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Some People Are Bent Out of Shape Over the ‘Compressed’ Tax Season

Earlier in the roundup, we linked to The Hill story that brought the unfortunate news that anyone itemizing expenses their tax return will “have to wait until mid- to late February to file their returns.”

The IRS is acutely aware of the problem but lucky for all of you, Emancipation Day falls on April 15th this year (and is effectively a national holiday for tax purposes), so the Service extended filing deadline is Monday, April 18th:

The Internal Revenue Service today opened the 2011 tax filing season by announcing that taxpayers have until April 18 to file their tax returns. The IRS reminded taxpayers impacted by recent tax law changes that using e-file is the best way to ensure accurate tax returns and get faster refunds.

Taxpayers will have until Monday, April 18 to file their 2010 tax returns and pay any tax due because Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in the District of Columbia, falls this year on Friday, April 15. By law, District of Columbia holidays impact tax deadlines in the same way that federal holidays do; therefore, all taxpayers will have three extra days to file this year. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until Oct. 17 to file their 2010 tax returns.

The IRS expects to receive more than 140 million individual tax returns this year, with most of those being filed by the April 18 deadline.

Despite the extra 72 hours of fun, some people would rather focus on this “mid- to late February” business, namely, John Ams of the National Society of Accountants, as reported by NPR:

“What this has done is effectively compress the tax season from three months to just six weeks,” says John Ams, executive vice president of the National Society of Accountants.

Now, we don’t know Mr Ams backgound but his bio over at the NSA states that he is a Chief Audit Executive and we have no doubt that he’s a more than capable accountant. But most abacus wielders we know are pretty familiar with deadlines snafus, doing more work in less time and waiting on additional information. In fact, any accountant worth their salt has plenty of stories of pulling emergency all-nighters for week(s) to make sure a project gets accomplished on time only to get the very last piece of data needed at the 11th hour. NOW, when the IRS explains that Congress – who is only reliable for being unreliable – has forced their hand into this less-than ideal predicament, apparently it’s okay to get all huffy about it. [breathe] Look, the majority of the work on these tax returns can simply be done and then the 1040 jockeys will just wait for the rest of the information. It isn’t – as it’s popular to say – rocket science.

But forget about the shrinking tax season, Mr Ams wants you to think about the Luddites!

Some of the changes to the tax code will be a headache for tax preparers and their clients at the busiest time of the year, Ams says. One rule, for example, requires anyone preparing more than 100 returns per year to file them electronically, while the other forces tax preparers to get an identification number.

“Electronic filing is great and most accounts [sic] love it. But there are many clients out there, in particular the elderly, who still believe computers are the work of the devil,” Ams says. “They don’t want sensitive data like tax information going over the Internet.”

If people don’t want to e-file, Ams says, “we’re supposed to say: ‘Here’s your form. See ya.'”

Christ. We know grandmothers that use text messaging. Plus, CPAs have been saying “Here are your forms. Sign here, here, here and here. Oh, and here. See ya next year (but only if you pay),” for decades and people have made due. Can anyone explain how this is still a problem?

IRS Kicks Off 2011 Tax Season with Deadline Extended to April 18 [IRS]
The Tax Man Cometh, But This Year He’ll Be Late [NPR]

Demand Media Uses Fancy Math to Support Aggressive Accounting

Henry Blodget crucifies Demand Media today for their accounting treatment for the cost of their “army of freelance writers” as the company attempts to go public.

But before we get to that, first a little quick and dirty for those of you that don’t surf the web all day (like some people we know). Demand Media runs “content farms” like eHow, and Cracked. To put it simply, the idea is that aggregating freelancers in this fashion is much more efficient “sly, lots of people take exception with this model.

As we said, Demand is trying to go public and Kara Swisher at All Things Digital writes that the latest draft of the S-1 attempts to explain some questions the SEC had on its “capitalized media content.”

Currently, using a concept of “long-lived” content, Demand has been amortizing those expenses over five years, since it says it continues to generate revenue on that material over that much time.

As the company noted in its S-1 filing:

“Capitalized media content is amortized on a straight-line basis over five years, representing the Company’s estimate of the pattern that the underlying economic benefits are expected to be realized and based on its estimates of the projected cash flows from advertising revenues expected to be generated by the deployment of its content. These estimates are based on the Company’s plans and projections, comparison of the economic returns generated by its content of comparable quality and an analysis of historical cash flows generated by that content to date.”

If you find that last paragraph hard to read, it’s because it is hard to read. Demand is essentially saying that their content is extra-special and will be making them money down the road, unlike the drivel you read elsewhere. Accordingly, this situation calls a useful life of five years and for the amortization expense to recognized over that life. That’s where Henry loses it (at least that’s the vision we have), writing that despite it being a “theoretically reasonable judgment” this whole notion of not recognizing content/editorial expenses (aka: bloggers) immediately is “bogus”:

It’s unusual and aggressive. Other publishers don’t account for editorial costs this way

It makes the company “profitable” when it’s actually hemorraging cash, so it is obviously a gimmick used to spruce up the financial statements

It leads to an instant argument/interrogation about how long a writer’s content will ACTUALLY be valuable (and Demand Media hasn’t even been around for five years, so confidently saying “five years” begs more questions)

It is an EASY knock against a company that is controversial anyway

For these reasons, Demand Media should just drop this accounting immediately.

But going back to Swisher, the company has an explanation – it’s mathematical! So, it just works, mmmkay?

To be allowed to expense over five years, Demand said, the company has to use a sophisticated algorithmic platform–which other content creators do not have–to provide proof of “probable economic benefits” from that content over that time.

Since Demand has long claimed that it has a new and innovative approach to content creation, it is making the case to investors that it needs to have the correct accounting for that approach.

OH! Since you have rocket scientists on the job, it’s totally legit. NOW WE GET IT. But despite having someone John Nash-esque on staff, the company admits that there is a big catch:

Changes from the five year useful life we currently use to amortize our capitalized content would have a significant impact on our financial statements. For example, if underlying assumptions were to change such that our estimate of the weighted average useful life of our media content was higher by one year from January 1, 2010, our net loss would decrease by approximately $1.6 million for the nine months ended September 30, 2010, and would increase by approximately $2.4 million should the weighted average useful life be reduced by one year.

In other words, if the company can’t use five year amortization for its content, things will get ugly fast (Blodget illustrates with an example). The whole thing has caused enough of a ruckus that the IPO is being put off until next year which, considering there’s probably lots of tricky stuff involved (x’s and y’s and whatnot), seems like a good idea.

(UPDATE) Fooling Auditors Is So Easy, a Caveman Could Do It

Thumbnail image for sachdeva_sue.jpgIn the spirit of O.J. Simpson, Tracy Coenen explains today, that if Sue Sachdeva stole $31 million and spent most of it on some high-end threads and then sold the crap she didn’t want, it would’ve been a snap.
We’re not talking Enron type stuff here, just making off with cash:

All it takes are three steps to make this fraud nearly undetectable in a company in which the other members of the executive team aren’t paying attention. (And don’t worry, dear readers, that I may be giving away any secrets to committing fraud and covering it up. Any serious fraudster already knows these three things.)
1. Keep the fraud off the balance sheet.
2. Keep all transactions below the scope of testing by the auditors.
3. Don’t commit fraud during the last month of the fiscal year and the first month of the following fiscal year.
Can it really be this simple?

Here’s the quick and dirty:
Point 1 – Tracy notes that 80% of audit procedures focus on the balance sheet so if Suze was slamming all the bogus transactions amongst 4 or 5 income statement expense lines, no one would get wise to it.
Point 2If she did it, Suze probably knew what GT’s scope was (it’s supposed to be super-secret). She could plan the amount of her transactions to fall under this scope every time.
Point 3 – Auditors probably spent most of their time looking at bank statements for the last month of the fiscal year and the first month of the subsequent fiscal year. The rest of them don’t get much attention.
So there you have it. Throw in the incestuous management team, auditors that may be trying to get on each other and you’ve got a slam dunk.
UPDATE 7:38 pm: We got to wondering if Tracy’s statement “Any serious fraudster already knows these three things” were true, so we asked one. Crazy Eddie CFO, Sam Antar indulged us:

[Tracy] is correct. The fraudster always has the initiative because they are judgment oriented in their approach to crime, while auditors are process oriented in their approach to audits. In other words, fraudsters know how to think out of the box to solve problems and achieve their goals, while auditors rely too much on process and procedure to accomplish their missions. In the criminal’s world, judgment is more powerful than process.

We’ll leave it there (that’s right CNN).
Koss Corp.: Commit the fraud and cover it up [Fraud Files Blog]