Business Consultants & Certified Public Accountants

Yes, a Benefits Plan Audit Could Happen to You

Many business owners worry about an income tax audit. But, if you sponsor an employee benefits plan, the IRS could audit it as well. Here are some common questions that plan administrators and sponsors might ask about plan audits.

Where’s the bull’s-eye?

The IRS targets plans in one of four ways:

  1. As part of a special IRS initiative focusing on a specific issue,
  2. On a tip-off,
  3. After discovering questionable or unusual items on a plan’s return, or
  4. By random selection.

The agency says audits aren’t merely a game of gotcha. The purpose is to develop corrective strategies and help plan sponsors execute these strategies.

How can you prepare?

Before a plan audit, the IRS usually requests a list of documents to review. An examiner then visits your office or facilities to conduct the audit.

Like a tax audit, a plan audit is best dealt with in consultation with a benefits expert. Make sure to authorize this person to act on your behalf in writing, using the required IRS form (Form 2848, “Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative”), and that he or she is licensed to practice before the IRS.

What are auditors looking for?

The IRS typically examines a wide variety of plan operational areas. For starters, it will likely look into whether all eligible employees are properly participating, and whether the plan is properly crediting service and vesting in the plan.

Naturally, contributions and distributions are often investigated closely, too. And the agency may examine whether the plan document and trust meet current tax law, as well as whether you’ve timely and accurately filed federal returns and reports.

Who can help?

If you receive a notice of an IRS plan audit, please give us a call. We can work with your benefits advisor to gather the necessary documents and help you navigate the process.

Take a Shot at a SWOT Analysis

Many business owners have used strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analyses to frame their strategic planning. If you’re looking to map out your company’s next big move, now might be a good time to take a shot at it yourself.

Think about your customers

A SWOT analysis starts by spotlighting internal strengths and weaknesses that affect the success and value of a business. Strengths are competitive advantages or core competencies that generate revenue, such as a strong sales force or exceptional quality.

Conversely, weaknesses are factors that limit a company’s performance. Generally, weaknesses are evaluated in comparison with competitors. Examples might include weak customer service or negative brand image.

A company’s strengths and weaknesses are often tied to customer requirements and expectations. A characteristic affects future cash flow — and therefore, success — if customers perceive it as either a strength or a weakness.

Envision the future

The next step in a SWOT analysis is to predict future opportunities and threats. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could generate return if the company acts on them. Threats are external factors that could prevent the company from achieving its goals.

When differentiating strengths from opportunities (or weaknesses from threats), the question is whether the issue would exist without the company. If the answer is yes, the issue is external to the company and, therefore, an opportunity or a threat. Changes in demographics or government regulations are examples of opportunities or threats a business might encounter.

Pick your path

Generally, there are two directions you can go with the information gathered from a SWOT analysis:

  1. Capitalize on opportunities with strengths, or
  2. Convert weaknesses into strengths — or threats into opportunities.

Need help with the decision? Please contact our firm. We can assist you in conducting a SWOT analysis from start to finish.