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 new COVID-19 relief law that was signed on December 27, 2020, contains a multitude of provisions that may affect you. Here are some of the highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which also contains two other laws: the COVID-related Tax Relief Act (COVIDTRA) and the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act (TCDTR).

Direct payments

The law provides for direct payments (which it calls recovery rebates) of $600 per eligible individual ($1,200 for a married couple filing a joint tax return), plus $600 per qualifying child. The U.S. Treasury Department has already started making these payments via direct bank deposits or checks in the mail and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.

The credit payment amount is phased out at a rate of $5 per $100 of additional income starting at $150,000 of modified adjusted gross income for marrieds filing jointly and surviving spouses, $112,500 for heads of household, and $75,000 for single taxpayers.

Medical expense tax deduction

The law makes permanent the 7.5%-of-adjusted-gross-income threshold on medical expense deductions, which was scheduled to increase to 10% of adjusted gross income in 2021. The lower threshold will make it easier to qualify for the medical expense deduction.

Charitable deduction for non-itemizers

For 2020, individuals who don’t itemize their deductions can take up to a $300 deduction per tax return for cash contributions to qualified charitable organizations. The new law extends this $300 deduction through 2021 for individuals and increases it to $600 for married couples filing jointly. Taxpayers who overstate their contributions when claiming this deduction are subject to a 50% penalty (previously it was 20%).

Allowance of charitable contributions 

In response to the pandemic, the limit on cash charitable contributions by an individual in 2020 was increased to 100% of the individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI). (The usual limit is 60% of adjusted gross income.) The new law extends this rule through 2021.

Energy tax credit

A credit of up to $500 is available for purchases of qualifying energy improvements made to a taxpayer’s main home. However, the $500 maximum allowance must be reduced by any credits claimed in earlier years. The law extends this credit, which was due to expire at the end of 2020, through 2021.

Other energy-efficient provisions

There are a few other energy-related provisions in the new law. For example, the tax credit for a qualified fuel cell motor vehicle and the two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicle were scheduled to expire in 2020 but have been extended through the end of 2021.

There’s also a valuable tax credit for qualifying solar energy equipment expenditures for your home. For equipment placed in service in 2020, the credit rate is 26%. The rate was scheduled to drop to 22% for equipment placed in service in 2021 before being eliminated for 2022 and beyond.

Under the new law, the 26% credit rate is extended to cover equipment placed in service in 2021 and 2022 and the law also extends the 22% rate to cover equipment placed in service in 2023. For 2024 and beyond, the credit is scheduled to vanish.

Maximize tax breaks

These are only a few tax breaks contained in the massive new law. We’ll make sure that you claim all the tax breaks you’re entitled to when we prepare your tax return.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Lessons of 2020: Change management

The year 2020 has taught businesses many lessons. The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic followed by drastic changes to the economy have forced companies to alter the size of their workforces, restructure work environments and revise sales models — just to name a few challenges. And what this has all meant for employees is change.

Even before this year’s public health crisis, many businesses were looking into and setting forth policies regarding change management. In short, this is a formalized approach to providing employees the information, training and ongoing coaching needed to successfully adapt to any modification to their day-to-day jobs.

There’s little doubt that one of the enduring lessons of 2020 is that businesses must be able to shepherd employees through difficult transitions, even (or especially) when the company itself didn’t bring about the change in question.

Why change is hard

Most employees resist change for many reasons. There’s often a perceived loss of, or threat to, job security or status. Inconvenience and unfamiliarity provoke apprehension. In some cases, perhaps because of misinformation, employees may distrust their employers’ motives for a change. And some workers will always simply believe the “old way is better.”

What’s worse, some changes might make employees’ jobs more difficult. For example, moving to a new location might enhance an organization’s image or provide safer or more productive facilities. But doing so also may increase some employees’ commuting times or put employees in a drastically different working environment. When their daily lives are affected in such ways, employees tend to question the decision and experience high levels of anxiety.

What you shouldn’t do

Often, when employees resist change, a company’s decision-makers can’t understand how ideas they’ve spent weeks, months or years deliberating could be so quickly rejected. (Of course, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, tough choices had to be made in a matter of days.) Some leadership teams forget that employees haven’t had time to adjust to a new idea. Instead of working to ease employee fears, executives or supervisors may double down on the change, more strictly enforcing new rules and showing little patience for disagreements or concerns.

And it’s here the implementation effort can break down and start costing the business real dollars and cents. Employees may resist change in many destructive ways, from taking very slow learning curves to calling in sick to filing formal complaints or lawsuits. Some might even quit.

The bottom line: by not engaging in some form of change management, you’re more likely to experience reduced productivity, bad morale and increased turnover.

How to cope

“Life comes at ya fast,” goes the popular saying. Given the events of this year, it’s safe to say that most business owners would agree. Identify ways you’ve been able to help employees deal with this year’s changes and document them so they can be of use to your company in the future. Contact us for help cost-effectively managing your business.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Hit the target with your email marketing

Online retail sales have been booming during the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend has been driven not only by the buying public’s increased inclination to minimize visits to brick-and-mortar stores, but also by the effectiveness of many retailers’ virtual marketing efforts.

One such effort that can benefit most any type of business is email marketing. Although social media marketing tends to get the lion’s share of attention these days, email remains a viable medium for getting out your message — particularly to existing customers.

As your company endeavors to continue marketing its products or services in an uncertain economy, be sure your emails hit the target by relying on some tried-and-true fundamentals.

Draw their attention

Every email starts with a subject line; be sure yours are catchy. They should be no longer than eight words and shouldn’t be in all caps. Put yourself in the customer’s place by paying close attention to demographics. Ask yourself whether you would open the email if you fit the profile. Also, clearly indicate the message’s content.

If your subject line is compelling enough, your recipients will open the email. And the first thing readers should see upon doing so is an equally memorable headline. Make sure it’s different from the subject line, short (four or five words) and in a larger font size than the body of the message.

Make your case

When it comes to the body of the email, make it a quick and easy read. Most people won’t read a lot of text. Think of each marketing email as an “elevator speech,” a quick and concise pitch for specific products or services.

Above all, be persuasive. Customers want to fulfill their needs at a reasonable price, but they may not always have a clear idea of what those needs are. Don’t expect them to search for answers about whether you can meet these expectations. Show them what you’ve got to offer and tell them why they should buy.

Add finishing touches

Consider including visual and interactive content in your marketing emails — such as images, GIFs and videos. Bear in mind, however, that not all email providers support every type of interactivity. Use it judiciously and gather feedback from customers on whether the content is a nice touch or an annoyance.

Last, but not least, close with a “call to action.” Instill a sense of urgency in readers by setting a deadline and telling them precisely what to do. Otherwise, they may interpret the email as merely informational and file it away for reference or simply delete it. Be sure to include clear, “clickable” contact info.

Measure and improve

These are just a few of the basics to keep in mind. We can help your business measure the results of its marketing activity, email and otherwise, and come up with cost-effective ideas for improving the profit-potential of how you interact with your customers and prospects.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to shut down. If this is your situation, we’re here to assist you in any way we can, including taking care of the various tax obligations that must be met.

Of course, a business must file a final income tax return and some other related forms for the year it closes. The type of return to be filed depends on the type of business you have. Here’s a rundown of the basic requirements.

Sole Proprietorships. You’ll need to file the usual Schedule C, “Profit or Loss from Business,” with your individual return for the year you close the business. You may also need to report self-employment tax. 

Partnerships. A partnership must file Form 1065, “U.S. Return of Partnership Income,” for the year it closes. You also must report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. Indicate that this is the final return and do the same on Schedules K-1, “Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, Etc.”

All Corporations. Form 966, “Corporate Dissolution or Liquidation,” must be filed if you adopt a resolution or plan to dissolve a corporation or liquidate any of its stock.

C Corporations. File Form 1120, “U.S. Corporate Income Tax Return,” for the year you close. Report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. Indicate this is the final return.

S Corporations. File Form 1120-S, “U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation” for the year of closing. Report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. The “final return” box must be checked on Schedule K-1.

All Businesses. Other forms may need to be filed to report sales of business property and asset acquisitions if you sell your business.

Employees and contract workers

If you have employees, you must pay them final wages and compensation owed, make final federal tax deposits and report employment taxes. Failure to withhold or deposit employee income, Social Security and Medicare taxes can result in full personal liability for what’s known as the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty.

If you’ve paid any contractors at least $600 during the calendar year in which you close your business, you must report those payments on Form 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation.”

Other tax issues

If your business has a retirement plan for employees, you’ll want to terminate the plan and distribute benefits to participants. There are detailed notice, funding, timing and filing requirements that must be met by a terminating plan. There are also complex requirements related to flexible spending accounts, Health Savings Accounts, and other programs for your employees.

We can assist you with many other complicated tax issues related to closing your business, including Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans, the COVID-19 employee retention tax credit, employment tax deferral, debt cancellation, use of net operating losses, freeing up any remaining passive activity losses, depreciation recapture, and possible bankruptcy issues.

We can advise you on the length of time you need to keep business records. You also must cancel your Employer Identification Number (EIN) and close your IRS business account.

If your business is unable to pay all the taxes it owes, we can explain the available payment options to you. Contact us to discuss these issues and get answers to any questions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The subject of payroll has been top-of-mind for business owners this year. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered economic changes that caused considerable fluctuations in the size of many companies’ workforces. Employees have been laid off, furloughed and, in some cases, rehired. There has also been crisis relief for eligible businesses in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program and the payroll tax credit.

Payroll recordkeeping was important in the “old normal,” but it’s even more important now as businesses continue to navigate their way through a slowly recovering economy and ongoing public health crisis.

Four years

Most employers must withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes from their employees’ paychecks. As such, you must keep records relating to these taxes for at least four years after the due date of an employee’s personal income tax return (generally, April 15) for the year in which the payment was made. This is often referred to as the “records-in-general rule.”

These records include your Employer Identification Number, as well as your employees’ names, addresses, occupations and Social Security numbers. You should also keep for four years the total amounts and dates of payments of compensation and amounts withheld for taxes or otherwise — including reported tips and the fair market value of noncash payments.

In addition, track and retain the compensation amounts subject to withholding for federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, as well as the corresponding amounts withheld for each tax (and the date withheld if withholding occurred on a day different from the payment date). Where applicable, note the reason(s) why total compensation and taxable amount for each tax rate are different.

So much more

A variety of other data and documents fall under the records-in-general rule. Examples include:

  • The pay period covered by each payment of compensation,
  • Forms W-4, “Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate,” and
  • Each employee’s beginning and ending dates of employment.

If your business involves customer tipping, you should retain statements provided by employees reporting tips received. Also carefully track fringe benefits provided to employees, including any required substantiation. Retain evidence of adjustments or settlements of taxes and amounts and dates of tax deposits.

Follow the records-in-general rule, too, for records relating to wage continuation payments made to employees by the employer or third party under an accident or health plan. Documentation should include the beginning and ending dates of the period of absence, and the amount and weekly rate of each payment (including payments made by third parties).

Last, keep copies of each employee’s Form W-4S, “Request for Federal Income Tax Withholding From Sick Pay,” and, where applicable, copies of Form 8922, “Third-Party Sick Pay Recap.”

Valuable information

Proper and comprehensive payroll recordkeeping has become even more critical — and potentially more complex — this year. Our firm can help review your processes in this area and identify improvements that will enable you to avoid compliance problems and make better use of this valuable information.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

As year-end draws near, many businesses will be not only be generating their fourth quarter financial statements, but also looking back on the entire year’s financials. And what a year it’s been. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout have likely affected your sales and expenses, and you’ve probably noticed the impact on both. However, don’t overlook the importance of inventory management and its impact on your financial statements.

Cut back as necessary

Carrying too much inventory can reflect poorly on a business as the value of surplus items drops throughout the year. In turn, your financial statements won’t look as good as they could if they report a substantial amount of unsold goods.

Taking stock and perhaps cutting back on excess inventory reduces interest and storage costs. Doing so also improves your ability to detect fraud and theft. Yet another benefit is that, if you conduct inventory checks regularly, your processes should evolve over time — increasing your capacity to track what’s in stock, what’s selling and what’s not.

One improvement to perhaps budget for here: upgraded inventory tracking and ordering software. Newer applications can help you better forecast demand, minimize overstocking, and share data with suppliers to improve accuracy and efficiency.

Make tough decisions

If yours is a more service-oriented business, you can apply a similar approach. Check into whether you’re “overstocking” on services that just aren’t adding enough revenue to the bottom line anymore. Keeping infrastructure and, yes, even employees in place that aren’t contributing to profitability is much like leaving items on the shelves that aren’t selling.

Making improvements may require some tough calls. Sadly, this probably wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had to make difficult decisions in recent months. Many business owners have had to lay off or furlough employees and substantively alter how they deliver their products or services during the COVID-19 crisis.

You might have long-time customers to whom you provide certain services that just aren’t profitable anymore. If your company might start losing money on these customers, you may have to discontinue the services and sacrifice their business.

You can ease difficult transitions like this by referring customers to another, reputable service provider. Meanwhile, your business should be looking to either find new service areas to generate revenue or expand existing services to more robust market segments.

Take a hard look

As of this writing, the economy appears to be slowly recovering for most (though not all) industries. An environment like this means every dollar is precious and any type of waste or redundancy is even more dangerous.

Take a hard look at your approach to inventory management, or how you’re managing the services you provide, to ensure you’re in step with the times. We can help your business implement cost-effective inventory tracking processes, as well as assist you in gaining key insights from your financial statements.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

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