2020 COVID-19 Tax Credits for the Workplace

Tax credits for paid sick and family leave

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides two self-employed tax credits to help cover the cost of taking time off due to COVID-19. While most of the text in these laws apply to businesses with employees, it also applies to self-employed individuals.

The tax credit for paid sick leave applies to eligible self-employed taxpayers who are unable to work (including telework or working remotely) due to:

  • Being subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order due to COVID-19.
  • Being advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19. Experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis. If you meet all the requirements, you would be eligible for qualified sick leave for each day during the year that you were unable to work for the above reasons (up to 10 days). The tax credit is worth the lesser of $511 per day or 100% of your average daily self-employment income for the year per day.
  • The only days that may be considered in determining the qualified sick leave equivalent amount are days occurring during the period beginning on April 1, 2020 and ending on December 31, 2020.

Under the expanded Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provision of the FFCRA, you would be eligible for qualified family leave for each day that you were unable to work because you were caring for someone else impacted by COVID-19 (up to 10 days), or your child’s school or childcare provider was closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 (up to 50 days). You can claim a tax credit for the lesser of $200 per day or 67% of your average daily self-employment income for the year per day.

 How do I calculate and claim these tax credits?

The “average daily self-employment income” is calculated as your net earnings from self-employment during the tax year, divided by 260. An individual can claim a credit for both qualified sick leave and qualified family leave, but not both for the same time periods. You can claim both the tax credit for paid sick leave and the tax credit for paid family leave on your 2020 Form 1040 tax return. However, you do not have to wait until the next tax-filing season to benefit from these credits

 Employee Retention Credit

 If you have employees, the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) can help you cover the cost of keeping idle workers on your payroll during the pandemic. The tax credit is worth half of what you spent on wages and employee health plan costs after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021, up to $10,000 per worker.

To qualify, your business must have one of the following:

  • A full or partial suspension of its operations due to governmental orders limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19.
  • A sufficient decline in gross receipts compared to 2019. The decline begins when there is a 50% drop in a calendar quarter compared to the same quarter in the prior year. The decline does not end until a calendar quarter reaches 80% of the same prior-year quarter. This means that if a quarter drops to less than 50% and the following quarter is at 70%, there is still a decline.

You can claim this credit by reducing your payroll tax deposits. If your employment tax deposits are not enough to cover the full credit, you can get an advance from the IRS by filing Form 7200.

If you received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, you cannot also claim the ERC. You can claim both the paid leave credits and the ERC but not on the same wages.

For more information, contact your tax advisor and/or visit the U.S. Department of Labor website: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave

Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties.

The 12-Month Rule – Determining the Deductibility of Prepaid Expenses

Taxpayers seeking additional business deductions before the end of the year might consider adopting the 12-month rule by prepaying some business expenditures before year-end. Certain expenses such as insurance, rebates, and licenses can be prepaid before year-end without needing to be capitalized for tax purposes, thus allowing a tax deduction for the current tax year. The 12-month rule must satisfy the requirements of economic performance in order to be utilized. The recurring item exception may provide some relief if the economic performance standard isn’t met.

Basics of the 12-Month Rule

Under normal circumstances, IRS regulations require taxpayers to capitalize (i.e., not deduct) amounts paid for certain prepaid assets. In other words, let’s say you spend $1,000 of your hard-earned money in October on a license that lasts one year. This doesn’t necessarily mean the entire amount is deductible in the tax year the payment is made. Cash-out = tax deduction. Those more familiar with accounting principles will argue that the matching principle needs to be applied, meaning that the deduction should be applied to the period in which it provides a benefit. Meaning, you would deduct 3/12 of the expense in the year the payment is made and 9/12 in the following year. This would be the IRS’ approach (See Reg. Sec. 1.162-3(d)). Taxpayers may be allowed to deduct the full $1,000 amount in the year in which it was paid by applying the 12-month rule. To apply this rule, we must look to Reg. Sec. 1.263(a)-4(f) which states that:

Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, a taxpayer is not required to capitalize amounts paid to create any right or benefit for the taxpayer that does not extend beyond the earlier of:

  • 12 months after the first date on which the taxpayer realizes the right or benefit; or
  • The end of the taxable year following the taxable year in which the payment is made.

Let’s apply this to our license example. A license that lasts one year was purchased in October of the current year and it is set to expire in September of the following year. The payment creates a right that does not extend 12 months after it is initially created, thus satisfying the first condition. Also, it does not extend past the following taxable year since it ends in September, which satisfies the second condition. If the right had extended beyond September of the following year, the 12-month rule would no longer be satisfied, and the license would need to be deducted ratably over the life of the license.

Exception to the Exception: Understanding Economic Performance

The 12-month rule cannot be universally applied in all situations. If another regulation or code section specifically states that a certain type of prepaid asset is disallowed, the 12-month rule will not apply. Cash basis taxpayers will have slightly different results from accrual basis taxpayers. The rules for cash-basis taxpayers are relatively straight-forward: make the payment, and as long as the conditions above for the 12-month rule are satisfied, the taxpayer is eligible for the deduction. However, in order for this to always be true, economic performance must be satisfied. This is also true for accrual-basis taxpayers, but unlike cash basis taxpayers, accrual basis taxpayers will accrue certain expenses at year-end that a cash basis taxpayer will not.

In basic terms, economic performance is the timing of when a liability owed by a taxpayer is truly treated as being incurred. All of the necessary events need to have happened to determine that a) a liability is fixed, b) the amount can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and c) a specific action or event has taken place. For example, economic performance occurs for the following liabilities:

  • Rent Expense – generally, ratably over the period the taxpayer is entitled to use the property
  • Services – occurs as services are provided
  • Insurance – occurs when payment is made

This means that for prepaid services and prepaid rent, economic performance isn’t satisfied until the property is used or until the service is provided to the taxpayer, respectively. As such, merely paying the liability doesn’t mean the payment can be deducted. However, payment for an insurance premium in the event that needs to take place for economic performance. Assuming the 12-month rule is satisfied, prepaid insurance will be deductible upon payment. A more comprehensive list of prepaid assets and their respective economic performance traits can be found at the end of the article.

Exception to the Exception to the Exception: The Recurring Item Exception

What happens if economic performance hasn’t occurred, but you really want that tax deduction? It’s at the top of your wish list and you’ve been good all year. Surely Santa will step in on your behalf. Well, congratulations! The recurring item exception exists! Reg. Sec. 1.461-5 states that economic performance will be treated as having occurred with respect to liability if:

  1.  The liability is recurring in nature and is either not material, or provides for better matching of income and expense,
  2.  And economic performance will occur before the earlier of 8 1/2 months after year-end, or the filing of the tax return.

For example, a taxpayer accrues an expense for an insurance premium year-end. The premium covers October of the current year to September of the following year. The taxpayer makes the payment on January 15th of the following year. Even though this satisfies the 12-month rule, economic performance has not occurred before year-end since payment has not been made. However, under the recurring item exception, the deduction may be taken since insurance premiums are recurring in nature. It is not material, and payment was made within 8 ½ months of year-end.

Note: The recurring item exception cannot be applied to interest, rents, worker’s compensation, tort, breach of contract, and violation of law.

Bringing It All Together

To see how all of these concepts work together, let’s go through two examples:

Example 1:  Prepaid Advertising

On December 15th, a taxpayer pays a marketing firm $10,000 for advertising services that the taxpayer believes will be performed over the next 3 months. The marketing firm completes the advertising service by February 28th of the following year.

  • 12-Month Rule – The conditions for the 12-month rule are satisfied because the benefit to the taxpayer is realized within 12 months of the payment.
  • Economic Performance – For services, economic performance is satisfied as services are provided. The amount of the liability is fixed and determinable at year-end. However, the services were not provided by the end of the year so economic performance is not satisfied. Economic performance rules trump the 12-month rule, so it’s not looking good for the taxpayer thus far.
  • Recurring Item Exception – The taxpayer argues that they regularly engage marketing firms and the amount paid is not material to their financial statements. Also, the payment was made before filing the tax return.
  • Conclusion – The recurring item exception allows the taxpayer to apply the 12-month rule and the taxpayer is able to take the deduction. Note that for prepaid services, services must be provided within 3 ½ months of the payment being made. Other prepaids, such as prepaid interest, can be paid within 8 ½ months of year-end and still be deductible.

Example 2:  Prepaid Interest

On December 15th, a taxpayer pays an interest obligation of $10,000 related to business debt covering the second half of December and the first half of January of the following year.

  • 12-month Rule – The conditions for the 12-month rule are satisfied because the benefit to the taxpayer is realized within 12 months of the payment.
  • Economic Performance – For interest, economic performance is satisfied as the borrower has use of the money. The amount of the liability is fixed and determinable at year-end. However, the taxpayer cannot “use” the money for January in December, so economic performance is not satisfied. Again, economic performance rules trump the 12-month rule; so, it is still nondeductible.
  • Recurring Item Exception – The taxpayer argues that they regularly pay interest and the amount paid is not material to their financial statements. Also, the payment was made before filing the tax return. However, prepaid interest is one of the exclusively carved out items that cannot be applied by the recurring item exception.
  • Conclusion – Even though the 12-month rule is satisfied, economic performance and the inability to apply the recurring item exception prevent the taxpayer from deducting the prepaid January interest.

As you can see, these concepts work together to provide some relief to taxpayers while still trying to prevent abuse by others who would seek to make large prepayments before year-end for the sole purpose of lowering their tax liability. When determining the deductibility of prepayments for tax purposes, every situation is unique and requires a fair bit of analysis and understanding to make sure the taxpayer takes a defensible position. One should always consult with their tax advisor on their own circumstances to determine best practices.

Prepaid Expenses and Economic Performance

Prepaid Expense Economic Performance
Prepaid Insurance Payment

 

Prepaid Warranty and Service Contracts Payment

 

Prepaid License or Permit Fees Payment

 

Prepaid Taxes Payment

 

Prepaid Dues and Fees Payment

 

Prepaid Rebates Payment

 

Prepaid Rent Ratably over the period of time the taxpayer is entitled to use the property

 

Prepaid Services As services are performed

 

Prepaid Interest Ratably as the taxpayer has use of the money being borrowed

 

Prepaid Goods As the goods are provided to the taxpayer

 

Author, Jonathan Smith, Senior Tax Manager, Spiegel Accountancy Corp

Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties.

Paycheck Protection Program Tax Treatment

More than 500 like-minded stakeholders are calling on Congress to overturn an Internal Revenue Service rule and allow Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness to be fully tax-free.

In a December 3, 2020 letter to leaders of the House and Senate, the groups, led by the Associated General Contractors of America, urged lawmakers to enact legislation before the end of the year to correct the tax treatment of loan forgiveness under PPP.

IRS Notice 2020-32 states that “normally deductible business expenses will not be deductible if the business pays the expense with a Paycheck Protection Program loan that is subsequently forgiven,” which the coalition believes is a misinterpretation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Section 1106(i) of the CARES Act states business expenses are “includible in gross income of the eligible recipient by reason of forgiveness” and “shall be excluded from gross income,” for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The coalition wants Congress to clarify this contradiction.

“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress responded with speed, cooperation, and an eye to preventing the worst potential economic outcomes. We ask that you bring that same spirit of urgency and cooperation before the end of this session to prevent an avoidable catastrophe for millions of small businesses that, without Congressional action, will face a surprising, and, in many cases, insurmountable tax bill next year,” the groups wrote. Spiegel Accountancy Corp Founding Principal, Jeff Spiegel, says, “Congress needs to act to get this resolved to allow expenses to be deducted.”

“The terms of the PPP are simple: if qualifying small businesses use a federally-guaranteed loan to pay their employees and cover certain non-payroll expenses, the loan will be forgiven,” the letter continued. “From April 3rd, when the program launched, through August 8th, when its authorization expired, the Small Business Administration guaranteed $525 billion in PPP loans to 5.2 million qualifying small businesses nationwide, preserving tens of millions of paychecks for their employees as the pandemic spread throughout the country.”

The coalition noted that if unchanged, the IRS ruling could increase small businesses’ taxes up to 37%.

“Since the IRS issued Notice 2020-32, Congress has signaled that it intends to reverse the ruling,” the letter said. “The Democratic and Republican Chairs of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees issued public statements saying that the IRS Notice, and, more recently, the IRS Revenue Ruling, is flawed and contrary to Congressional intent.”

The coalition added that the “most recent IRS revenue ruling” has created a renewed sense of urgency for Congress to address the issue before the end of the year.

“Allowing the IRS position to remain unchallenged will result in a significant tax increase on small business owners already suffering from the effects of COVID-19 shutdowns,” the groups wrote. “This tax will hit small business owners after their PPP loan has already been spent, and just as many states are re-imposing mandatory closures of thousands of businesses in the face of spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases. Many PPP loan recipients retained employees on their payrolls, even when there was little to no work to perform, in compliance with the intent of the program to keep people employed and off the unemployment rolls. The IRS changed the rules after businesses took out PPP loans, and business owners are now being asked to pay what amounts to a surtax on their workforce.

“Without Congressional action, businesses will face an unexpected tax bill when they file their taxes for 2020, as they continue to struggle with government-mandated shutdowns or slowdowns. Many of those businesses will close and never re-open. This senseless tax policy stands both the letter and spirit of the PPP on its head,” the letter concluded.

 

Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties.