister has made at least some of his considerable wealth in this way, tax-free.
This is not the only oddity in New Zealand’s taxation system. Unlike in almost all other countries, couples with children here are not allowed to combine their income and split it in half for taxation purposes. This leads to the bizarre result that a couple where each partner earns $30,000 each pays about $2,500 less in income tax per year than a couple where the whole amount is earned by one person, thus heavily penalising any arrangement where one partner is a fulltime parent. And to add insult to injury, Working for Families income subsidies are calculated on these combined before-tax amounts even though they create such wildly different after-tax amounts for the same earnings.
It is also highly unusual in the world having to pay income tax on the first dollar you earn. Most countries have some income that is exempt, and in my birth country Germany the Supreme Court has ruled some time ago that it is a breach of human rights to tax the minimum amount of income that is required to simply survive.
Taxation has a social dimension that in my view is not recognised. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to design tax laws that are completely fair, and there is a case to be made for a simple tax system usually being the fairest. However, we have not had a discussion in New Zealand for a long time on how taxation affects the decisions private people make and what influence it has on social outcomes. Would people stand for a law that provides a hefty financial disadvantage to the choice of having one parent stay at home? And yet, we have such a law, and it is the Income Tax Act.
Over at Hagley…
CCA is running a full-year Not-for-Profit Admin and Management course at Hagley College as part of their ‘After-3 programme’. Hagley is accepting new students into After-3 for the second term (starting 20 April) and will start their publicity campaign soon. The NFP Admin course has 22 enrolled students and full capacity is 30.
Students enrolling in term 2 will have missed the section on legal structures, governance and funding for this course, but will still get the benefit of all accounting-related content (including creating Standards-compliant financial statements.) The cost is $40.
For enrolment info see here.
Paying Back Grant Money
Grants especially from the larger and many smaller funders are often given for a specific purpose, and they usually come with an agreement where you commit to spending it on that purpose only, and within a given time frame.
Firstly that requires that you actually know where the grant money goes. The only way to do this is by ‘tracking’ grant expenditure, i.e. keeping a running balance of unspent grant funds for each grant. Accounting software and CCA spreadsheets offer methods to do this, but if you are running a manual cashbook you may have to create separate lists for this purpose.
It is not considered good enough to go through your cashbook or bank statement at the end of the year and add up some numbers to make up your grant expenditure. This may lead to the same expenditure item to be counted for more than one grant, which may actually be considered fraudulent.
In accounting terms, accepting a grant with restrictions on expenditure creates a liability. This is like accepting a payment from a customer before having delivered any goods or services. The liability reduces as you gradually spend the grant according to the agreement, and only then does the money become ‘yours’. If you are not tracking grant expenditure you are unaware of this maybe very significant liability – and at times this has led to an organisation becoming insolvent and having to shut down.
If you are unable to fully spend the grant for the purpose it was given in the requested timeframe, you have to pay this money back to the funder.
If that happens to you, it is worth going back to the funder, informing them of the situation and offering another purpose that the grant could be spent on. The funder may very well agree to that proposal, and some funders have specific processes for such cases.
Also keep in mind that if your accounts are subject to an audit, auditors have to look at this potential liability, even if you are not ‘officially’ tracking grants.
The Road to 2016
Monthly feature to prepare for the new Financial Reporting Standards for Charities.
Back to Cash
In our January newsletter we covered the issue of ‘cash’ reporting vs ‘accrual’ (i.e. Tier 4 v Tier 3). We are getting a lot of questions about this at the moment, and therefore want to revisit this issue here.
If your organisation has less than $125,000 in ‘operating expenditure’ you can produce ‘cash-based’ Financial Statements (Tier 4). You’ll need to have $125,000 or more in two consecutive years before this changes. You can opt to produce accrual-based Statements regardless.
The majority of organisations we work with with under $125,000 in operating expenditure produce accrual-based financial Statements at the moment, often at considerable cost. ‘Cash-based’ Statements (Tier 4) are more achievable for an accounting layperson and may save your organisation significant amounts of money.
Furthermore, after 1 April this year the new Tier 4 officially becomes ‘Generally Accepted Accounting Practice’ (GAAP) for such organisations. This means that if you use an accountant they should automatically change you to ‘cash-based’ financial statements unless you specifically instruct them otherwise. At CCA we expect that this will often not happen as accountants we work with at present remain quite poorly informed about the new rules, even if they are members of professional bodies.
This needs to be a conscious choice your governing body makes. Avoiding this issue may mean substantially higher accounting and audit bills than you need to have.