COVID-19: Key business tax provisions

COVID-19: Key business tax provisions

We hope that you are keeping yourself, your loved ones, and your community safe from COVID-19. Along with those paramount health concerns, you may be wondering about some of the recent tax changes meant to help everyone coping with the Coronavirus fallout.

In this post we have summarized Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. While the full legislative packages include many provisions, we have summarized only the aspects of the law that apply to businesses. Please contact us if you would like more information or have questions about any of the changes.

To view our post summary about:
Key individual provisions click here
Deadline and payment extensions click here.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law on March 18, 2020. This new law goes into effect on April 1, 2020, and it will remain in effect until December 31, 2020. These broad changes include requiring some employers to provide paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave along with tax credits for the paid leave.

Required paid sick leave and the corresponding payroll tax credit

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) division of the Act generally requires private employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide 80 hours of paid sick time to employees who are unable to work for virus-related reasons (with an administrative exemption for less-than-50-employee businesses that the leave mandate puts in jeopardy). The pay is up to $511 per day with a $5,110 overall limit for an employee directly affected by the virus and up to $200 per day with a $2,000 overall limit for an employee that is a caregiver.

The tax credit corresponding with the EPSLA mandate is a credit against the employer’s 6.2% portion of the Social Security (OASDI) payroll tax (or against the Railroad Retirement tax). The credit amount generally tracks the $511/$5,110 and $200/$2,000 per-employee limits described above. The credit can be increased by (1) the amount of certain expenses in connection with a qualified health plan if the expenses are excludible from employee income and (2) the employer’s share of the payroll Medicare hospital tax imposed on any payments required under the EPSLA. Credit amounts earned in excess of the employer’s 6.2% Social Security (OASDI) tax (or in excess of the Railroad Retirement tax) are refundable. The credit is electable and includes provisions that prevent double tax benefits (for example, using the same wages to get the benefit of the credit and of the current law employer credit for paid family and medical leave). The credit applies to wages paid in a period (1) beginning on a date determined by IRS that is no later than April 2, 2020 and (2) ending on December 31, 2020.

Required paid family leave and corresponding payroll tax credit

The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) division of the Act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide both paid and unpaid leave (with an administrative exemption for less-than-50-employee businesses that the leave mandate puts in jeopardy). The leave generally is available when an employee must take off to care for the employee’s child under age 18 because of a COVID-19 emergency declared by a federal, state, or local authority that either (1) closes a school or childcare place or (2) makes a childcare provider unavailable. Generally, the first 10 days of leave can be unpaid and then paid leave is required, pegged to the employee’s pay rate and pay hours. However, the paid leave can’t exceed $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate per employee.

The tax credit corresponding with the EFMLEA mandate is a credit against the employer’s 6.2% portion of the Social Security (OASDI) payroll tax (or against the Railroad Retirement tax). The credit generally tracks the $200/$10,000 per employee limits described above. The other important rules for the credit, including its effective period, are the same as those described above for the payroll sick leave credit.

Income tax sick leave credit for the self-employed

The Act provides a refundable income tax credit (including against the taxes on self-employment income and net investment income) for sick leave to a self-employed person by treating the self-employed person both as an employer and an employee for credit purposes. Thus, with some limits, the self-employed person is eligible for a sick leave credit to the extent that an employer would earn the payroll sick leave credit if the self-employed person were an employee.

Accordingly, the self-employed person can receive an income tax credit with a maximum value of $5,110 or $2,000 per the payroll sick leave credit. However, those amounts are decreased to the extent that the self-employed person has insufficient self-employment income determined under a formula or to the extent that the self-employed person has received paid sick leave from an employer under the Act. The credit applies to a period (1) beginning on a date determined by the IRS that is no later than April 2, 2020 and (2) ending on December 31, 2020. 

Income tax family leave credit for the self-employed

The Act provides to the self-employed a refundable income tax credit (including against the taxes on self-employment income and net investment income) for family leave similar to the self-employed sick leave credit discussed above. Thus, a self-employed person is treated as both an employer and an employee for purposes of the credit and is eligible for the credit to the extent that an employer would earn the payroll family leave credit if the self-employed person were an employee.

Accordingly, the self-employed person can receive an income tax credit with a maximum value of $10,000 as per the payroll family leave credit. However, under rules similar to those for the self-employed sick leave credit, that amount is decreased to the extent that the self-employed person has insufficient self-employment income determined under a formula or to the extent that the self-employed person has received paid family leave from an employer under the Act. The credit applies to a period (1) beginning on a date determined by IRS that is no later than April 2, 2020 and (2) ending on December 31, 2020. 

Exemption for employer’s portion of any Social Security (OASDI) payroll tax

Wages paid as required sick leave payments because of EPSLA or as required family leave payments under EFMLEA aren’t considered wages for purposes of the employer’s 6.2% portion of the Social Security (OASDI) payroll tax

On its website, the IRS has released a series of frequently asked questions regarding credits for wages paid for family and medical leave and for emergency paid sick time.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

CARES Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill, was signed into law on March 27, 2020. These are the key business provisions in the bill.

Delayed payment of employer payroll taxes

Taxpayers (including self-employed) will be able to defer paying the employer portion of certain payroll taxes through the end of 2020, with all 2020 deferred amounts due in two equal installments, one at the end of 2021, the other at the end of 2022. Taxes that can be deferred include the 6.2% employer portion of the Social Security (OASDI) payroll tax and the employer and employee representative portion of Railroad Retirement taxes (that are attributable to the employer 6.2% Social Security (OASDI) rate). The relief isn’t available if the taxpayer has had debt forgiveness under the CARES Act for certain loans under the Small Business Act as modified by the CARES Act (see below). For self-employed, the deferral applies to 50% of the Self-Employment Contributions Act tax liability (including any related estimated tax liability).

Employee retention credit for employers

Eligible employers can qualify for a refundable credit against, generally, the employer’s 6.2% portion of the Social Security (OASDI) payroll tax (or against the Railroad Retirement tax) for 50% of certain wages (below) paid to employees during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The credit is available to employers carrying on business during 2020, including non-profits (but not government entities), whose operations for a calendar quarter have been fully or partially suspended as a result of a government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings. The credit is also available to employers who have experienced a more than 50% reduction in quarterly receipts, measured on a year-over-year basis relative to the corresponding 2019 quarter, with the eligible quarters continuing until the quarter after there is a quarter in which receipts are greater than 80% of the receipts for the corresponding 2019 quarter.

For employers with more than 100 employees in 2019, the eligible wages are wages of employees who aren’t providing services because of the business suspension or reduction in gross receipts described above.

For employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, all employee wages are eligible, even if employees haven’t been prevented from providing services. The credit is provided for wages and compensation, including health benefits, and is provided for the first $10,000 in eligible wages and compensation paid by the employer to an employee. Thus, the credit is a maximum $5,000 per employee. 

Wages don’t include (1) wages taken into account for purposes of the payroll credits provided by the earlier Families First Coronavirus Response Act for required paid sick leave or required paid family leave, (2) wages taken into account for the employer income tax credit for paid family and medical leave (under Code Sec. 45S) or (3) wages in a period in which an employer is allowed for an employee a work opportunity credit (under Code Sec. 51). An employer can elect to not have the credit apply on a quarter-by-quarter basis. 

The IRS has authority to advance payments to eligible employers and to waive penalties for employers who do not deposit applicable payroll taxes in reasonable anticipation of receiving the credit. The credit is not available to employers receiving Small Business Interruption Loans. The credit is provided for wages paid after March 12, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

On its website, IRS has published frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the employee retention credit. The FAQs include several examples showing the application of the credit rules.

SBA Loan and Relief Programs

The CARES Act contains several new SBA loan and debt relief programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans and SBA debt relief, for the self-employed, independent contractors, and small and large businesses suffering economic damage from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

A summary of the programs available can be found here.

The situation is fluid and there are unanswered questions. U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) website has a section that is dedicated to COVID-19 Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources.

Paycheck Protection Program loan will be administered through your bank and you should contact your banker to get more information and to apply. For an overview of the program click here.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan is directly through the SBA website.

Certain SBA loan debt forgiveness isn’t taxable

Amounts of Small Business Administration Section 7(a)(36) guaranteed loans that are forgiven under the CARES Act aren’t taxable as discharge of indebtedness income if the forgiven amounts are used for one of several permitted purposes. The loans have to be made during the period beginning on February 15, 2020 and ending on June 30, 2020.

Net operating loss liberalizations

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the 2017 Tax Law) limited NOLs arising after 2017 to 80% of taxable income and eliminated the ability to carry NOLs back to prior tax years. For NOLs arising in tax years beginning before 2021, the CARES Act allows taxpayers to carryback 100% of NOLs to the prior five tax years, effectively delaying for carrybacks the 80% taxable income limitation and carryback prohibition until 2021.

The Act also temporarily liberalizes the treatment of NOL carryforwards. For tax years beginning before 2021, taxpayers can take an NOL deduction equal to 100% of taxable income (rather than the present 80% limit). For tax years beginning after 2021, taxpayers will be eligible for: (1) a 100% deduction of NOLs arising in tax years before 2018, and (2) a deduction limited to 80% of taxable income for NOLs arising in tax years after 2017.

The provision also includes special rules for REITS, life insurance companies, and the Code Sec. 965 transition tax. There are also technical corrections to the 2017 Tax Law effective dates for NOL changes.

Deferral of noncorporate taxpayer loss limits

The CARES Act retroactively turns off the excess active business loss limitation rule of the TCJA in Code Sec. 461(l) by deferring its effective date to tax years beginning after December 31, 2020 (rather than December 31, 2017). (Under the rule, active net business losses in excess of $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) are disallowed by the 2017 Tax Law and were treated as NOL carryforwards in the following tax year.)

The CARES Act clarifies, in a technical amendment that is retroactive, that an excess loss is treated as part of any net operating loss for the year, but isn’t automatically carried forward to the next year. Another technical amendment clarifies that excess business losses do not include any deduction under Code Sec. 172 (NOL deduction) or Code Sec. 199A (qualified business income deduction).

Still another technical amendment clarifies that business deductions and income don’t include any deductions, gross income or gain attributable to performing services as an employee. And because capital losses of non-corporations cannot offset ordinary income under the NOL rules, capital loss deductions are not taken into account in computing the Code Sec. 461(l) loss and the amount of capital gain taken into account cannot exceed the lesser of capital gain net income from a trade or business or capital gain net income.

Charitable deduction liberalizations

The limitation on charitable deductions for corporations that is generally 10% of (modified) taxable income doesn’t apply to qualifying contributions made in 2020. Instead, a corporation’s qualifying contributions, reduced by other contributions, can be as much as 25% of (modified) taxable income. No connection between the contributions and COVID-19 activities is required. 

For contributions of food inventory made in 2020, the deduction limitation increases from 15% to 25% of taxable income for C corporations and, for other taxpayers, from 15% to 25% of the net aggregate income from all businesses from which the contributions were made.

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