The CARES Act Signed into Law –Brings Relief to Millions of Americans

the cares act

Clients have been asking about how this complex, comprehensive new law may apply to them. Whilst not everything here may be pertinent to your situation, every client will benefit from some aspect, and the answers to the most common questions are below.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is a $2 trillion bill meant to impact both individuals and businesses and contains significant tax-savings measures. It could affect prior tax years while also creating immediate cash-flow.

Impact on Individuals

Stimulus Checks

Perhaps the most impactful provision for American citizens is the CARES Act’s promise of cash payments of up to $1,200 per single individual and $2,400 for a married couple. Parents will also receive an additional $500 per qualifying child. Payments are phased-out for individuals with incomes greater than $75,000 and for married couples filing jointly with income greater than $150,000 up to around $198,000 depending on household size. (Unfortunately, my 18-year-old daughter will not qualify nor will any college students aged 19-23, much to their disappointment!)

Provisions are such that payments will be based on 2018 tax returns, though, like the Affordable Care Act’s tax premium credit, there is a true-up (adjustment) related to the amount for which you are eligible on the 2020 tax return. Nonresident aliens, dependents and estates and trusts are not eligible for a stimulus check.

Retirement Plan Rules

Since this bill aims to generate more access to cash, it loosens retirement fund rules. In particular, it waives the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 for coronavirus-related use. It also allows for the federal income tax on such distributions to be paid over a three-year term. Finally, these distributions can be contributed back into the retirement fund within three years with no impact on that year’s contribution limit.

The CARES Act also adds flexibility regarding loans from certain retirement accounts when used for coronavirus-related needs. The loan maximum is now the lesser of $100,000 or 100 percent of the accrued benefit. Repayment is also now delayed.

Retirees should note, the CARES Act temporarily waives the required minimum distribution (RMD) for 2020. So, if you don’t need the cash, you won’t be forced to cash-out your investment at a low value.

Charitable Contributions

For tax year 2020, up to $300 of cash contributions to charities will be considered in determining adjusted gross income (AGI) regardless of whether a taxpayer itemizes or not. The limit for C corporations has been raised to 25 percent of taxable income, up from 10 percent, and the prior limitation on deductions for charitable contributions of food inventory has been raised to 25 percent.

Impacts on Businesses

Small business owners might need to resort to borrowing or withdrawing from their retirement accounts as a quick way to access and then repaying, as described above. However, going forward there are better options:

Forgivable SBA Loans

The Paycheck Protection Program is arguably the most powerful piece of the legislation within the CARES Act for small business owners, the self-employed and independent contractors. It provides loans to affected small business owners to help them maintain payroll costs and keep people employed (for at least 4 months). The loans, or part of the loans, can be forgiven if you follow the rules and qualify. Tax credits of $5,000 per employee and deferment on payroll taxes is also part of the relief package.

Program highlights

  • There is no cost to apply.
  • It includes the self-employed and independent contractors (“gig workers”.)
  • The funding is meant to help retain workers, maintain payroll, cover rent/mortgage/utility expenses and interest on existing business loans for businesses affected by the pandemic.
  • The loan covers expenses dating back to February 15, to June 30, 2020
  • The loan can be forgiven and essentially turned into a non-taxable grant.
  • Your loan is long-term (maximum 10 years) and low-interest (maximum 4%).
  • You have an extended deferment period (6-12 months, depending on your lender) before you begin repayment.
  • There is no prepayment penalty.

How do I qualify for the program?

Start by contacting your bank or visiting SBA.gov. You will need to do the following:

  • Demonstrate your business was economically affected by COVID-19.
  • Sole proprietorships: submit schedules from their tax return filed (or to be filed) showing income and expenses from the sole proprietorship.
  • Independent contractors: submit Form 1099-MISC.
  • Self-employed individuals: submit payroll tax filings reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

How much funding can I receive?

The maximum amount the SBA can offer is 2.5 times the monthly average cost of the qualifying business’s documented payroll, mortgage, rent, interest and utility payments over the previous 12-month period. The maximum eligible amount is $10 million.

If you are a seasonal employer, the monthly average cost will be calculated differently. The SBA will use a 12-week period beginning either February 15, 2019, or March 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2019. (This formula might work for those with a fluctuating workforce such as caterers.)

How can I get my loan forgiven?

In the 8 weeks following your loan signing date, all eligible expenses can be forgiven if all documentation required by the Administrator is submitted.

You must have retained the equivalent payroll as during the previous 12 months. You may rehire or restore wages to qualify as long as you do it before June 30, 2020.

If you reduce any wages more than 25% or reduce headcount it may reduce in proportion the amount of the loan that will be forgiven.

The lender must make a decision within 60 days of your forgiveness application submission.

Note: The SBA has been given 30 days to issue official guidelines. The above is just a general guide and should not be relied upon. Make sure you consult with your own tax, legal and lending experts and do due diligence before acting.

See Also: Coronavirus – What the Viral Epidemic Means for Investors

More Help for Businesses

The following provisions get into the weeds. You may need the help of your CPA to navigate and maximize the benefit in your situation:

Employee Retention Credits

An employer who is subject to closure due to coronavirus will be offered a credit against employment taxes for each quarter for an amount equal to 50 percent of qualified wages for each employee.

There is a limit of $10,000 in qualified wages for any employee for all calendar quarters, and the credit is limited to the employment taxes owed when reduced by other applicable credits. If the employee retention credit exceeds this amount, the difference can be refunded as an overpayment.

Under this provision, an eligible employer is one who (a) was carrying on a trade or business during the calendar year 2020; (b) with respect to any calendar quarter for which (i) operations are fully or partially suspended due to orders from an appropriate government authority limiting commerce, travel, or group meeting due to COVID-19 or (ii) in which (beginning in first calendar quarter after 12/31/2019) there has been a significant decline in gross receipts (i.e., less than 50% gross receipts for the same quarter in the prior year and ending with calendar quarter for which gross receipts are greater than 80% same calendar quarter in the prior year.

Tax-exempt organizations may also benefit from the Employee Retention Credit.

Payroll Tax Deferral

Both employers and self-employed individuals may defer payment on the employer portion of either employment taxes or self-employment taxes during a “payroll tax deferral period” (December 31, 2021, and December 31, 2022). On these dates, 50 percent of deferred taxes must be paid.

The deferral period is defined in this legislation as beginning on the date of enactment and ending on January 1, 2021. It does not appear that this provision will be retroactive to January 1, 2020.

Relaxed Net Operating Loss Rules

Previously, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) created rules that limited the use of net operating losses (NOL). However, many of these rules would be suspended under the CARES Act:

  1. NOLs from 2018, 2019 or 2020 may be carried back for five years.
  2. There is a temporary removal of the 80 percent limit on the use of NOL carryforwards.

Businesses impacted by this rule should consider seeking to carry back losses that will allow them to obtain a refund.

Alternative Minimum Tax Credit Refund

The TCJA entitled C corporations with alternative minimum tax credits to receive a refund of these credits over the four-year period of 2018-2021. The CARES Act allows corporations to receive the refund over the two-year period of 2018-2019.

Amendment of the Business Interest Limitation

Under Internal Revenue Code Section 163(j), the use of net business interest expense was limited to 30 percent of Adjusted Taxable Income. The CARES Act amends this rule for tax years 2019 and 2020 by increasing that limit up to 50 percent.  An additional benefit of this amendment is that, since 2020 income is likely to be lower than 2019 income for many businesses, it is possible to elect the use of the 2019 Adjusted Taxable Income for the 2020 tax year, as well.

Bonus Depreciation Fix

When the TCJA was passed, it was intended to permit businesses to write-off costs associated with Qualified Improvement Property (QIP). However, there was an error in drafting the legislation. The CARES Act fixes the error and specifically permits retroactive bonus depreciation. So, 2018 and 2019 tax returns may be amended to provide a source of cash. This provision will be especially helpful for the hospitality industry.

Excise Tax Temporary Exemption

The CARES Act, in its current form, also provides an exemption from the excise tax on alcohol that is used to produce hand sanitizer.

What all this means to you

This newly enacted law provides sorely needed relief to millions of Americans who literally do not know how they will survive this crisis financially. For those who are fortunate to still have their livelihood, it allows them to continue to participate in our consumer economy and stimulate it. Small businesses who didn’t know if they’d be able to keep their employees, can maintain their payroll costs and keep the lights on. State and local governments will have financial relief as they and healthcare workers stand on the frontlines of this pandemic in their communities. While imperfect and with its critics, the CARES Act was critical to helping our nation and all of its citizens. The passage of it is a good thing.

Do Your Part

The best way to help the economy in the immediate future is to stay home, stay safe and stop the spread of the disease.  So, if you are looking to do your part and you aren’t quite sure how, stay home, watch that Tiger King show that everyone keeps talking about, wash your hands and keep your distance.

Kidding aside. We hope that you and yours are healthy and safe. Take care and Stay the course.


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