Cash flow troubles can get you in more than just debt:
CFOs can be liable for Payroll Tax liability, potentially criminal
With the economy being sluggish and, in some regions, stalled and even worse, a lot of businesses both large and small are feeling the crunch. Cash isn’t coming easily for anyone, and the cost of running the business and employing workers just keeps going up even if revenues don’t. Managing cash flow is important when there is cash to manage, but keeping it all going when there isn’t much coming in takes real skill and planning. Knowing where to cut or limit expenses is essential, but knowing what NOT to forgo when paying the bills can be just as critical if not more so. You don’t pay the light bill, maybe the lights to out. You don’t pay payroll taxes, maybe you go to jail.
A recent article on CFO.com discusses the findings where, in cases where payroll taxes were unpaid by the business, specific individuals were held directly and personally responsible for the liability. And the liability is not contained solely within the walls of the C-level; it may extend to any and all individuals considered to be responsible. Those who control the purse strings, making the daily decisions on what to and what not to pay, are the folks being identified as responsible for the failure to pay whether they were able to come up with the funds or not.
Responsible individuals, according to the penalty, may include corporate officers, directors, shareholders, bookkeepers and even third parties, such as CPAs, or corporate counsel. In exceptional cases, responsible individuals can have criminal tax liability for failure to pay payroll taxes.
To be fair, insufficient funds may seem like a logical reason for not paying payroll taxes. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in another case, United States v. Easterday, 564 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2009), determined that Easterday could be convicted of a crime even though he may have been able to prove that his company didn’t have enough funds to pay the payroll taxes.
Accounting professionals working with businesses and acting as the Trusted Advisor can help their clients avoid facing this type of decision and risk by helping them to monitor and actively manage their businesses more closely – at an operational as well as financial level. Rather than relying upon a current bank account balance or after-the-fact financial reporting to provide the information for making decisions each day, business owners need continuous, real time, actionable data to help them keep the business going forward, and to help keep them out of trouble.
With better information, trend analysis and a little forecasting, accounting services and consultative advice from a trusted accounting professional does not simply help the business stay in business, it could help prevent the business owner, CFO or controller from having to wear an unfashionable orange jumpsuit and shackles.