A new year has arrived and, with it, a fresh 12 months of opportunities to communicate with customers and prospects. Like every year, 2021 brings distinctive marketing trends to the table. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic challenges continue to drive the conversation in most industries. To get more for your marketing dollars, you’ll need to tailor your message to this environment.

Continue to invest in digital

There’s good reason to remind yourself of digital marketing’s continuing value in our brave new world of daily videoconferencing and booming online shopping. It’s affordable and allows you to communicate with customers directly. In addition, it provides faster results and better tracking capabilities.

Consider or re-evaluate strategies such as regularly updating your search engine optimization so your website ranks highly in online searches and more people can find you. Adjust your use of email, text messages and social media to communicate with customers and prospects.

For instance, craft more dynamic messages to introduce new products or special events. Offer “flash sales” and Internet-only deals to test and tweak offers before making them via more expansive (and expensive) media.

Seek out better deals

During boom times, you may feel at the mercy of high advertising rates. In the current uncertain and gradually recovering economy, look for better deals. The good news is that there are many more marketing/advertising channels than there used to be and, therefore, much more competition among them. Paying less is often a matter of knowing where to look.

Track your marketing efforts carefully and dedicate time to exploring new options. For example, podcasts remain enormously popular. Could a marketing initiative that exploits their reach pay dividends? Another possibility is shifting to smaller, less expensive ads posted in a wider variety of outlets rather than engaging in one massive campaign.

Excel at public relations

When the pandemic hit last year, every business had to address current events in their marketing messaging. This stood in stark contrast to decades previous, when companies generally tended to steer clear of the news. Nowadays, public relations is a key component of marketing success. Your customers and prospects need to know that your business is aware of the current environment and adjusting to it.

Ask your marketing department to craft clear, concise but exciting press releases regarding your newest products or services. Then distribute these press releases via both traditional and online channels to complement your marketing efforts. In this manner, you can disseminate trustworthy information and maintain a strong reputation — all at a relatively low cost.

Strengthen ROI

Your company’s marketing dollars need to provide a return on investment just as robust as its budget for production, employment and other key areas. Our firm can help you evaluate your marketing efforts from a financial perspective and identify ways to make those dollars go further.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) reopened the week of January 11. If you’re fortunate to get a PPP loan to help during the COVID-19 crisis (or you received one last year), you may wonder about the tax consequences.

Background on the loans 

In March of 2020, the CARES Act became law. It authorized the SBA to make loans to qualified businesses under certain circumstances. The law established the PPP, which provided up to 24 weeks of cash-flow assistance through 100% federally guaranteed loans to eligible recipients. Taxpayers could apply to have the loans forgiven to the extent their proceeds were used to maintain payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic and to cover certain other expenses.

At the end of 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) was enacted to provide additional relief related to COVID-19. This law includes funding for more PPP loans, including a “second draw” for businesses that received a loan last year. It also allows businesses to claim a tax deduction for the ordinary and necessary expenses paid from the proceeds of PPP loans.

Second draw loans

The CAA permits certain smaller businesses who received a PPP loan and experienced a 25% reduction in gross receipts to take a PPP second draw loan of up to $2 million.

To qualify for a second draw loan, a taxpayer must have taken out an original PPP Loan. In addition, prior PPP borrowers must now meet the following conditions to be eligible:

  • Employ no more than 300 employees per location,
  • Have used or will use the full amount of their first PPP loan, and
  • Demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts in the first, second or third quarter of 2020 relative to the same 2019 quarter. Applications submitted on or after Jan. 1, 2021, are eligible to utilize the gross receipts from the fourth quarter of 2020.

To be eligible for full PPP loan forgiveness, a business must generally spend at least 60% of the loan proceeds on qualifying payroll costs (including certain health care plan costs) and the remaining 40% on other qualifying expenses. These include mortgage interest, rent, utilities, eligible operations expenditures, supplier costs, worker personal protective equipment and other eligible expenses to help comply with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines or equivalent state and local guidelines.

Eligible entities include for-profit businesses, certain non-profit organizations, housing cooperatives, veterans’ organizations, tribal businesses, self-employed individuals, sole proprietors, independent contractors and small agricultural co-operatives.

Deductibility of expenses paid by PPP loans

The CARES Act didn’t address whether expenses paid with the proceeds of PPP loans could be deducted on tax returns. Last year, the IRS took the position that these expenses weren’t deductible. However, the CAA provides that expenses paid from the proceeds of PPP loans are deductible.

Cancellation of debt income

Generally, when a lender reduces or cancels debt, it results in cancellation of debt (COD) income to the debtor. However, the forgiveness of PPP debt is excluded from gross income. Your tax attributes (net operating losses, credits, capital and passive activity loss carryovers, and basis) wouldn’t generally be reduced on account of this exclusion.

Assistance provided

This only covers the basics of applying for PPP loans, as well as the tax implications. Contact us if you have questions or if you need assistance in the PPP loan application or forgiveness process.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Congress recently passed, and President Trump signed, a new law providing additional relief for businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. One item of interest for small business owners in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) is the opportunity to take out a second loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The basics

The CAA permits certain smaller businesses who received a PPP loan to take out a “PPP Second Draw Loan” of up to $2 million. To qualify, you must:

  • Employ no more than 300 employees per physical location,
  • Have used or will use the full amount of your first PPP loan, and
  • Demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts in the first, second or third quarter of 2020 relative to the same 2019 quarter. Applications submitted on or after Jan. 1, 2021, are eligible to use gross receipts from the fourth quarter of 2020.

Eligible entities include for-profit businesses (including those owned by sole proprietors), certain nonprofit organizations, housing cooperatives, veterans’ organizations, tribal businesses, self-employed individuals, independent contractors and small agricultural co-operatives.

Additional points

Here are some additional points to consider:

Loan terms. Borrowers may receive a PPP Second Draw Loan of up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll costs in the year preceding the loan or the calendar year. However, borrowers in the hospitality or food services industries may receive PPP Second Draw Loans of up to 3.5 times average monthly payroll costs. Only a single PPP Second Draw Loan is permitted to an eligible entity.

Gross receipts and simplified certification of revenue test. PPP Second Draw Loans of no more than $150,000 may submit a certification, on or before the date the loan forgiveness application is submitted, attesting that the eligible entity meets the applicable revenue loss requirement. Nonprofits and veterans’ organizations may use gross receipts to calculate their revenue loss standard.

Loan forgiveness. Like the first PPP loan, a PPP Second Draw Loan may be forgiven for payroll costs of up to 60% (with some exceptions) and nonpayroll costs such as rent, mortgage interest and utilities of 40%. Forgiveness of the loans isn’t included in income as cancellation of indebtedness income.

Application of exemption based on employee availability. The CAA extends current safe harbors on restoring full-time employees and salaries and wages. Specifically, it applies the rule of reducing loan forgiveness for a borrower reducing the number of employees retained and reducing employees’ salaries in excess of 25%.

Deductibility of expenses paid by PPP loans. The CARES Act didn’t address whether expenses paid with the proceeds of PPP loans could be deducted. The IRS eventually took the position that these expenses were nondeductible. The CAA, however, provides that expenses paid both from the proceeds of loans under the original PPP and PPP Second Draw Loans are deductible.

Further questions

Contact us with any questions you might have about PPP loans, including applying for a Second Draw Loan or availing yourself of forgiveness.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The COVID-19 relief bill, signed into law on December 27, 2020, provides a further response from the federal government to the pandemic. It also contains numerous tax breaks for businesses. Here are some highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA), which also includes other laws within it.

Business meal deduction increased 

The new law includes a provision that removes the 50% limit on deducting business meals provided by restaurants and makes those meals fully deductible.

As background, ordinary and necessary food and beverage expenses that are incurred while operating your business are generally deductible. However, for 2020 and earlier years, the deduction is limited to 50% of the allowable expenses.

The new legislation adds an exception to the 50% limit for expenses of food or beverages provided by a restaurant. This rule applies to expenses paid or incurred in calendar years 2021 and 2022.

The use of the word “by” (rather than “in”) a restaurant clarifies that the new tax break isn’t limited to meals eaten on a restaurant’s premises. Takeout and delivery meals from a restaurant are also 100% deductible.

Note: Other than lifting the 50% limit for restaurant meals, the legislation doesn’t change the rules for business meal deductions. All the other existing requirements continue to apply when you dine with current or prospective customers, clients, suppliers, employees, partners and professional advisors with whom you deal with (or could engage with) in your business.

Therefore, to be deductible:

  • The food and beverages can’t be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances, and
  • You or one of your employees must be present when the food or beverages are served.

If food or beverages are provided at an entertainment activity (such as a sporting event or theater performance), either they must be purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost must be stated on a separate bill, invoice or receipt. This is required because the entertainment, unlike the food and beverages, is nondeductible.

PPP loans

The new law authorizes more money towards the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and extends it to March 31, 2021. There are a couple of tax implications for employers that received PPP loans:

  1. Clarifications of tax consequences of PPP loan forgiveness. The law clarifies that the non-taxable treatment of PPP loan forgiveness that was provided by the 2020 CARES Act also applies to certain other forgiven obligations. Also, the law makes clear that taxpayers, whose PPP loans or other obligations are forgiven, are allowed deductions for otherwise deductible expenses paid with the proceeds. In addition, the tax basis and other attributes of the borrower’s assets won’t be reduced as a result of the forgiveness.
  2. Waiver of information reporting for PPP loan forgiveness. Under the CAA, the IRS is allowed to waive information reporting requirements for any amount excluded from income under the exclusion-from-income rule for forgiveness of PPP loans or other specified obligations. (The IRS had already waived information returns and payee statements for loans that were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration).

Much more

These are just a couple of the provisions in the new law that are favorable to businesses. The CAA also provides extensions and modifications to earlier payroll tax relief, allows changes to employee benefit plans, includes disaster relief and much more. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Some might say the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another is a formality. The linear nature of time doesn’t change, merely the numbers we use to mark it.

Others, however, would say that a fresh 12 months — particularly after the arduous, anxiety-inducing nature of 2020 — creates the perfect opportunity for business owners to gather their strength and push ahead with greater vigor. One way to do so is to ring in the new year with a systematic approach to renewing everyone’s focus on profitability.

Create an idea-generating system

Without a system to discover ideas that originate from the day-in, day-out activities of your business, you’ll likely miss opportunities to truly maximize the bottom line. What you want to do is act in ways that inspire and allow you to gather profit-generating concepts. Then you can pick out the most actionable ones and turn them into bottom-line-boosting results. Here are some ways to create such a system:

Share responsibility for profitability with your management team. All too often, managers become trapped in their own information silos and areas of focus. Consider asking everyone in a leadership position to submit ideas for growing the bottom line.

Instruct supervisors to challenge their employees to come up with profit-building ideas. Leaving your employees out of the conversation is a mistake. Ask workers on the front lines how they think your business could make more money.

Target the proposed ideas that will most likely increase sales, cut costs or expand profit margins. As suggestions come in, use robust discussions and careful calculations to determine which ones are truly worth pursuing.

Tie each chosen idea to measurable financial goals. When you’ve picked one or more concepts to pursue in real life, identify which metrics will accurately inform you that you’re on the right track. Track these metrics regularly from start to finish.

Name those accountable for executing each idea. Every business needs its champions! Be sure each profit-building initiative has a defined leader and team members.

Follow a clear, patient and well-monitored implementation process. Ideas that ultimately do build the bottom line in a meaningful way generally take time to identify, implement and execute. Don’t look for quick-fix measures; seek out business transformations that will lead to long-term success.

Many benefits

A carefully constructed and strong-performing profitability idea system can not only grow the bottom line, but also upskill employees and improve morale as strategies come to fruition. Our firm can help you identify profit-building opportunities, choose the right metrics to evaluate and measure them, and track the pertinent data over time.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The best choice of entity can affect your business in several ways, including the amount of your tax bill. In some cases, businesses decide to switch from one entity type to another. Although S corporations can provide substantial tax benefits over C corporations in some circumstances, there are potentially costly tax issues that you should assess before making the decision to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation.

Here are four issues to consider:

1. LIFO inventories. C corporations that use last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventories must pay tax on the benefits they derived by using LIFO if they convert to S corporations. The tax can be spread over four years. This cost must be weighed against the potential tax gains from converting to S status.

2. Built-in gains tax. Although S corporations generally aren’t subject to tax, those that were formerly C corporations are taxed on built-in gains (such as appreciated property) that the C corporation has when the S election becomes effective, if those gains are recognized within five years after the conversion. This is generally unfavorable, although there are situations where the S election still can produce a better tax result despite the built-in gains tax.

3. Passive income. S corporations that were formerly C corporations are subject to a special tax. It kicks in if their passive investment income (including dividends, interest, rents, royalties, and stock sale gains) exceeds 25% of their gross receipts, and the S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits carried over from its C corporation years. If that tax is owed for three consecutive years, the corporation’s election to be an S corporation terminates. You can avoid the tax by distributing the accumulated earnings and profits, which would be taxable to shareholders. Or you might want to avoid the tax by limiting the amount of passive income.

4. Unused losses. If your C corporation has unused net operating losses, they can’t be used to offset its income as an S corporation and can’t be passed through to shareholders. If the losses can’t be carried back to an earlier C corporation year, it will be necessary to weigh the cost of giving up the losses against the tax savings expected to be generated by the switch to S status.

Other considerations

When a business switches from C to S status, these are only some of the factors to consider. For example, shareholder-employees of S corporations can’t get all of the tax-free fringe benefits that are available with a C corporation. And there may be issues for shareholders who have outstanding loans from their qualified plans. These factors have to be taken into account in order to understand the implications of converting from C to S status.

If you’re interested in an entity conversion, contact us. We can explain what your options are, how they’ll affect your tax bill and some possible strategies you can use to minimize taxes. 

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2021. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

January 15

  • Pay the final installment of 2020 estimated tax.
  • Farmers and fishermen: Pay estimated tax for 2020.

February 1 (The usual deadline of January 31 is a Sunday)

  • File 2020 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2020 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2020 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2020. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2020. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944, “Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2020 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

March 1 (The usual deadline of February 28 is a Sunday)

  • File 2020 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if: 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is March 31.)

March 16

  • If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2020 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2020 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Are you considering replacing a car that you’re using in your business? There are several tax implications to keep in mind.

A cap on deductions

Cars are subject to more restrictive tax depreciation rules than those that apply to other depreciable assets. Under so-called “luxury auto” rules, depreciation deductions are artificially “capped.” So is the alternative Section 179 deduction that you can claim if you elect to expense (write-off in the year placed in service) all or part of the cost of a business car under the tax provision that for some assets allows expensing instead of depreciation. For example, for most cars that are subject to the caps and that are first placed in service in calendar year 2020 (including smaller trucks or vans built on a truck chassis that are treated as cars), the maximum depreciation and/or expensing deductions are:

  • $18,100 for the first tax year in its recovery period (2020 for calendar year taxpayers);
  • $16,100 for the second tax year;
  • $9,700 for the third tax year; and
  • $5,760 for each succeeding tax year.

The effect is generally to extend the number of years it takes to fully depreciate the vehicle.

The heavy SUV strategy

Because of the restrictions for cars, you might be better off from a tax standpoint if you replace your business car with a heavy sport utility vehicle (SUV), pickup or van. That’s because the caps on annual depreciation and expensing deductions for passenger automobiles don’t apply to trucks or vans (and that includes SUVs). What type of SUVs qualify? Those that are rated at more than 6,000 pounds gross (loaded) vehicle weight.

This means that in most cases you’ll be able to write off the entire cost of a new heavy SUV used entirely for business purposes as 100% bonus depreciation in the year you place it into service. And even if you elect out of bonus depreciation for the heavy SUV (which generally would apply to the entire depreciation class the SUV belongs in), you can elect to expense under Section 179 (subject to an aggregate dollar limit for all expensed assets), the cost of an SUV up to an inflation-adjusted limit ($25,900 for an SUV placed in service in tax years beginning in 2020). You’d then depreciate the remainder of the cost under the usual rules without regard to the annual caps.

Potential caveats

The tax benefits described above are all subject to adjustment for non-business use. Also, if business use of an SUV doesn’t exceed 50% of total use, the SUV won’t be eligible for the expensing election, and would have to be depreciated on a straight-line method over a six-tax-year period.

Contact us if you’d like more information about tax breaks when you buy a heavy SUV for business. 

© 2020 Covenant CPA

For most retailers, this is the most profitable season of the year. However, customer returns in January can cut deeply into December revenues — particularly if the returns are fraudulent. U.S. retailers suffer annual losses of $18.4 billion from fraudulent returns, according to data analytics company Appriss and the National Retail Federation (NRF). And as antifraud technology company Signifyd has found, the pandemic is encouraging higher retail return rates — as much as 80% higher than before COVID-19 hit. Such a shift is likely to mean even more fraud.

Old dog, new tricks

Return fraud isn’t new. Dishonest customers have long “returned” items they stole or purchased elsewhere for less to stores willing to issue full cash refunds. But growth in online sales has magnified return fraud risk for retailers. The NRF reports that 38% of retailers have observed an increase in the number of buy online, return in-store transactions. And of these retailers, 29% reported an increase in fraudulent returns.

However, retailers that allow shipped returns face even greater risk of losses. In one common scheme, customers buy expensive items, then ship back cheap knockoffs or random objects that approximate the size and weight of the original merchandise. If a retailer issues a refund before its employees open and inspect the returned item, the business probably will end up out-of-pocket.

Entire networks dedicated to return fraud have sprung up on the Web. Many offer to help consumers profit off real purchases by making phony returns. In times of financial insecurity, such siren calls may convince ordinarily honest people to become fraud perpetrators. 

How to act

It’s critical that you use up-to-date return and inventory management systems designed to prevent fraud and shrinkage. But perhaps the most important way to fight return fraud is with a formal merchandise return policy that specifies:

  • A timeframe for returns — for example, 30 or 60 days from the purchase,
  • Any required documentation, such as the original receipt,
  • Whether returns are eligible for a cash refund or only store credit,
  • Whether the return must include the original packaging,
  • Whether returns must be made in person, even if merchandise was purchased online,
  • The condition of the returned goods (most retailers prefer “as new” or “as sold”),
  • What customer information you need, such as address and phone number, and
  • A reason for the return.

You may only want to accept returns if the merchandise is defective. But of course, many customers expect flexible return policies and may take their business elsewhere if yours is too rigid.

Post your return policy at registers, on receipts and on your website. Require that a manager approves any exception made to this return policy.

You can’t afford it

Depending on the size of your business, return fraud could cost you thousands or millions of dollars, an amount you can’t afford during this uncertain time — or anytime. Make sure your return policy is airtight and that employees consistently apply it. Contact us for help with fraud or unusual financial losses.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic impact have hurt many companies, especially small businesses. However, for others, the jarring challenges this year have created opportunities and accelerated changes that were probably going to occur all along.

One particular area of speedy transformation is technology. It’s never been more important for businesses to wield their internal IT effectively, enable customers and vendors to easily interact with those systems, and make the most of artificial intelligence and “big data” to spot trends.

Accomplishing all this is a tall order for even the most energetic business owner or CEO. That’s why many companies end up creating one or more tech-specific executive positions. Assuming you don’t already employ such an individual, should you consider adding an IT exec? Perhaps so.

3 common positions

There are three widely used position titles for technology executives:

1. Chief Information Officer (CIO). This person is typically responsible for managing a company’s internal IT infrastructure and operations. In fact, an easy way to remember the purpose of this position is to replace the word “Information” with “Internal.” A CIO’s job is to oversee the purchase, implementation and proper use of technological systems and products that will maximize the efficiency and productivity of the business.

2. Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In contrast to a CIO, a CTO focuses on external processes — specifically, with customers and vendors. This person usually oversees the development and eventual production of technological products or services that will meet customer needs and increase revenue. The position demands the ability to live on the cutting edge by doing constant research into tech trends while also being highly collaborative with employees and vendors.

3. Chief Digital Officer (CDO). For some companies, the CIO and/or CTO are so busy with their respective job duties that they’re unable to look very far ahead. This is where a CDO typically comes into play. His or her primary objective is to spot new markets, channels or even business models that the company can target, explore and perhaps eventually profit from. So, while a CIO looks internally and a CTO looks externally, a CDO’s gaze is set on a more distant horizon.

Costs vs. benefits

As mentioned, these are three of the most common IT executive positions. Their specific objectives and job duties may vary depending on the business in question. And they are by no means the only examples of such positions. There are many variations, including Chief Marketing Technologist and Chief Information Security Officer.

So, getting back to our original question: is this a good time to add one or more of these execs to your staff? The answer very much depends on the financial strength and projected direction of your company. These positions will call for major expenditures in hiring, payroll and benefits. Our firm can help you weigh the costs vs. benefits.

© 2020 Covenant CPA