Paying workers “under the table” or with cash can save businesses a bundle in taxes. But the potential consequences are grave. Not only is this practice illegal and could result in severe financial penalties, but it also shortchanges employees.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made this abundantly clear. As many laid-off workers who were paid under the table have learned, they don’t qualify for unemployment benefits if their state has no record of their employer contributing to the insurance pool. They may have trouble getting other financial assistance as well. You should protect your business and its workers by following the rules.
Paying the piper
In general, compensation is subject to federal income and employment taxes, as well as taxes that may be assessed on state and local levels. Employees are personally responsible for federal income tax on their wages, and both employees and employers are responsible for paying employment taxes.
The main employment tax, mandated by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), comprises three elements:
1. A 6.2% OASDI, or Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (or Social Security tax),
2. A 1.45% Hospital Insurance (HI) tax on all wages (known as the Medicare tax), and
3. An additional 0.9% Medicare surtax on wages exceeding $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for joint filers.
Employers must also pay unemployment tax under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA). That tax is 6% on the first $7,000 of wages, but it may be effectively reduced to as little as 0.6% due to credits for state unemployment programs.
Employers’ responsibilities usually extend beyond taxes. You may be required to pay overtime and provide benefits to employees — ranging from qualified retirement plans to family medical leave time — all governed by federal laws. Employees without such benefits who become sick with COVID-19 don’t qualify for paid leave. They may be forced to work anyway to support their families and, thus, spread the infection further.
To support employees in the event they’re laid off, employers often must pay for different types of employee insurance, including Workers’ Compensation, unemployment insurance and, depending on the state, disability insurance. In addition, the Affordable Care Act imposes minimum health insurance coverage requirements on employers with 50 or more full-time employees (and full-time equivalent employees).
Note: These warnings don’t apply to workers who are legitimate independent contractors. Contractors, who work for themselves, are responsible for paying their own taxes and providing their own benefits. But you must properly handle these workers by meeting certain tests in order to have them classified as independent contractors.
Consider the real cost
Paying taxes and providing benefits to employees are necessary costs of doing business. While they take a chunk out of your bottom line, not paying them can cost you, your workers and, ultimately, the general economy, even more. Contact us for help managing expenses and reducing taxes legally.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
As businesses across the country grapple with the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many must decide whether to downsize their workforces to lower payroll costs and stabilize cash flow. If your company is contemplating such a move, you’ll likely want to consider the choice within the choice: that is, should you lay off workers or furlough them?
The basic difference between the two is simple. Layoffs are the ostensibly permanent termination of employees from their positions, though you can rehire some of these individuals when business improves. Meanwhile, a furlough is a mandatory or voluntary suspension from work without pay for a specified period.
In most states, furloughed workers are still considered employees and, therefore, don’t receive a “final” paycheck. Check with an employment or labor attorney, however, to make sure your state’s furlough laws don’t trigger final pay requirements.
Employee benefits are another issue to explore. Reach out to your health insurance provider to see whether a furlough is a triggering event for COBRA health care coverage purposes. In addition, employees can sometimes be dropped from a group health plan if they don’t work enough hours. Ask about potential problems this might cause under the Affordable Care Act.
If you’re a midsize business, and layoffs or furloughs begin to look unavoidable, it’s particularly important to coordinate the move with legal counsel. Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employers with 100 or more employees must provide written notice at least 60 days before a plant closing or mass layoff.
To have a mass layoff, at least 50 workers at a single site must be laid off for more than six months (or have their hours reduced by at least 50% in any six-month period). Because furloughs generally last for less than six months, a WARN notice wouldn’t likely be required. But you should still check with your employment attorney regarding applicable state laws and any other potential legal ramifications.
To soften the blow, you can inform furloughed employees that they’re generally eligible for unemployment benefits — assuming their previous year’s wages are enough to qualify. Although a waiting period often applies before an employee can start receiving unemployment benefits, many states have waived these waiting periods because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Again, double-check with your attorney to fully understand the unemployment insurance rules before communicating with employees.
Formulate a strategy
Unprecedented unemployment numbers show that many businesses have had to downsize. It’s worth noting that, if you can hang on to your employees, recently passed tax relief created a refundable credit against payroll tax. (Rules and limits apply.) Our firm can help you assess your employment costs and formulate a strategy for optimally sizing your workforce.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
The IRS has issued guidance providing relief from failure to make employment tax deposits for employers that are entitled to the refundable tax credits provided under two laws passed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The two laws are the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed on March 18, 2020, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, which was signed on March 27, 2020.
Employment tax penalty basics
The tax code imposes a penalty for any failure to deposit amounts as required on the date prescribed, unless such failure is due to reasonable cause rather than willful neglect.
An employer’s failure to deposit certain federal employment taxes, including deposits of withheld income taxes and taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is generally subject to a penalty.
COVID-19 relief credits
Employers paying qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages required by the Families First Act, as well as qualified health plan expenses allocable to qualified leave wages, are eligible for refundable tax credits under the Families First Act.
Specifically, provisions of the Families First Act provide a refundable tax credit against an employer’s share of the Social Security portion of FICA tax for each calendar quarter, in an amount equal to 100% of qualified leave wages paid by the employer (plus qualified health plan expenses with respect to that calendar quarter).
Additionally, under the CARES Act, certain employers are also allowed a refundable tax credit under the CARES Act of up to 50% of the qualified wages, including allocable qualified health expenses if they are experiencing:
- A full or partial business suspension due to orders from governmental authorities due to COVID-19, or
- A specified decline in business.
This credit is limited to $10,000 per employee over all calendar quarters combined.
An employer paying qualified leave wages or qualified retention wages can seek an advance payment of the related tax credits by filing Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.
The Families First Act and the CARES Act waive the penalty for failure to deposit the employer share of Social Security tax in anticipation of the allowance of the refundable tax credits allowed under the two laws.
IRS Notice 2020-22 provides that an employer won’t be subject to a penalty for failing to deposit employment taxes related to qualified leave wages or qualified retention wages in a calendar quarter if certain requirements are met. Contact us for more information about whether you can take advantage of this relief.
More breaking news
Be aware the IRS also just extended more federal tax deadlines. The extension, detailed in Notice 2020-23, involves a variety of tax form filings and payment obligations due between April 1 and July 15. It includes estimated tax payments due June 15 and the deadline to claim refunds from 2016. The extended deadlines cover individuals, estates, corporations and others. In addition, the guidance suspends associated interest, additions to tax, and penalties for late filing or late payments until July 15, 2020. Previously, the IRS postponed the due dates for certain federal income tax payments. The new guidance expands on the filing and payment relief. Contact us if you have questions.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
To stem the tide of joblessness caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has officially launched the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program’s stated objective is “to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.”
What does the program offer?
The PPP was authorized under a provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It provides up to eight weeks of cash-flow assistance through 100% federally guaranteed loans to eligible recipients to maintain payroll during the COVID-19 crisis and cover certain other expenses.
Under the program, eligible recipients may qualify for loans of up to $10 million determined by eight weeks of previously established average payroll. The first loan payment is deferred for six months. All loans will have an interest rate of 1%, a maturity of two years, and no borrower or lender fees.
If the recipient maintains its workforce, up to 100% of the loan is forgivable if the loan proceeds are used to cover the first eight weeks of payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities. (The U.S. Treasury Department anticipates that no more than 25% of the forgiven amount can be for non-payroll costs.)
How is payroll defined?
Under the PPP, payroll includes:
- Employee salaries (up to an annual salary of $100,000),
- Hourly wages,
- Cash tips,
- Paid sick or medical leave,
- Group health insurance premiums,
- Retirement benefit payments,
- State or local tax on employee wages, and
- Compensation to a sole proprietor or independent contractor of up to $100,000 per year.
If the PPP recipient doesn’t retain its entire workforce, the level of forgiveness is reduced by the percentage of decrease. However, if the laid-off workers are rehired by June 30, the full amount of the loan may still be forgiven.
Eligible recipients are small businesses with fewer than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons). Private nonprofits and 501(c)(19) veterans organizations affected by COVID-19 may also qualify. In addition, businesses in certain industries with more than 500 employees may be eligible if they meet the SBA’s size standards for those industries.
The PPP begins retroactively on Feb. 15, 2020, and ends June 20, 2020. (The retroactive start allows eligible recipients to bring back workers who were laid off because of the crisis.) Qualifying companies may apply for a loan at lending institutions approved to participate in the program through the SBA’s 7(a) lending program. Applications may also be available through participating federally insured depository institutions, federally insured credit unions and Farm Credit System institutions.
When should you apply?
The Treasury Department released the PPP Application Form on March 31, and lenders could begin processing applications on April 3. If you believe your small business may be eligible to participate, it’s a good idea to apply as soon as possible because funds are limited under the program. We can help you confirm your eligibility, complete the application and optimally manage any loan funds you receive.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
The economic fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced business owners to reevaluate their operations and make difficult decisions. One place to look for the information you need to make rational, reasonable moves is your financial statements. Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, these typically comprise a statement of cash flows, a balance sheet and an income statement.
A statement of cash flows should be organized into three sections: cash flows from operating, financing and investing activities. Ideally, a company generates enough cash from operations to cover its expenses.
For many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused revenue to drop precipitously without a proportionate decrease in certain (fixed) operating expenses. Keep a close eye on whether you’re reaching a danger point. To generate additional cash flow, you may need to borrow money — consider a Small Business Administration loan, if you’re eligible.
Assets and liabilities
Your balance sheet tallies your company’s assets, liabilities and net worth — creating a snapshot of its financial health on the statement date. Assets are typically listed in order of liquidity. Current assets (such as accounts receivable) are expected to be converted into cash within a year, while long-term assets (such as your plant and equipment) will be used to generate revenue beyond the next 12 months.
Similarly, liabilities are listed in order of maturity. Current liabilities (such as accounts payable) come due within a year, while long-term liabilities are payment obligations that extend beyond the current year.
As its name indicates, the balance sheet must balance — that is, assets must equal liabilities plus net worth. Net worth is the extent to which the book value of assets exceeds liabilities. In times of distress, certain assets (such as receivables, financial assets, pension funds and inventory) may need to be written off, and intangibles (such as brands and goodwill) may become impaired. These changes may cause the book value of a company’s net worth to be negative, suggesting that the business is insolvent. Other red flags include current assets growing faster than sales, and a deteriorating ratio of current assets to current liabilities.
Income and overhead
An income statement shows revenue and expenses over the accounting period. Revenue has fallen for many businesses as the result of social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak. Fortunately, certain variable expenses — such as materials and direct labor costs — have also fallen.
Unfortunately, most fixed expenses — such as rent, equipment leasing fees, advertising, insurance premiums and manager salaries — are ongoing. Review costs that are categorized on the income statements as overhead and sales, general and administrative expenses. Consider whether you can scale back these items, renegotiate them or convert them into variable costs over the long run.
For example, you might return a leased copier that isn’t being used, decrease your insurance coverage or rely more on independent contractors, rather than employees, for certain tasks.
Your existing financial statements may not account for the sudden changes inflicted upon businesses worldwide by COVID-19. We can assist you in evaluating them, gleaning insightful data using updated numbers, and generating new ones going forward.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
On March 27, President Trump signed into law another coronavirus (COVID-19) law, which provides extensive relief for businesses and employers. Here are some of the tax-related provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
Employee retention credit
The new law provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
Employer eligibility. The credit is available to employers with operations that have been fully or partially suspended as a result of a government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings. The credit is also provided to employers that have experienced a greater than 50% reduction in quarterly receipts, measured on a year-over-year basis.
The credit isn’t available to employers receiving Small Business Interruption Loans under the new law.
Wage eligibility. For employers with an average of 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, all employee wages are eligible, regardless of whether an employee is furloughed. For employers with more than 100 full-time employees last year, only the wages of furloughed employees or those with reduced hours as a result of closure or reduced gross receipts are eligible for the credit.
No credit is available with respect to an employee for whom the employer claims a Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
The term “wages” includes health benefits and is capped at the first $10,000 paid by an employer to an eligible employee. The credit applies to wages paid after March 12, 2020 and before January 1, 2021.
The IRS has authority to advance payments to eligible employers and to waive penalties for employers who don’t deposit applicable payroll taxes in anticipation of receiving the credit.
Payroll and self-employment tax payment delay
Employers must withhold Social Security taxes from wages paid to employees. Self-employed individuals are subject to self-employment tax.
The CARES Act allows eligible taxpayers to defer paying the employer portion of Social Security taxes through December 31, 2020. Instead, employers can pay 50% of the amounts by December 31, 2021 and the remaining 50% by December 31, 2022.
Self-employed people receive similar relief under the law.
Temporary repeal of taxable income limit for NOLs
Currently, the net operating loss (NOL) deduction is equal to the lesser of 1) the aggregate of the NOL carryovers and NOL carrybacks, or 2) 80% of taxable income computed without regard to the deduction allowed. In other words, NOLs are generally subject to a taxable-income limit and can’t fully offset income.
The CARES Act temporarily removes the taxable income limit to allow an NOL to fully offset income. The new law also modifies the rules related to NOL carrybacks.
Interest expense deduction temporarily increased
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally limited the amount of business interest allowed as a deduction to 30% of adjusted taxable income.
The CARES Act temporarily and retroactively increases the limit on the deductibility of interest expense from 30% to 50% for tax years beginning in 2019 and 2020. There are special rules for partnerships.
Bonus depreciation for qualified improvement property
The TCJA amended the tax code to allow 100% additional first-year bonus depreciation deductions for certain qualified property. The TCJA eliminated definitions for 1) qualified leasehold improvement property, 2) qualified restaurant property, and 3) qualified retail improvement property. It replaced them with one category called qualified improvement property (QIP). A general 15-year recovery period was intended to have been provided for QIP. However, that period failed to be reflected in the language of the TCJA. Therefore, under the TCJA, QIP falls into the 39-year recovery period for nonresidential rental property, making it ineligible for 100% bonus depreciation.
The CARES Act provides a technical correction to the TCJA, and specifically designates QIP as 15-year property for depreciation purposes. This makes QIP eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. The provision is effective for property placed in service after December 31, 2017.
Careful planning required
This article only explains some of the relief available to businesses. Additional relief is provided to individuals. Be aware that other rules and limits may apply to the tax breaks described here. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Businesses across the country are being affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19). Fortunately, Congress recently passed a law that provides at least some relief. In a separate development, the IRS has issued guidance allowing taxpayers to defer any amount of federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties or interest.
On March 18, the Senate passed the House’s coronavirus bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. President Trump signed the bill that day. It includes:
- Paid leave benefits to employees,
- Tax credits for employers and self-employed taxpayers, and
- FICA tax relief for employers.
Tax filing and payment extension
In Notice 2020-18, the IRS provides relief for taxpayers with a federal income tax payment due April 15, 2020. The due date for making federal income tax payments usually due April 15, 2020 is postponed to July 15, 2020.
Important: The IRS announced that the 2019 income tax filing deadline will be moved to July 15, 2020 from April 15, 2020, because of COVID-19.
Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Twitter, “we are moving Tax Day from April 15 to July 15. All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties.”
Previously, the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS had announced that taxpayers could defer making income tax payments for 2019 and estimated income tax payments for 2020 due April 15 (up to certain amounts) until July 15, 2020. Later, the federal government stated that you also don’t have to file a return by April 15.
Of course, if you’re due a tax refund, you probably want to file as soon as possible so you can receive the refund money. And you can still get an automatic filing extension, to October 15, by filing IRS Form 4868. Contact us with any questions you have about filing your return.
Any amount can be deferred
In Notice 2020-18, the IRS stated: “There is no limitation on the amount of the payment that may be postponed.” (Previously, the IRS had announced dollar limits on the tax deferrals but then made a new announcement on March 21 that taxpayers can postpone payments “regardless of the amount owed.”)
In Notice 2020-18, the due date is postponed only for federal income tax payments for 2019 normally due on April 15, 2020 and federal estimated income tax payments (including estimated payments on self-employment income) due on April 15, 2020 for the 2020 tax year.
As of this writing, the IRS hasn’t provided a payment extension for the payment or deposit of other types of federal tax (including payroll taxes and excise taxes).
This only outlines the basics of the federal tax relief available at the time this was written. New details are coming out daily. Be aware that many states have also announced tax relief related to COVID-19. And Congress is working on more legislation that will provide additional relief, including sending checks to people under a certain income threshold and providing relief to various industries and small businesses.
We’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, contact us with any questions you have about your situation.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Many business owners put off writing a mission statement. Who has time to write down why you’re in business when you’re busy trying to run one! And perhaps even fewer owners have created a vision statement — possibly because they’re not sure what the term even means.
There are good reasons for creating both. Lenders, investors and job candidates appreciate strong, clear mission statements. And vision statements can give interested parties a clear idea of where a business is heading. In addition, you and your staff may benefit from the focus and direction that comes from articulating your mission and vision.
Describe your purpose
Let’s start with a mission statement. Its purpose is to express to the world why you’re in business, what you’re offering and whom you’re looking to serve. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor has this as its mission statement:
To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.
Forget flowery language and industry jargon. Write in clear, simple, honest terms. Keep the statement brief, a paragraph at most. Answer questions that any interested party would want to know, such as:
- Why did your company go into business?
- What makes your products or services worth buying?
- Who is your target market?
Presumably, you know the answers to these questions. But putting them down on paper may help renew your commitment to your original or actual mission, or it may reveal some areas where you’ve gotten off track. For example, if your target demographic is Millennials, have you maintained that focus or wandered off course a bit?
Proclaim your ambition
So, a mission statement essentially explains why you’re here, what you do and who you’re looking to serve. What does a vision statement do? It tells interested parties where you’re headed and what you ultimately want to accomplish.
A vision statement should be even briefer than your mission statement. Think of a tag line for a movie or even an advertising slogan. You want to deliver a memorable quote that will get the attention of readers and reinforce that you’re not looking to make a quick buck. Rather, you’re moving forward into the future while providing the highest quality products or services in the here and now. For instance, the trademarked vision statement of the Alzheimer’s Association is simple and aims high: “A world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.”
Should you bring your operations to a screeching halt so everyone can work on a mission and vision statement? Certainly not. But if you haven’t created either, or haven’t updated them in a while, it’s a worthwhile strategic planning task to put together the language and see what insights come of it. We’d be happy to review your statements and help you tie them to sound budgeting and financial planning.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Most companies wouldn’t go into business without some basic types of insurance in place, such as property coverage and a liability policy. For a company with more than one owner, there’s an additional type of risk-management arrangement that needs to be established: a buy-sell agreement.
If your business has yet to create one, you should start the process as soon as possible. A conflict over ownership change can distract a company at the very least — and devastate it at worst. But, even if you have a buy-sell in place, there are a couple key elements to regularly review: funding and valuation.
Evaluate your funding
For many businesses, payouts for a buy-sell agreement are funded with a cash-value life insurance policy or a disability buyout insurance policy. There are two main types of life insurance-funded buy-sell agreements:
1. Cross-purchase agreement. Co-owners buy insurance policies on each other, using the proceeds to buy a deceased or disabled party’s ownership shares. They receive a step-up in cost basis that may reduce taxes if the business is later sold. This option is usually preferable if there are three or fewer business co-owners.
2. Entity purchase agreement. The business entity buys insurance policies on each co-owner and uses the proceeds to buy a deceased or disabled owner’s shares, which are divided among the remaining parties. Co-owners receive no step-up in cost basis with an entity purchase agreement. This option is usually preferable if there are four or more owners, because it eliminates the need for each one to buy so many insurance policies.
Engage a valuator
It’s usually wise to hire a professional appraiser to perform a business valuation when drafting a buy-sell agreement. The valuation should then be updated periodically as circumstances that could affect the value of the company change. In fact, the buy-sell agreement itself should be reviewed by each co-owner from time to time to make sure it still reflects everyone’s intentions.
One specific issue to consider is how the “standard” of value is defined. A business valuation expert can provide definitions for a variety of relevant standards — including fair market value, fair value, book value and investment value. Different triggering events or departing shareholders may require different levels or standards of value.
Customize your agreement
Having a standard, boilerplate buy-sell agreement can be just as dangerous as not having one at all because its provisions may cause confusion or trigger disputes. Yours should be a customized, living document that provides a clear mechanism for equitable ownership change. Our firm can help you review the agreement you have in place or create one if you have yet to do so.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
If you’re a business owner, be aware that a recent tax law extended a credit for hiring individuals from one or more targeted groups. Employers can qualify for a valuable tax credit known as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).
The WOTC was set to expire on December 31, 2019. But a new law passed late last year extends it through December 31, 2020.
Generally, an employer is eligible for the credit for qualified wages paid to qualified members of these targeted groups: 1) members of families receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, 2) veterans, 3) ex-felons, 4) designated community residents, 5) vocational rehabilitation referrals, 6) summer youth employees, 7) members of families in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, 8) qualified Supplemental Security Income recipients, 9) long-term family assistance recipients and 10) long-term unemployed individuals.
For each employee, there’s a minimum requirement that the employee has completed at least 120 hours of service for the employer. The credit isn’t available for certain employees who are related to the employer or work more than 50% of the time outside of a trade or business of the employer (for example, a maid working in the employer’s home). Additionally, the credit generally isn’t available for employees who’ve previously worked for the employer.
There are different rules and credit amounts for certain employees. The maximum credit available for the first-year wages is $2,400 for each employee, $4,000 for long-term family assistance recipients, and $4,800, $5,600 or $9,600 for certain veterans. Additionally, for long-term family assistance recipients, there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages, resulting in a total maximum credit, over two years, of $9,000.
For summer youth employees, the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. The maximum WOTC credit available for summer youth employees is $1,200 per employee.
Here are a few other rules:
- No deduction is allowed for the portion of wages equal to the amount of the WOTC determined for the tax year;
- Other employment-related credits are generally reduced with respect to an employee for whom a WOTC is allowed; and
- The credit is subject to the overall limits on the amount of business credits that can be taken in any tax year, but a 1-year carryback and 20-year carryforward of unused business credits is allowed.
Make sure you qualify
Because of these rules, there may be circumstances when the employer might elect not to have the WOTC apply. There are some additional rules that, in limited circumstances, prohibit the credit or require an allocation of it. Contact us with questions or for more information about your situation.
© 2020 Covenant CPA