Show me the money!
Reconciling surplus operating funds should be a relatively straightforward task every year, but many associations aren't quite sure what to do. It would be ill-advised to assume that any and all surpluses should be rolled forward to cover next year's operating expenses OR simply transferred to your replacement reserve. Likewise, an association's cash position may require an injection if deficits are ignored.
Common interest communities are non-profit member organizations are required by law in many states to review reconciliation annually. Spending down a surplus during the fiscal year (FY) in which it is accrued helps avoid the need to reconcile and makes decisions about material savings easier.
Most folks you ask will recommend keeping between 1 and 3 months of operating expenses available in your operating account at all times. That operating cushion allows you to make small to moderate capital improvements and weather periods of owner assessment delinquency without facing a cash flow crisis. Does your community have an operating fund policy in place? That examples guides to an 8% minimum and 15% maximum cash surplus (total) in relation to the annual budget.
Surplus funds are considered Retained Earnings (RE) in accounting parlance. ASC 606 is a revenue recognition standard that applies to common interest communities that have accrual accounting. Learn more here and by reading Presentation Of Contract Assets And Contract Liabilities In ASC 606).
Rolling retained earnings into your reserve or letting them accumulate in your operating account does not satisfy the requirement of reconciliation.
If you need more funds in your reserve, budget for it!
If you need more funds in your operating account, budget for it! - OR - create a special assessment.
Holding your homeowners' prior year assessments hostage is an inappropriate way to "buffer" your financial accounts.
In WA State, RCW 64.34.356 - Surplus Funds is unambiguous. Certain CIC statutes in other states contain similar language. Note that allocating surplus funds to a reserve account may not reduce future common expense assessments and may therefore be illegal.
Unless otherwise provided in the declaration, any surplus funds of the association remaining after payment of or provision for common expenses and any prepayment of reserves shall, in the discretion of the board of directors, either be paid to the unit owners in proportion to their common expense liabilities or credited to them to reduce their future common expense assessments.
WUCIOA statute RCW 64.90.475 - Accounts and Records - Reconciliation addresses the same topic:
(1) The association must establish and maintain its accounts and records in a manner that will enable it to credit assessments for common expenses and specially allocated expenses, including allocations to reserves, and other income to the association, and to charge expenditures, to the account of the appropriate units in accordance with the provisions of the declaration.
(2) To assure that the unit owners are correctly assessed for the actual expenses of the association, the accounts of the association must be reconciled at least annually unless the board determines that a reconciliation would not result in a material savings to any unit owner. Unless provided otherwise in the declaration, any surplus funds of the association remaining after the payment of or provision for common expenses and any prepayment of reserves must be paid annually to the unit owners in proportion to their common expense liabilities or credited to them to reduce their future common expense assessments.
DECLARATION / CC&Rs
N.B. Statutory language in both aforementioned statues contains the provision unless provided otherwise in the declaration. If your declaration (CC&Rs) contains its own criteria, that's how you reconcile. The language below and note that it mandates an automatic reconciliation unless the Board holds a vote to determine otherwise.
In order that the Unit Owners are correctly assessed for the actual expenses of the Association, unless the Board determines a reconciliation would not result in a material savings to any Unit Owner, the accounts of the Association shall be reconciled at least annually, and any material surpluses (or deficits) in the accounts shall be credited to the benefit of or paid to (or charged to the account of or assessed against) the Unit Owners who paid the surplus (or owe the deficit).
A more precise version of the language above sets parameters that help avoid subjectivity under certain conditions, but does not completely eliminate the opportunity for discretion and debate about the definition of material savings:
In order that the Unit Owners are correctly assessed for the actual expenses of the Association, the entire amount of all surpluses and deficits that exceed three-point-five percent (3.5%) of the Association’s annual operating budget must be reconciled. Surpluses and deficits that do not exceed three-point-five percent (3.5%) of the Association’s annual operating budget must be reconciled unless the Board determines, not later than one-hundred-twenty-two (122) days after the Association’s fiscal year-end, that a reconciliation would not result in a material savings to any Unit Owner. Reconciliation of expenses shall credit to the benefit of or pay to (or charge to the account of or assess against) the Unit Owners who paid the surplus (or owe the deficit). The Association shall complete its annual reconciliation actions not later than two-hundred-fourteen (214) days after the Association’s fiscal year-end.
FEDERAL TAX IMPLICATIONS
Operating surpluses may have Federal tax ramifications for your association. The Revenue Ruling 70-604 Election must be ratified by over half the votes in attendance at an Annual Meeting in order for to elect to file the Form 1120 instead of 1120-H.
View tips for Form 1120-H.Refer to SECTION 19 - INCOME TAX MATTERS as well as APPENDIX A1 and APPENDIX A2: 70-604 ELECTION LETTER RECOMMENDED FORMAT in the Schwindt & Co. Treasurer's Accounting & Procedures Manual for more information.
The Form 1120-H corporate tax rate is 30% given that the form itself is quite simple. The Form 1120 corporate tax rate is the standard 21%. CICs that have a majority of their cash invested and earning consistent returns may have non-membership income such that the Form 1120 provides a superior tax-advantaged election because it reduces the Federal income tax bill. 5% or 10% of $50,000 or $100,000 (or whatever your annual interest income may be) can be a material savings over time. The amount saved on an annual basis should exceed whatever additional costs are involved with filing the Form 1120. Check with your CPA.