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The CARES Act Impact on Small Businesses

Business Deductions Business Finance Business Planning Small Business Taxes
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After some short deliberation in Congress, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) was signed into law on March 27. At TaxAct, we have spent countless hours reading the law, viewing informative webinars, digging through analysis, and making direct contact with the IRS. While there will be continued clarification around the law, including IRS news releases and notices, we’re here to try to help break down how this law impacts small businesses.

Paycheck Protection Program

Note: The Paycheck Protection Program closed as of August 8, 2020. Once Congress reconvenes in September, there is a possibility it could reopen. We will continue to update this page as new information is announced.

Let’s start with business loans.

As a small business – meaning you have 500 employees or less – you may have qualified for a Paycheck Protection Program Loan (PPP). Sole proprietorships, independent contractors, and other self-employed individuals all qualified as a small business. Your business must have paid salaries and payroll taxes for employees or contractors. Additional qualifications for this loan included:

  • The loan is necessary for the business because of the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
  • You are not receiving duplicate funds for the same uses from another Small Business Administration program.
  • The loan will be used for allowable purposes (described below) for the business.

Allowable purposes included eligible payroll (such as employee salaries, paid sick or medical leave, etc.), mortgage interest, rent, pre-existing debt, and utility payments.

At the time this article was last updated (August 26, 2020), Congress had passed legislation known as the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020, which is retroactive to March 27, 2020. The eight-week period to use the loan was extended to 24 weeks. That legislation includes a change to the 75/25 ratio rule for payroll by reducing the ratio to 60% for payroll expenses and 40% for other expenses. This means if at least 60% of the loan proceeds are used for payroll, the entire loan amount may be forgiven.

Congress authorized up to $349 billion dollars for this loan program – but that amount was used up in a matter of days. In response to the quick utilization of the original authorized amount, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Enhancement Act in late April. That provided an additional $310 billion dollars for the loan program. There was a fair amount of criticism that only larger and wealthier companies could access the first round of PPP loans. With the second round of funding, the data shows many more small businesses have accessed the funds.

For more information, please refer to the U.S. Department of Treasury Paycheck Protection Program website, which includes more details about the program.

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans

Small Business Association (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans are an option for some small businesses. The SBA works with states to provide low-interest federal disaster loans for businesses that are experiencing a substantial economic injury from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The maximum amount of the loan is $2 million and can be used to pay off debt, payroll, and other bills that cannot be paid due to COVID-19. Some borrowers can get an advance on the loan, with up to $10,000 of the loan considered a grant that does not have to be paid back.

See the U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance website for more information.

Unemployment and Small Businesses

Traditionally, if you are self-employed or consider yourself an independent contractor, you can’t claim unemployment compensation. But the CARES Act temporarily allowed those taxpayers to claim federal unemployment compensation. That federal funding ended July 31, 2020.

There were a few stipulations. For example, if you could telework, you were ineligible. But if you were forced to close your business, you likely qualified for this benefit. The three benefit components were:

  1. $600 of supplemental state-paid unemployment compensation for those who already qualified
  2. $600 plus the regular state unemployment rate provided by a pandemic unemployment program for those who were not normally eligible for unemployment compensation
  3. An extension of unemployment compensation by 13 weeks on top of the regular state timeline

Let me give you an example. If you were self-employed but unable to work due to COVID-19, components two and three applied to you. Normally, you couldn’t claim traditional unemployment, so component one would not have applied to you. Instead, you would have only received $600 plus your state’s regular unemployment rate provided by a pandemic unemployment program. The length of the benefits also extended 13 weeks. The extra $600 of unemployment benefits provided by components one and two ended on July 31, 2020.

The extension of these benefits is still a matter of Congressional debate. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as details change.

All states vary on the length of offered unemployment benefits. See your state’s unemployment website for more information.

Employee Retention Credit

What about the businesses that are trying to retain their employees during the crisis, but would prefer not to take out a loan? There’s some help for that too.

If you pay your employees from 3/12/2020 through 12/31/2020, and your operations are impacted by COVID-19, you may be able to claim a refundable tax credit on your 2020 tax return. Many eligible employers can receive this credit in advance, which means your business can receive the money today instead of waiting to file a 2020 tax return. You must meet one of the following two qualifications:

  1. Your operations are fully or partially suspended due to COVID-19, or
  2. Your gross receipts decreased by more than 50 percent when compared to the same quarter in the prior year.

The credit serves as an incentive to keep paying your employees through this crisis. There are a few stipulations to the credit, however.

Your business can’t participate in any of the loan programs previously mentioned, and the credit amount may be limited if your business took a credit for paid family and medical leave provided in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The credit amount is 50 percent of qualified wages you paid to your employees while they were unable to work due to COVID-19. The maximum credit amount is $5,000 per employee. If your business employs 100 or less full-time employees, all wages qualify regardless of whether or not the employee’s ability to work is impacted by COVID-19. You can find more information on the IRS page on the Employee Retention Credit.

Payroll Taxes Delayed

Another benefit of the CARES Act that small businesses may consider is delaying the payment of employer payroll taxes and self-employment payroll taxes. Under the new law, employers and self-employed individuals can defer payment of the employer’s share (which is 6.2%) of social security tax that they are responsible for paying in 2020. One-half of these taxes can be deferred to 2021, and the other half to 2022. More information can be found here.

Other Provisions

There are several other provisions in the CARES Act that may apply to small businesses, but we’ll keep those details light. include:

  • Net operating losses (NOLs) generated in 2018 through 2020 can offset 100 percent of taxable income for tax years before 2021 and are allowed a 5-year carry-back and indefinite carry-forward
  • Non-corporate taxpayers can deduct excess business losses until tax year 2021
  • A technical correction that allows qualified improvement property to have a 15-year asset life and qualify for bonus deprecation
  • Interest expense limitations that were imposed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are suspended

All of that makes perfect sense, right? It’s a lot of information to sort through. But that’s what we’re here to help with. The entire TaxAct team will continue to digest and analyze this new law. Check back for additional resources to help you navigate the changes.

Information provided in this article is general in nature and may not apply to your circumstance. Please refer to IRS or other cited source material for particulars.

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