News & Tech Tips

Social Security tax update: How high can it go?

Employees, self-employed individuals and employers all pay Social Security tax, and the amounts can get bigger every year. And yet, many people don’t fully understand the Social Security tax they pay.

If you’re an employee

If you’re an employee, your wages are hit with the 12.4% Social Security tax up to the annual wage ceiling. Half of the Social Security tax bill (6.2%) is withheld from your paychecks. The other half (also 6.2%) is paid by your employer, so you never actually see it. Unless you understand how the Social Security tax works and closely examine your pay statements, you may be blissfully unaware of the size of the tax. It’s potentially a lot!

The Social Security tax wage ceiling for 2024 is $168,600 (up from $160,200 for 2023). If your wages meet or exceed that ceiling, the Social Security tax for 2024 will be $20,906 (12.4% x $168,600). Half of that comes out of your paychecks, and your employer pays the other half.

If you’re self-employed

Self-employed individuals (sole proprietors, partners, and LLC members) know all too well how hard the Social Security tax can hit. That’s because they must pay the entire Social Security tax bill out of their own pockets, based on their net self-employment income. For 2024, the Social Security tax ceiling for net self-employment income is $168,600 (same as the wage ceiling for employees). So, if your net self-employment income for 2024 is $168,600 or more, you’ll pay the maximum $20,906 Social Security tax.

Projected future ceilings

The Social Security tax on your 2024 income is expensive enough, but it could get worse in future years — much worse, according to Social Security Administration (SSA) projections. That’s because the Social Security tax ceiling will continue to go up based on the inflation factor that’s used to determine the increases. In turn, maximum Social Security tax bills for higher earners will go up. The latest SSA projections for Social Security tax ceilings for the next nine years are:

  • $174,900 for 2025,
  • $181,800 for 2026,
  • $188,100 for 2027,
  • $195,900 for 2028,
  • $204,000 for 2029,
  • $213,600 for 2030,
  • $222,900 for 2031,
  • $232,500 for 2032 and
  • $242,700 for 2033.

These projected ceilings are not always accurate (they could be higher or lower). If the projected numbers pan out, the maximum Social Security tax on wages and net self-employment income in 2033 will be $30,095 (12.4% x $242,700).

Your future benefits

Despite what you pay in, you might receive more in Social Security benefits than you pay into the system. An Urban Institute report looked at some average situations. For example, a single man who earned average wages every year of his adult life and retired at age 65 in 2020 would have paid about $466,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes. But he can expect to receive about $640,000 in benefits during retirement. Of course, there are many factors involved, and each situation is unique. Plus, these calculations don’t account for the interest the Social Security tax dollars would have earned over the years.

Some people think the government has set up an account with their name on it to hold money to pay their future Social Security benefits. After all, that must be where those Social Security taxes on wages and self-employment income go. Sorry, but this is incorrect. There are no individual accounts — just a promise from the government.

Is the Social Security system financially solid? It’s on shaky ground. Congress has known that for years and has done nothing about it (although there have been many proposals on how to fix things). A Social Security Administration report states that “benefits are now expected to be payable in full on a timely basis until 2037, when the trust fund reserves are projected to become exhausted. At the point where the reserves are used up, continuing taxes are expected to be enough to pay 76% of scheduled benefits.”

The agency adds that “Congress will need to make changes to the scheduled benefits and revenue sources for the program in the future.” These changes could include a higher age to receive full benefits, additional Social Security tax hikes in the form of higher rates, some tax-law revision that effectively implements higher ceilings, or a combination of these.

Stay tuned

The Social Security tax paid by many individuals will continue to go up. If you operate a small business, there may be some strategies than can potentially cut your Social Security tax bill. If you’re an employee, you need to take Social Security into account in your financial planning. Contact us for details.

Why audited financial statements matter

Reliable financial reporting is key to any company’s success. Here’s why your business should at least consider investing in audited financial statements.

Weighing the differences

Most businesses maintain an in-house accounting system to manage their financials. The documents your staff prepares through your in-house accounting system are called “internally prepared financial statements.”

In many cases, internal financials are perfectly functional for the day-to-day operational needs of a small business. But they usually don’t follow every reporting standard prescribed under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

When an external CPA audits your financial statements, he or she will examine various accounting documents to check whether you’re following GAAP and, afterward, offer an opinion on your statements. If the auditor issues an “unqualified” opinion, he or she agrees with the methods your in-house team used to prepare your financial statements.

If a “qualified” opinion is issued, it usually means the auditor has identified one or more GAAP reporting methods that your company hasn’t followed. This doesn’t mean your financial statements are inaccurate; it just signifies that you didn’t prepare them according to GAAP. (There may be other reasons for a qualified opinion as well.)

Looking at both sides

Who cares whether you’re in compliance with GAAP? Lenders, investors, and other external stakeholders do. For example, banks may require you provide audited financial statements before they’ll approve loans, and sureties usually require them for bonding purposes. Some governmental agencies also require companies to provide audited statements to bid on contracts.

You may even save money. Small businesses with audited statements typically receive lower interest rates on loans than companies without audited statements. In addition, because of the extra steps an external auditor takes, audited financial statements are more likely than internally prepared statements to be free of reporting mistakes, such as data entry errors. For example, if your balance sheet shows that you bought a piece of equipment for $100,000, your auditor will double-check that figure by looking at original receipts.

Although audited financial statements can provide the benefits mentioned, they’re not something your business should leap into without foresight. In addition to requiring a financial investment, an outside audit will ask you and your employees to invest a substantial amount of time and energy toward its completion. You’ll need to gather and provide extensive documentation and even submit to interviews.

What’s right for your business?

If external stakeholders don’t require your company to provide audited financial statements, your CPA offers other lower-cost options, such as compiled or reviewed statements, which can help you gain insight into your company’s financial health. Contact us to determine what’s appropriate for your situation. If you decide you want an external audit of your financial statements, we’ll discuss timelines and responsibilities before fieldwork begins.


Surprise audits are proven to fight fraud

Four antifraud controls are associated with at least a 50% reduction in both fraud loss and duration, according to “Occupational Fraud 2024: A Report to the Nations,” published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). They are financial statement audits, reporting hotlines, surprise audits, and proactive data analysis. However, the ACFE study also found that two of these — surprise audits and proactive data analysis — are among the least commonly implemented controls. Here’s how your organization might benefit from conducting periodic surprise audits.

Financial statement audits vs. surprise audits

Business owners and managers often dismiss the need for surprise audits, mistakenly assuming their annual financial statement audits provide sufficient coverage to detect and deter fraud among their employees. However, financial statement audits shouldn’t be relied upon as an organization’s primary antifraud mechanism.

By comparison, a surprise audit more closely examines the company’s internal controls that are intended to prevent and detect fraud. Such audits aim to identify any weaknesses that could make assets vulnerable and determine whether anyone has already exploited those weaknesses to misappropriate assets.

Auditors usually focus on particularly high-risk areas, such as cash, inventory, receivables, and sales. They show up unexpectedly, usually when the owners suspect foul play, or randomly as part of the company’s antifraud policies. In addition, an auditor might follow a different process or schedule than during an annual financial statement audit. For example, instead of beginning audit procedures with cash, the auditor might first scrutinize receivables or vendor invoices during a surprise audit.

The element of surprise is critical because most fraud perpetrators are constantly on guard. Announcing an upcoming audit or performing procedures in a predictable order gives wrongdoers time to cover their tracks by shredding (or creating false) documents, altering records or financial statements, or hiding evidence.

Big benefits

The 2024 ACFE study demonstrates the primary advantages of surprise audits: lower financial losses and reduced duration of schemes. The median loss for organizations that conduct surprise audits is $75,000, compared with a median loss of $200,000 for those organizations that don’t conduct them — a 63% difference. This discrepancy is no surprise in light of how much longer fraud schemes go undetected in organizations that fail to conduct surprise audits. The median duration in those organizations is 18 months, compared with only nine months for organizations that perform surprise audits.

Surprise audits can have a strong deterrent effect, too. Companies should state in their fraud policies that random tests will be conducted to ensure internal controls aren’t being circumvented. If this isn’t enough to deter would-be thieves or convince current perpetrators to abandon their schemes, simply seeing guilty co-workers get swept up in a surprise audit should help.

Despite these benefits, the 2024 ACFE study found that less than half (42%) of the victim organizations reported performing surprise audits. Moreover, only 17% of companies with fewer than 100 employees have implemented this antifraud control (compared to 49% of those with 100 or more employees).

We can help

Your organization can’t afford to be lax in its antifraud controls. The ACFE estimates that occupational fraud costs the typical organization 5% of its revenue annually, and the median loss caused by fraud is a whopping $145,000. If your organization hasn’t already conducted surprise audits, contact us to discuss how they can be used to fortify its defenses against occupational theft and financial misstatement.



4 bookkeeping pitfalls for small businesses to avoid

Accurate bookkeeping is essential to operating a successful small business. The problems created by inadequate bookkeeping practices can have significant, long-lasting consequences. Here are four common pitfalls — and how to avoid them with the right knowledge and tools.

  1. Commingled bank accounts

It’s important to maintain a separate dedicated bank account for business transactions. Using the owner’s personal accounts for business purposes can have legal and tax implications. Separate accounts also make it easier to track business expenses and prepare tax returns.

With a separate bank account, you can set up payments for recurring business expenses. It’s also important to review and reconcile your business records to bank statements on a regular basis.

  1. Overreliance on spreadsheets

Excel is a user-friendly, versatile tool for many business purposes. But without extensive programming, it lacks automation and the ability to provide real-time updates. And using spreadsheets for bookkeeping purposes can lead to inconsistent treatment of similar transactions and data entry errors.

Excel should never be a substitute for dedicated accounting software, such as QuickBooks®, NetSuite® or Xero™. These cost-effective solutions streamline a small business’s financial reporting processes. Most programs integrate with bank and credit card accounts — and cloud-based platforms provide access from anywhere with the owner’s (or manager’s) laptop, tablet and smartphone.

  1. The use of personal credit for business expenses

Drawing from personal credit sources provides quick access to funds when you’re launching a new venture. However, they often come with high interest rates and fees. Using personal credit for business expenses also makes it harder to separate personal and business expenses for accounting and tax purposes.

To get a business credit line, you’ll need to contact your bank and complete an application. While the application process may take some time, it’s worth the effort. Credit lines help establish a credit history in the company’s name, which is essential as the business grows and needs additional capital to purchase major assets and pursue investment opportunities.

  1. Lax recordkeeping practices

Accountants dread when a small business owner shows up to tax preparation meetings with a shoebox of receipts — or no documentation at all. Well-prepared owners have organized records, including paper filing systems, digital storage, and backup solutions, to substantiate expenses for tax and accounting purposes.

By retaining original source documents — such as receipts, invoices, bank statements and contracts — you can track the business’s financial performance and file state and federal tax forms with ease. And you’re prepared if the IRS challenges any deductions or credits you claim for business-related items. Without source documents, the IRS is more likely to disallow business tax breaks and assess penalties and fines.

In general, business records must be retained for a period ranging from three to seven years, depending on the nature of the record. Contact us for specific record retention guidelines.

We can help

Implementing sound bookkeeping practices can empower you to improve your business’s financial management and increase confidence in your financial reporting. It reduces the stress of running a business and provides essential information for your business to thrive in today’s competitive markets. Contact us for help building a solid bookkeeping foundation.