It’s been a year like no other. The sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in March forced every business owner — ready or not — to execute his or her disaster response plan.

So, how did yours do? Although it may still be a little early to do a complete assessment of what went right and wrong during the crisis, you can take a quick look back right now while the experience is still fresh in your mind.

Get specific

When devising a disaster response plan, brainstorm as many scenarios as possible that could affect your company. What weather-related, environmental and socio-political threats do you face? Obviously, you can now add “pandemic” to the list.

The operative word, however, is “your.” Every company faces distinctive threats related to its industry, size, location(s), and products or services. Identify these as specifically as possible, based on what you’ve learned.

There are some constants for nearly every plan. Seek out alternative suppliers who could fill in for your current ones if necessary. Fortify your IT assets and functionality with enhanced recovery and security capabilities.

Communicate optimally

Another critical factor during and after a crisis is communication, both internal and external. Review whether and how your business was able to communicate in the initial months of the pandemic.

You and most of your management team probably needed to concentrate on maintaining or restoring operations. Who communicated with employees and other stakeholders to keep them abreast of your response and recovery progress? Typically, these parties include:

  • Staff members and their families,
  • Customers,
  • Suppliers,
  • Banks and other financial stakeholders, and
  • Local authorities, first responders and community leaders (as appropriate).

Look into the communication channels that were used — such as voicemail, text messaging, email, website postings and social media. Which were most and least effective? Would some type of new technology enable your business to communicate better?

Revisit and update

If the events of this past spring illustrate anything, it’s that companies can’t create a disaster response plan and toss it on a shelf. Revisit the plan at least annually, looking for adjustments and new risk factors.

You’ll also want to keep the plan clear in the minds of your employees. Be sure that everyone — including new hires — knows exactly what to do by spelling out the communication channels, contacts and procedures you’ll use in the event of a disaster. Everyone should sign a written confirmation that they’ve read the plan’s details, either when hired or when the plan is substantially updated.

In addition, go over disaster response measures during company meetings once or twice a year. You might even want to hold live drills to give staff members a chance to practice their roles and responsibilities.

Heed the lessons

For years, advisors urged business owners to prepare for disasters or else. This year we got the “or else.” Despite the hardships and continuing challenges, however, the lessons being learned are invaluable. Please contact us to discuss ways to manage costs and maintain profitability during these difficult times.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Whether it’s a smart phone, tablet or laptop, mobile devices have become the constant companions of today’s employees. And this relationship has only been further cemented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thousands working from home or other remote locations.

From a productivity standpoint, this is a good thing. So many tasks that once kept employees tied to their desks are now doable from anywhere on flexible schedules. All this convenience, however, brings considerable risk.

Multiple threats

Perhaps the most obvious threat to any company-owned mobile device is theft. That could end a workday early, hamper productivity for days, and lead to considerable replacement hassles and expense. Indeed, given the current economy, thieves may be increasing their efforts to snatch easy-to-grab and easy-to-sell technological items.

Worse yet, a stolen or hacked mobile device means thieves and hackers could gain possession of sensitive, confidential data about your company, as well as its customers and employees.

Amateur criminals might look for credit card numbers to fraudulently buy goods and services. More sophisticated ones, however, may look for Social Security numbers or Employer Identification Numbers to commit identity theft.

5 protective measures

There are a variety of ways that businesses can reinforce protections of their mobile devices. Here are five to consider:

1. Standardize, standardize, standardize. Having a wide variety of makes and models increases risk. Moving toward a standard product and operating system will allow you to address security issues across the board rather than dealing with multiple makes and their varying security challenges.

2. Password protect. Make sure that employees use “power-on” passwords — those that appear whenever a unit is turned on or comes out of sleep mode. In addition, configure devices to require a power-on password after 15 minutes of inactivity and to block access after a specified number of unsuccessful log-in attempts. Require regular password changes, too.

3. Set rules for data. Don’t allow employees to store certain information, such as Social Security numbers, on their devices. If sensitive data must be transported, encrypt it. (That is, make the data unreadable using special coding.)

4. Keep it strictly business. Employees are often tempted to mix personal information with business data on their portable devices. Issue a company policy forbidding or severely limiting this practice. Moreover, establish access limits on networks and social media.

5. Fortify your defenses. Be sure your mobile devices have regularly and automatically updated security software to prevent unauthorized access, block spyware/adware and stop viruses. Consider retaining the right to execute a remote wipe of an asset’s memory if you believe it’s been stolen or hopelessly lost.

More than an object

When assessing the costs associated with a mobile device, remember that it’s not only the value of the physical item that matters, but also the importance and sensitivity of the data stored on it. We can help your business implement a cost-effective process for procuring and protecting all its technology.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

To say that most small to midsize businesses have at least considered taking out a loan this year would probably be an understatement. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has lowered many companies’ revenue but may have also opened opportunities for others to expand or pivot into more profitable areas.

If your company needs working capital to grow, rather than simply survive, you might want to consider a mezzanine loan. These arrangements offer relatively quick access to substantial funding but with risks that you should fully understand before signing on the dotted line.

Equity on the table

Mezzanine financing works by layering a junior loan on top of a senior (or primary) loan. It combines aspects of senior secured debt from a bank and equity-based financing obtained from direct investors. Sources of mezzanine financing can include private equity groups, mutual funds, insurance companies and buyout firms.

Unlike bank loans, mezzanine debt typically is unsecured by the borrower’s assets or has liens subordinate to other lenders. So, the cost of obtaining financing is higher than that of a senior loan.

However, the cost generally is lower than what’s required to acquire funding purely from equity investment. Yet most mezzanine instruments do enable the lender to participate in the borrowing company’s success — or failure. Generally, the lower your interest rate, the more equity you must offer.

Flexibility at a price

The primary advantage of mezzanine financing is that it can provide capital when you can’t obtain it elsewhere or can’t qualify for the amount you’re looking for. That’s why it’s often referred to as a “bridge” to undertaking ambitious objectives such as a business acquisition or desirable piece of commercial property. But mezzanine loans aren’t necessarily an option of last resort; many companies prefer their flexibility when it comes to negotiating terms.

Naturally, there are drawbacks to consider. In addition to having higher interest rates, mezzanine financing carries with it several other potential disadvantages. Loan covenants can be restrictive. And though some lenders are relatively hands-off, they may retain the right to a significant say in company operations — particularly if you don’t repay the loan in a timely manner.

If you default on the loan, the lender may either sell its stake in your company or transfer that equity to another entity. This means you could suddenly find yourself with a co-owner who you’ve never met or intended to work with.

Mezzanine financing can also make an M&A deal more complicated. It introduces an extra interested party to the negotiation table and can make an already tricky deal that much harder.

Explore all options

Generally, mezzanine loans are best suited for businesses with clear and even aggressive growth plans. Our firm can help you fully explore the tax, financial and strategic implications of any lending arrangement, so you can make the right decision.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

You’d be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn’t value its customers, but tough times put many things into perspective. As companies have adjusted to operating during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, prioritizing customer service has become more important than ever.

Without a strong base of loyal buyers, and a concerted effort to win over more market share, your business could very well see diminished profit margins and an escalated risk of being surpassed by competitors. Here are some foundational ways to strengthen customer service during these difficult and uncertain times.

Get management involved

As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your management team and fellow owners (if any) to regularly interact with customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that cultivating these contacts is part of your company culture and a foundation of its profitability.

Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Post articles about the latest customer service achievements on your internal website or distribute companywide emails celebrating successes. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence.

Just be sure to empower employees to make timely decisions. Don’t just talk about catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to act accordingly.

Systemize your responsiveness

Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want immediate information. So, strive to provide instant or at least timely feedback to customers with a highly visible, technologically advanced response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up.

The specifics of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the business itself. It should encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquiries along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face (or direct virtual) interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.

Continue to adjust

By now, you’ve likely implemented a few adjustments to serving your customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have done so, with common measures including:

  • Explaining what you’re doing to cope with the crisis,
  • Being more flexible with payment plans and deadlines, and
  • Exercising greater patience and empathy.

As the months go on, don’t rest on your laurels. Continually reassess your approach to customer service and make adjustments that suit the changing circumstances of not only the pandemic, but also your industry and local economy. Seize opportunities to help customers and watch out for mistakes that could hurt your company’s reputation and revenue.

Don’t give up

This year has put everyone under unforeseen amounts of stress and, in turn, providing world-class customer services has become even more difficult. Keep at it — your extra efforts now could lay the groundwork for a much stronger customer base in the future. Our firm can help you assess your customer service and calculate its impact on revenue and profitability.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Many businesses now offer, as part of their health care benefits, various types of accounts that reimburse employees for medical expenses on a tax-advantaged basis. These include health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRAs) and Health Savings Account (HSAs, which are usually offered in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan).

For employees to get the full value out of such accounts, they need to educate themselves on what expenses are eligible for reimbursement by a health FSA or HRA, or for a tax-free distribution from an HSA. Although an employer shouldn’t provide tax advice to employees, you can give them a heads-up that the rules for reimbursements or distributions vary depending on the type of account.

Pub. 502

Unfortunately, no single publication provides an exhaustive list of official, government-approved expenses eligible for reimbursement by a health FSA or HRA, or for a tax-free distribution from an HSA. IRS Publication 502 — “Medical and Dental Expenses” (Pub. 502) comes the closest, but it should be used with caution.

Pub. 502 is written largely to help taxpayers determine what medical expenses can be deducted on their income tax returns; it’s not meant to address the tax-favored health care accounts in question. Although the rules for deductibility overlap in many respects with the rules governing health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs, there are some important differences. Thus, employees shouldn’t use Pub. 502 as the sole determinant for whether an expense is reimbursable by a health FSA or HRA, or eligible for tax-free distribution from an HSA.

Various factors

You might warn health care account participants that various factors affect whether and when a medical expense is reimbursable or a distribution allowable. These include:

Timing rules. Pub. 502 notes that expenses may be deducted only for the year in which they were paid, but it doesn’t explain the different timing rules for the tax-favored accounts. For example, a health FSA can reimburse an expense only for the year in which it was incurred, regardless of when it was paid.

Insurance restrictions. Taxpayers may deduct health insurance premiums on their tax returns if certain requirements are met. However, reimbursement of such premiums by health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs is subject to restrictions that vary according to the type of tax-favored account.

Over-the-counter (OTC) drug documentation. OTC drugs other than insulin aren’t tax-deductible, but they may be reimbursed by health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs if substantiation and other requirements are met.

Greater appreciation

The pandemic has put a renewed emphasis on the importance of employer-provided health care benefits. The federal government has even passed COVID-19-related relief measures for some tax-favored accounts.

As mentioned, the more that employees understand these benefits, the more they’ll be able to effectively use them — and the greater appreciation they’ll have of your business for providing them. Our firm can help you fully understand the tax implications, for both you and employees, of any type of health care benefit.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act made changes to excess business losses. This includes some changes that are retroactive and there may be opportunities for some businesses to file amended tax returns.

If you hold an interest in a business, or may do so in the future, here is more information about the changes.

Deferral of the excess business loss limits

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provided that net tax losses from active businesses in excess of an inflation-adjusted $500,000 for joint filers, or an inflation-adjusted $250,000 for other covered taxpayers, are to be treated as net operating loss (NOL) carryforwards in the following tax year. The covered taxpayers are individuals, estates and trusts that own businesses directly or as partners in a partnership or shareholders in an S corporation.

The $500,000 and $250,000 limits, which are adjusted for inflation for tax years beginning after calendar year 2018, were scheduled under the TCJA to apply to tax years beginning in calendar years 2018 through 2025. But the CARES Act has retroactively postponed the limits so that they now apply to tax years beginning in calendar years 2021 through 2025.

The postponement means that you may be able to amend:

  1. Any filed 2018 tax returns that reflected a disallowed excess business loss (to allow the loss in 2018) and
  2. Any filed 2019 tax returns that reflect a disallowed 2019 loss and/or a carryover of a disallowed 2018 loss (to allow the 2019 loss and/or eliminate the carryover).

Note that the excess business loss limits also don’t apply to tax years that begin in 2020. Thus, such a 2020 year can be a window to start a business with large up-front-deductible items (for example capital items that can be 100% deducted under bonus depreciation or other provisions) and be able to offset the resulting net losses from the business against investment income or income from employment (see below).

Changes to the excess business loss limits 

The CARES Act made several retroactive corrections to the excess business loss rules as they were originally stated in the 2017 TCJA.

Most importantly, the CARES Act clarified that deductions, gross income or gain attributable to employment aren’t taken into account in calculating an excess business loss. This means that excess business losses can’t shelter either net taxable investment income or net taxable employment income. Be aware of that if you’re planning a start-up that will begin to generate, or will still be generating, excess business losses in 2021.

Another change provides that an excess business loss is taken into account in determining any NOL carryover but isn’t automatically carried forward to the next year. And a generally beneficial change states that excess business losses don’t include any deduction under the tax code provisions involving the NOL deduction or the qualified business income deduction that effectively reduces income taxes on many businesses. 

And because capital losses of non-corporations can’t offset ordinary income under the NOL rules:

  • Capital loss deductions aren’t taken into account in computing the excess business loss and
  • The amount of capital gain taken into account in computing the loss can’t exceed the lesser of capital gain net income from a trade or business or capital gain net income.

Contact us with any questions you have about this or other tax matters.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

In the COVID-19 era, many parents are hiring nannies and babysitters because their daycare centers and summer camps have closed. This may result in federal “nanny tax” obligations.

Keep in mind that the nanny tax may apply to all household workers, including housekeepers, babysitters, gardeners or others who aren’t independent contractors.

If you employ someone who’s subject to the nanny tax, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from the individual’s pay. You only must withhold if the worker asks you to and you agree. (In that case, ask the nanny to fill out a Form W-4.) However, you may have other withholding and payment obligations.

Withholding FICA and FUTA

You must withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes (FICA) if your nanny earns cash wages of $2,200 or more (excluding food and lodging) during 2020. If you reach the threshold, all of the wages (not just the excess) are subject to FICA.

However, if your nanny is under 18 and childcare isn’t his or her principal occupation, you don’t have to withhold FICA taxes. Therefore, if your nanny is really a student/part-time babysitter, there’s no FICA tax liability.

Both employers and household workers have an obligation to pay FICA taxes. Employers are responsible for withholding the worker’s share of FICA and must pay a matching employer amount. FICA tax is divided between Social Security and Medicare. Social Security tax is 6.2% for the both the employer and the worker (12.4% total). Medicare tax is 1.45% each for both the employer and the worker (2.9% total).

If you prefer, you can pay your nanny’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, instead of withholding it from pay.

Note: It’s unclear how these taxes will be affected by the executive order that President Trump signed on August 8, which allows payroll taxes to be deferred from September 1 through December 31, 2020.

You also must pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax if you pay $1,000 or more in cash wages (excluding food and lodging) to your worker in any calendar quarter of this year or last year. FUTA tax applies to the first $7,000 of wages. The maximum FUTA tax rate is 6%, but credits reduce it to 0.6% in most cases. FUTA tax is paid only by the employer.

Reporting and paying

You pay nanny tax by increasing your quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from your wages — rather than making an annual lump-sum payment.

You don’t have to file any employment tax returns, even if you’re required to withhold or pay tax (unless you own a business, see below). Instead, you report employment taxes on Schedule H of your tax return.

On your return, you include your employer identification number (EIN) when reporting employment taxes. The EIN isn’t the same as your Social Security number. If you need an EIN, you must file Form SS-4.

However, if you own a business as a sole proprietor, you must include the taxes for your nanny on the FICA and FUTA forms (940 and 941) that you file for your business. And you use the EIN from your sole proprietorship to report the taxes. You also must provide your nanny with a Form W-2.

Recordkeeping

Maintain careful tax records for each household employee. Keep them for at least four years from the later of the due date of the return or the date the tax was paid. Records include: employee name, address, Social Security number; employment dates; wages paid; withheld FICA or income taxes; FICA taxes paid by you for your worker; and copies of forms filed.

Contact us for help or with questions about how to comply with these requirements.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If your business was fortunate enough to get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan taken out in connection with the COVID-19 crisis, you should be aware of the potential tax implications.

PPP basics

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted on March 27, 2020, is designed to provide financial assistance to Americans suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act authorized up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. In April, Congress authorized additional PPP funding and it’s possible more relief could be part of another stimulus law.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with an interest rate of 1%. PPP loan proceeds must be used by the business on certain eligible expenses. The PPP allows the interest and principal on the PPP loan to be entirely forgiven if the business spends the loan proceeds on these expense items within a designated period of time and uses a certain percentage of the PPP loan proceeds on payroll expenses.

An eligible recipient may have a PPP loan forgiven in an amount equal to the sum of the following costs incurred and payments made during the covered period:

  1. Payroll costs;
  2. Interest (not principal) payments on covered mortgage obligations (for mortgages in place before February 15, 2020);
  3. Payments for covered rent obligations (for leases that began before February 15, 2020); and
  4. Certain utility payments.

An eligible recipient seeking forgiveness of indebtedness on a covered loan must verify that the amount for which forgiveness is requested was used to retain employees, make interest payments on a covered mortgage, make payments on a covered lease or make eligible utility payments.

Cancellation of debt income

In general, the reduction or cancellation of non-PPP indebtedness results in cancellation of debt (COD) income to the debtor, which may affect a debtor’s tax bill. 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.

Expenses paid with loan proceeds

The IRS has stated that expenses paid with proceeds of PPP loans can’t be deducted, because the loans are forgiven without you having taxable COD income. Therefore, the proceeds are, in effect, tax-exempt income. Expenses allocable to tax-exempt income are nondeductible, because deducting the expenses would result in a double tax benefit.

However, the IRS’s position on this issue has been criticized and some members of Congress have argued that the denial of the deduction for these expenses is inconsistent with legislative intent. Congress may pass new legislation directing IRS to allow deductions for expenses paid with PPP loan proceeds.

PPP Audits

Be aware that leaders at the U.S. Treasury and the Small Business Administration recently announced that recipients of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $2 million or more should expect an audit if they apply for loan forgiveness. This safe harbor will protect smaller borrowers from PPP audits based on good faith certifications. However, government leaders have stated that there may be audits of smaller PPP loans if they see possible misuse of funds.

Contact us with any further questions you might have on PPP loan forgiveness.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

It’s August, and that means it’s time to get ready to go back to school for many students. If your child recently graduated from high school and is heading to college in the next few weeks, besides assembling the essentials — such as clothing, toiletries, bedding and a laptop — consider having your child “pack” a few estate planning documents that he or she may need at this stage of life.

Needless to say, having all the necessary financial and medical documents may be more important than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And even if your student is staying home to participate in online learning this year, having these documents prepared now can provide peace of mind when he or she returns to campus.

Let’s take a closer look at four such documents:

1. Health care power of attorney. With a health care power of attorney (sometimes referred to as a “health care proxy” or “durable medical power of attorney”), your child appoints someone — probably you or his or her other parent — to make health care decisions on his or her behalf should he or she be unable to do so. A health care power of attorney should provide guidance on how to make health care decisions. Although it’s impossible to anticipate every potential scenario, the document can provide guiding principles.

2. HIPAA authorization. To accompany the health care power of attorney, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization gives health care providers the ability to share information about your child’s medical condition with you. Absent a HIPAA authorization, making health care decisions could be more difficult.

3. Financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney appoints someone to make financial decisions or execute transactions on your child’s behalf under certain circumstances. For example, a power of attorney might authorize you to handle your child’s financial affairs while he or she is out of the country studying abroad or, in the case of a “durable” power of attorney, incapacitated.

4. Will. Although your child is still in his or her upper teens or early twenties, he or she may not be too young to have a will drawn up. This is especially true if your child owns assets. A will is a legal document that arranges for the distribution of property after a person dies. It names an executor or personal representative who’ll be responsible for overseeing the estate as it goes through probate.

If you have questions about any of these documents, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We can help provide peace of mind that your child’s health and financial affairs are properly handled.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

When the COVID-19 crisis exploded in March, among the many concerns was the state of the nation’s supply chains. Business owners are no strangers to such worry. It’s long been known that, if too much of a company’s supply chain is concentrated (that is, dependent) on one thing, that business is in danger. The pandemic has only complicated matters.

To guard against this risk, you’ve got to maintain a constant awareness of the state of your supply chain and be prepared to adjust as necessary and feasible.

Products or services

The term “concentration” can be applied to both customers and suppliers. Generally, concentration risks become significant when a business relies on a customer or supplier for 10% or more of its revenue or materials, or on several customers or suppliers located in the same geographic region.

Concentration related to your specific products or services is something to keep a close eye on. If your company’s most profitable product or service line depends on a few key customers, you’re essentially at their mercy. If just one or two decide to make budget cuts or switch to a competitor, it could significantly lower your revenues.

Similarly, if a major supplier suddenly increases prices or becomes lax in quality control, your profit margin could narrow considerably. This is especially problematic if your number of alternative suppliers is limited.

To cope, do your research. Regularly look into what suppliers might best serve your business and whether new ones have emerged that might allow you to offset your dependence on one or two providers. Technology can be of great help in this effort — for example, monitor trusted news sources online, follow social media accounts of experts and use artificial intelligence to target the best deals.

Geography

A second type of concentration risk is geographic. When gauging it, assess whether many of your customers or suppliers are in one geographic region. Operating near supply chain partners offers advantages such as lower transportation costs and faster delivery. Conversely, overseas locales may enable you to cut labor and raw materials expenses.

But there are also risks associated with geographic centricity. Local weather conditions, tax rate hikes and regulatory changes can have a substantial impact. As we’ve unfortunately encountered this year, the severity of COVID-19 in different regions of the country is affecting the operational ability and capacity of suppliers in those areas.

These same threats apply when dealing with global partners, with the added complexity of greater physical distances and longer shipping times. Geopolitical uncertainty and exchange rate volatility may also negatively affect overseas suppliers.

Challenges and opportunities

Business owners — particularly those who run smaller companies — have always faced daunting challenges in maintaining strong supply chains. The pandemic has added a new and difficult dimension. Our firm can help you assess your supply chain and identify opportunities for cost-effective improvements.

© 2020 Covenant CPA