Businesses can enhance their cash flow by optimizing their tax accounting methods. This is especially important in times of tight money and inadequate revenues. More and more businesses are putting their taxes under a microscope and taking a hard look at whether they can improve their cash flow by changing the accounting methods that they have elected either on past returns or during the current year. A taxpayer who is not on the optimal accounting method is effectively prepaying taxes, an undesirable and unnecessary result.

Every business must adopt a method of accounting to determine when it recognizes items of income and deduction. An accounting method determines timing — when an item is taken into account for taxes—not whether the item is taken into account. The choice of an appropriate method (or methods) is important because it determines the timing of overall income or loss.

The two most common overall accounting methods are the cash method, in which income and deductions are taken into account when payments are received or made, and the accrual method, in which income and deductions are taken into account when amounts are earned and expenses are incurred. Other accounting methods can apply to specific “material” items, such as the valuation of inventory or the treatment of an installment sale. For many businesses, there are scores of these “other accounting methods” to consider.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expanded the number of small business taxpayers eligible to use the cash method of accounting by raising the cap on gross receipts to $25 million averaged over the prior three years. Taxpayers who meet this revenue test are also eligible to use several simplified methods of accounting that exempt them from the requirements to capitalize costs in a number of situations, including the cash method of accounting and certain exceptions that may apply to accounting for capitalized costs, inventory, and long-term contracts. The IRS recently announced that it will automatically consent to these changes for taxpayers who meet certain eligibility requirements.

A change in accounting method can benefit any company—of any size, in any industry. Before changing an accounting method, the IRS requires that a taxpayer obtain the IRS’s consent. For some changes, the taxpayer must apply to the IRS for advance consent and pay a user fee. The application procedures are spelled out in IRS Revenue Procedure 2015-13. For these changes, the taxpayer cannot switch methods until the IRS agrees.

For other methods, the IRS has streamlined the process and will approve changes automatically. For these changes, the taxpayer can switch to another method simply by filing the proper information with the IRS, without having to wait for the IRS to grant its consent. “Automatic consent” significantly lowers the compliance costs needs to switch to a more advantageous method, enabling many more businesses to realize net savings by identifying yet unclaimed opportunities.

If you would like to know whether a change of accounting method can benefit your business and increase your cash flow, please call this office and make an appointment. If you have already filed a request to make one of these changes using non-automatic consent procedures, you may be able to have the user fee for that request returned if you act quickly.