Q & A

How do I record a US$ or other foreign currency transaction?

Staff Post
By Heather Young

Accounting logic says that your financial statements must be denominated in one currency. Many organizations make regular payments to foreign artists, suppliers and others – so how can they record the transactions correctly?

Let’s take two cases.

In the first instance, let’s assume you only have a Canadian dollar bank account. That means you’re purchasing foreign currency (e.g. bank drafts or wire transfers) as needed. The bank calculates the cost in Canadian dollars by applying today’s exchange rate. This becomes your expense.

Suppose you’ve engaged an American soloist and agreed to pay them $2,500. The day you purchase the US draft, the US dollar is trading at 1.23. Your artist fee expense becomes 2,500 x 1.23 = $3,075.00, and you’ll see that amount being withdrawn from your Canadian bank account.

In this instance, the $2,500 US dollars don’t appear in your accounting records: the only value that counts is the Canadian equivalent. And, yes, that amount depends on the day! Yesterday the US dollar might have been worth 1.22 and tomorrow it might be 1.24! That doesn’t matter: what counts is the prevailing rate on the day of the transaction, because that determines how many Canadian dollars came out of your account. It is important to add a memo/note to the journal entry to indicate that the fee was $2,500 US dollars. This will create a link between the original fee agreement and the amount withdrawn from the bank, in case it is ever in question.

The process is different – and a little more complicated – if your organization owns a US dollar bank account. Now, the $2,500 US dollars must be part of your accounting entry, because that’s the number of US dollars you’re expending. Your accounting system must accomplish the following:

Record the number of units of the foreign currency you hold. (So, if you have $3,456 US dollars in the US bank account, that’s the number you should be looking at on your balance sheet.)
Record the correct value of that asset. (So, if you have $3,456 US dollars and today’s rate is 1.23, those US dollars are presently worth $3,456 x 1.23 = $4,250.88 Canadian.)
Record US revenues and expenses at the Canadian equivalent. (So, if you’re using $2,500 of those US dollars to pay your soloist, you must record an expense of $3,075 as calculated above.)

Many organizations deal with the problem by pairing the US bank account with a second asset account, named “Revalue US Dollars” or something similar. The foreign bank account captures the number of units of the foreign currency you hold. The paired account captures the difference in value to the Canadian dollar.

Thus, if your organization held $3,456 US dollars and the exchange rate was 1.23, the Revalue US Dollars account would contain $794.88.

Your entry to pay the American soloist would look like this:

How to record a US$ transaction - journal entry 1

This entry states the true cost of the soloist; it updates your US bank balance correctly; and it revalues your asset (those US bucks) according to today’s exchange rate.


Let’s take another example – a deposit. Suppose an American visitor paid for their ticket in US dollars. If they paid $45.00 US a day when the US dollar was worth 1.23, your entry would look like this:

How to record a US$ transaction - journal entry 2

Now: the face value of that ticket may have been some other amount. But, as a matter of fact, at today’s exchange rate you made $55.35 Canadian – so that becomes your revenue. 

As the month proceeds, you might have any number of transactions, each valued at the day’s exchange rate. Because the rate floats up and down, the amount in your “Revalue US Dollar” account eventually becomes inaccurate. For that reason, it’s important to “true up” the value of your US dollars from time to time. 

Many organizations would make a separate entry on the last day of the month to update their US currency to the month-end rate. 

Using the examples above, we started with $3,456.00 US dollars. We spent $2,500.00 and deposited $45.00 – bringing the account balance to $1,001.00. 

And, the Revalue US Dollar account started at $794.88; we subtracted $575.00 and added 10.35, bringing the account balance to 230.23.

Let’s say that the exchange rate on the last day of the month was 1.25. At that rate, our $1,001.00 is actually worth $1,251.25. Our month-end balance sheet misstates the value of the US dollars. The following entry “trues up” to the current Canadian equivalent. 

How to record a US$ transaction - journal entry 3

Note that this adjustment isn’t tied to any particular transaction: it simply corrects for the month-end exchange rate. The “pick-up” is allocated to a revenue account that specifically captures currency gain or loss. In months when the US dollar increases in value, you show a gain, because your “greenbacks” are worth more. But, when the Canadian dollar surges, you show a loss on your American currency.

These techniques allow you to have a foreign currency bank account – while still ensuring that your asset, and your revenues and expenses, are properly stated at their Canadian values. 
 

Should my company capitalize and amortize the costs of sets and costumes?

Capital assets generally include items of significant value that are owned for longer than a year, and used in operations. Spending on production can vary widely from show to show and company to company. If you are spending significant sums in these areas, it’s worth exploring this issue.

Let’s take the example of an opera company that has adopted an accounting policy of capitalizing its sets and costumes and amortizing them over 7 years, based on the fact that it draws from a “canon” of works, and therefore remounts shows from time to time.

One way to look at capital assets is as a deferred expense. You pay all the bills in Year 1, but (through amortization) you recognize the expense over the estimated useful life of the asset (in this example 7 years), so that each year of use bears its proportional estimated share of the cost (in this example 1/7 per year).

The argument in favour of capitalizing and amortizing sets and costumes would be that you expected to use them actively over the estimated 7 years, either in your own shows or as rental properties. 

Let’s work through the accounting effect, step by step. In the first year of adopting this policy, you would record your sets and costumes as assets, not expenses. This would have the effect of improving your bottom line. You would of course need to record one year of amortization expense – that is, 1/7th of the purchase price. The remaining 6/7ths of the expense would be postponed to future years. 

Onward to Year 2, and a new year of programming with (potentially) a new group of directors and designers. Will those artists be content to reuse Year 1’s sets and costumes? It seems likely that, in most cases, while they may reuse some “stock” items, they would prefer to create something new and different. In that instance, the company would incur new expenses for set and costume purchases. Once you set up an amortization policy, you need to follow it -- so you would amortize Year 2’s production items in the same way. Financially, the result would still feel pretty sweet, because in this year you recognize the cost of 1/7 of Year 1 purchases plus 1/7 of Year 2 purchases... but you can see where this is heading.

By the time you hit Year 7, the bottom-line advantage has disappeared because you've got seven active amortization cycles. You're also saddled with a certain amount of extra bookkeeping – and, more importantly, production expense becomes difficult to interpret. Imagine looking at the Year 7 income statement. You know for a certainty what your box office revenue was, but because related expenses and revenues are no longer matched within a fiscal period, it becomes trickier to interpret the financial result. The set and costume expense in Year 7 does not capture the cost of Year 7 shows, but rather 1/7 of the costs for each of the previous seven years.

The real "bottom line" to this story is that you can't out-run expense. You need to recognize it sooner or later. Our opera company might have been tempted to adopt the amortization policy as a gambit to improve the bottom line at a point when things weren't going well – but over the longer haul this approach doesn't put you any further ahead.

Now – let’s look at the other side of the coin. If you expense sets and costumes during the year of the show for which they were created, expense recognition is clear. That's very helpful for the purpose of evaluating financial results. But, it's also true that companies, especially larger companies in the opera and ballet worlds, DO remount productions and rent productions to other companies. If you don't amortize the cost, those future uses have no cost attached to them – and the financial statements for those years could be seen as misstated by the amount of expense that perhaps should have been attributed to them.

Expensing items in the year of the production means that companies may own a lot of stock – sets, costumes, props, etc. – that's not acknowledged on the balance sheet as an asset. However, that is how the set and costume expense is typically handled, in the experience of Young Associates staff. 

The question for management is which treatment best reflects the company’s financial results? And, which treatment best applies generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) such as cost-benefit and materiality? Managers need to evaluate whether the advantage of matching revenue and expense recognition outweighs the possible misstatement of future bottom lines. 

This would be an excellent topic to discuss with your accountant.

Click here for more q and a's on capital assets. 

At what point would our accumulated surplus be so large that we’d be in trouble with the Charities Directorate?

The Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency does, indeed, have rules around accumulation of property. The particular rule that charities are probably thinking about if they’re worried about the size of their accumulated surplus is the disbursement quota (DQ). The purpose of the DQ is to establish a minimum requirement for spending on charitable activities, with reference to the wealth that a charity has accumulated. As long as you maintain an appropriate level of charitable activity – measured through your spending – you are compliant with this rule.

CRA provides guidance about its spending requirements here. Note that there are separate rules for charitable organizations, which exist to deliver charitable programs and services, and foundations, which exist to support charitable programs and services.

Young Associates works with many smaller charitable organizations. Most groups in this category are unlikely to have accumulated property at a level that would cause non-compliance with the CRA. However, this is an issue that may involve complex legal and financial concepts. If you have concerns, it is wise to discuss your situation with a professional.

CRA defines its requirement for charitable organizations as follows:

If the average value of a registered charity's property not used directly in charitable activities or administration during the 24 months before the beginning of the fiscal period exceeds $100,000, the charity's disbursement quota is:
3.5% of the average value of that property.

The interpretation of this hinges on what property is not used directly in charitable activities or administration. CRA lists real estate and investments as examples. 

A charity, for instance, may hold long-term investments such as units in a mutual fund, and use the resulting interest revenue in its operations. However, the principal sits intact for multiple years, not directly used for charitable activity. (This is distinct from the case of a charity that places short-term investments to earn some interest revenue before the investment matures and the principal winds up in a chequing account, available for spending.)

A charity may also own a building that it doesn’t currently occupy; this may be the case for institutions such as hospitals, universities and churches, which may have considerable real estate holdings and needs that change over time.

Once you have identified property that meets CRA’s definition of “not used directly in charitable activities or administration,” you must calculate its average value over the two years before the start of the current fiscal year. CRA provides some latitude in how the average may be calculated. If your organization needs to make this calculation, the method for assessing value and calculating the average over time would be a good topic for discussion with your CPA.

Last step: calculate 3.5% of the average value. That yields the amount your organization is obliged to spend on its charitable activities or administration during the current year. 

Let's say your charity owns an investment portfolio, and you determined that its average value over the last 24 months was $100,000. Your DQ for the current year would therefore be $3,500.

You can see that this is actually a pretty low bar to jump over! Most organizations with the capacity to build a $100,000 investment portfolio would have operations that demanded more than $3,500 in program and admin spending. CRA’s rule is set at a level that catches inactive charities, but that is unlikely to cause compliance issues for most charities that are actively carrying out their mandates. 

T4A’s: Should we or shouldn’t we?

Staff Post
By Heather Young

According to the Canada Revenue Agency, fees for services provided by contract staff should be reported on a T4A slip in Box 048.

CRA’s Guide – titled RC4157 Deducting Income Tax on Pension & Other Income, and Filing the T4A Summary – directs payers to: “Enter any fees or other amounts paid for services. Do not include GST/HST paid to the recipient for these services.”

A couple of observations.

The CRA makes no distinction regarding who provided the services. Many companies assume T4A slips are for freelancers – but that’s not what the Guide says. An email to the Canadian Payroll Association’s InfoLine confirmed that incorporated businesses should also receive T4A slips.

And for sure HST registration makes no difference! Every year, clients’ contract staff tell Young Associates bookkeepers that they don’t want a T4A slip because they have an HST number. Whether or not a contractor charges HST is irrelevant to the payer’s T-slip obligation.

Make no mistake: this has nothing to do with individual preferences. Our job is to do our best to help our clients – the payers – comply with the Income Tax Act.

We hear all sorts of variations from payers too. Some companies are willing to issue T4As to freelancers who work under their own name but not to those who have a company name. Other organizations make apparently arbitrary decisions; for instance, that they’re willing to issue T4As to actors but they don’t want to generate slips for technicians.

Indeed, there’s a lot of confusion out there – and, to boot, a tacit acknowledgement on the part of the CRA that the T4A requirement is unclear.

CRA’s Guide RC4157 goes on to say: “Currently the CRA is not assessing penalties for failures relating to the completion of box 048.”

We don’t take this as a blanket pass for organizations to do whatever they want – and we don’t think you should either.

The wisdom from the Canadian Payroll Association – experts in the field – is that organizations should implement a process for issuing T4A slips to contractors so that when the CRA provides clear guidance they are able to comply immediately.

We can add to this some experience of payroll audits, where CRA examiners have scrutinized companies’ practices around T4A slip preparation.

Young Associates’ position is that clients need to work with their auditors and boards to interpret the Guide as best they can for their own situation. We always advocate for CRA compliance – and, if anything, for a more conservative interpretation that protects you from unwelcome attention from the government.

We appreciate comments on this post, although please note that Young Associates specializes in services for organizations. If you are an individual with a question about a T4A issue related to personal tax, we suggest that you contact a bookkeeper or accountant who prepares personal tax returns. 

I understand that assets and equity both have to do with the value in my organization. Why don’t they match?

Assets are items that your company owns. These can be tangible or intangible, and they can be current or capital. See the glossary for more detailed definitions.

Equity, also known as Net Assets, represents the organization’s residual value – the amount of value left over after Liabilities have been subtracted from what you own.

If your organization had no liabilities, then its assets would equal its equity. This may be the case for very tiny organizations, but otherwise rarely happens. Most organizations accrue liabilities in the normal course of day to day operations.

For instance, if you open a credit account with a supplier, they will invoice you for goods or services and allow you a period of time – often a month – in which to pay. For that month, you are officially in debt, although you aren’t in any trouble! Your balance sheet needs to show that the supplier has a claim on a portion of your assets. You own a certain amount of cash, receivables and other assets… but your organization’s residual value is lower by the value of the outstanding debt.

What’s the difference between holiday pay and time in lieu?

‘Holiday pay’ and ‘Time in lieu’ are actually very different. Holiday pay is pay for ‘standard’ holidays, either public or at least consistently recognized by the employer. Time in lieu is paid time off in exchange for overtime work.

Holiday pay is pay for days that an employee doesn’t have to work, because they are public holidays. In Ontario, these days are: New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Public holidays vary in different jurisdictions. Also, some employers choose to provide holiday pay for days which are not official public holidays, but are frequently observed. For example, in Ontario, employers often acknowledge Civic Holiday the first Monday in August. Public holiday pay is based on the previous four weeks of work, and can be calculated here. The calculation i:s (regular wages from 4 weeks previous + vacation pay from 4 weeks previous) / 20. You add up the last month of earnings and divide by 20 because there are 20 working days in a normal month.

In the entertainment field — and others — it’s not uncommon for employers to ask their staff to work on a public holiday. Employees have the option to agree in writing to work the day and receive either public holiday pay plus premium pay for the hours worked on the holiday OR their regular rate plus holiday pay on a ‘substitute’ day off. In this case, the holiday rate would be calculated on the four weeks previous to the substitute holiday, not the original holiday. Some jobs do not entitle employees to take public holidays off. More details on public holiday pay in Ontario can be found here.

‘Time in lieu’ is paid time instead of overtime pay. The Employment Standards Act sets out rules on overtime pay; in most cases it is time-and-a-half (1 ½ times regular pay) for hours worked beyond 44 in a week. An employee and employer can agree in writing to time in lieu, also sometimes called ‘banked time’. In Ontario, if an employee has agreed to bank overtime hours, the employer must provide 1 ½ hours of paid time off for each hour of overtime worked. The time off must be taken within 3 months or, if an agreement is made in writing, within 12 months. If employment ends before the employee takes the paid time off, the employer must pay him or her overtime pay instead.

Find more information on paid time off in Ontario here.