The past year witnessed plenty of head-spinning developments in the worlds of accounting and taxes, and AccountingToday.com (along with its predecessor site WebCPA) was there to chart the latest developments.

1. The No. 1 topic followed by readers was Congress’s efforts to pass extensions of various expiring tax provisions and unemployment benefits. Stories on the unemployment extension alone accounted for the top three stories of the year. The top five stories were about extensions of either tax breaks or unemployment benefits, or both. The same piece of legislation often contained extensions of various tax breaks and unemployment benefits, culminating earlier this month when Congress passed a bill extending them both.

Our top story by far in this category was Senate Passes Unemployment Extension, which covered an extension that occurred in July. Most recently, Senate Passes Bush Tax Cut and Unemployment Extension received much attention as well. Unemployment has been a concern in recent years for not only millions of individuals across the United States, but also their accountants, tax preparers, friends and family members. For all our readers who struggled with the problem this year, we wish you the best of luck in the New Year with your job search.

2. Actor Wesley Snipes, who recently began his three-year prison term for failing to pay his income taxes for three years in a row, was once again a consistent source of fascination this past year. While we have covered the Snipes saga in some depth throughout the year and in previous years, a relatively brief item (Wesley Snipes Asks for Retrial after Starr Arrest) on Snipes’ lawyer’s request for a retrial after one of the witnesses against him, the actor’s former investment adviser, was arrested for embezzling money from Snipes and other celebrities, attracted the most reader interest. Unfortunately we did miss covering the fact that Snipes managed to make an appearance on one of the last episodes of Larry King Live shortly before he reported to jail. We already miss both Larry and Wesley, and hope they will be back soon.

3. One of the most surprising stories to top the list this year was IRS to Honor Medical Resident FICA Refund Claims. The story often seemed to show up among the most read stories on weekends for some reason, even months after it originally ran in March. Subsequent follow-up articles on the Supreme Court deciding to hear a case on the medical residents’ right to be exempted from FICA payroll taxes after April 2005 attracted less attention, though. All we can guess is that the medical residents had far more pressing things to do than follow the latest developments on an accounting Web site, but we do hope they’ll pay us another visit when the High Court eventually hands down its ruling.

3. Health care reform has been a topic that dominated news coverage for much of last year and into this year as well. Senior editor Roger Russell’s article, Health Care Reform Will Affect HSAs, FSAs and More, appeared only a few days after President Obama signed the bill into law, and expertly explained some of the many wrinkles in the bill.

4. One provision of the health care reform law that was little noticed at the time of passage but soon attracted opposition from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers was the expanded 1099 filing requirement. The provision was intended to help pay for the cost of the package by requiring businesses to start filing 1099-MISC forms whenever they buy $600 or more of goods or services from another vendor. There have been numerous efforts by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress to repeal the new requirements before they take effect in 2013 for purchases made in 2012, but so far none has succeeded (see Senate Fails to Repeal 1099 Requirements). We’ll be keeping a close eye next year on this topic.

5. Congress was more successful in getting another bill passed that aimed to provide both tax breaks and hiring incentives to small businesses. The bill had a number of names as it made its way through Congress. It passed in June in the House as the Small Business Jobs Tax Relief Act of 2010 (see House Passes Small Business Tax Relief Bill). Now more commonly known as the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, hopefully it will help drive down the unemployment rate in the coming year.

6. We released a number of special reports this year, including our annual rankings of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, the Best Accounting Firms to Work For, the Top New Products, and the VAR 100. The most popular one, as usual, appeared to be the perennial Top 100 Firms ranking.

7. Roger Russell scored another hit with Tax Season Preview: Prepare for Confusion. The story highlighted the many tax law changes and withholding headaches produced by the stimulus bill, including the Making Work Pay Credit. The Making Work Pay Credit is going away at the end of the year, and is now being replaced by a 2 percentage point reduction in Social Security payroll taxes, thanks to the recent tax cut extension that President Obama signed into law earlier this month. Payroll processors are still making adjustments, so prepare for some confusion next tax season too.

8.  The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is always a reliable source of eye-opening reports on the workings of the IRS and the impact of the tax laws. The article, IRS to Get Tougher on Sole Proprietor Audits, attracted the most attention of the articles this year on the TIGTA watchdog’s reports.

9. The debate over the expiring Bush tax cuts consumed much of Congress’s lame duck session recently. The article, Millionaires Offer to Let Bush Tax Cuts Expire, about a group of 45 millionaires who signed a letter to President Obama offering to allow their tax rates to go up, was one of our most popular this year. The article also attracted a fair number of angry reader comments, including from some savvy tax preparers who pointed out that if the millionaires really wanted to give away their money to Uncle Sam, there is already an address at the Treasury where they could do exactly that.

10. The Most Influential People in Accounting report included responses from various leaders in the accounting and tax professions to our question about where they saw the move toward International Financial Reporting Standards going. The resulting article, IFRS - Convergence or Adoption?, attracted much reader interest.

Apart from those top 10 topics, some of the other subjects to spark reader attention this past year were the extension of the Homebuyer Tax Credit (House Extends Deadline for Homebuyer Tax Credit) and the IRS’s new requirements for tax preparer registration, testing, continuing education, and electronic filing (see IRS Spells Out New Preparer E-file Requirements and IRS Prepares Preparers for Preparer Requirements).

Readers also followed the ongoing debate over fair value measurement and its contribution to the financial crisis (Accounting Boards Define Fair Value), as well as recent news about the brand new payroll withholding tables from the IRS now that the tax cut legislation has finally gone through (IRS Issues Withholding Details for Payroll Tax Cut).

There were, of course, other important developments this year, including the sudden retirement of the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s longtime chairman Bob Herz and his replacement by Leslie Seidman, who was named chairman just last week after filling in for two months as acting chairman (see Seidman Gets Nod as Permanent FASB Chairman).

The deliberations by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Standard Setting for Private Companies were also a major item this year, especially when the panel voted to recommend that a separate standards board be established for privately held companies (see Panel Favors Separate Board for Private Companies). The Financial Accounting Foundation is still awaiting a final report from the panel, though, and it will be making its decision sometime next year on whether to accept the recommendation. Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to render its decision by the middle of next year on whether to go ahead with incorporating IFRS into the U.S. financial reporting system for publicly traded companies. We’ll be watching to see what happens in both of these areas.

The controversy over bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers’ misuse of so-called Repo 105 repurchase transactions stirred up a hornet’s nest of denunciations after it was exposed by the bankruptcy examiner in March, culminating with the lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo this month against Lehman’s former auditor Ernst & Young (see Cuomo Sues Ernst & Young over Lehman Audits). That recalled a brouhaha that erupted earlier in the year over Goldman Sachs’ nondisclosures of some dubious mortgage-backed securities it had packaged and marketed to clients (see Goldman to Pay $550M Penalty to the SEC).

Mergers among accounting firms continued this year despite, or perhaps because of, the economy. Among the many firms getting hitched this past year were Marcum LLP and Stonefield Josephson (see Marcum Merges in Stonefield)  and Weiser LLP and Mazars (see Weiser Joins Mazars).

In the technology world, cloud computing has become a hot catchphrase, displacing the similar concept of SaaS, and cloud accounting is also becoming a bigger trend among accounting software developers (see Three Flavors of Cloud). Vendors also promoted their ability to run accounting and tax software apps on Apple's hot new iPad.

Financial regulatory reform was a major topic this year in Washington, before and after Congress passed the final Dodd-Frank bill in July (see Obama Signs Financial Reform Bill into Law). Now that control of the House and the purse strings has fallen into Republican hands, some lawmakers are intent on “defunding” the Wall Street reform law, as well as health care reform. Whether or not that happens, and what effect that will have on the Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS, and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board will be another fascinating area to watch in 2011.

In the meantime, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year ahead, and a relatively stress-free tax season too.

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