Social media for business: Your time has come. That’s not to say it wasn’t important before but, during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, connecting with customers and prospects via a popular platform is essential to maintaining visibility, building goodwill and perhaps even generating a bit of revenue.

What’s challenging is that the social media strategy you deployed before the crisis may no longer be effective or appropriate. Now that businesses have had a couple of months to adjust, some best practices are emerging:

Review your approach. Assuming your company already has an active social media presence, take a measured, objective look at what you do and how you do it. Gather feedback from managers and key employees. If feasible, ask trusted customers if they feel your posts have been in tune with the times. While you recalibrate, don’t hesitate to slow down or even pause your social media efforts.

Look to help, not sell. The drastic economic slowdown has ratcheted up the pressure on everyone. When revenue starts falling off, it’s only natural to want to market aggressively and push sales as hard as possible.

But, on social media, this tactic generally doesn’t play well. Many people are dealing with job losses and financial hardship. They may view hard-sell tactics as insensitive or, worse yet, exploitive of the crisis. Create posts that offer positive messages of empathy and encouragement while also letting friends and followers know that you’re open for business.

Deliver consistency. Although you may need to tweak the content of your posts to avoid appearing out of touch, a national crisis probably isn’t the time to drastically change the look and style of your posts. Customers value brand consistency and may even draw comfort from seeing your business soldier on in a familiar fashion.

Engage with customers. Unlike traditional marketing, social media is designed to be interactive. So, seek out viable opportunities to increase engagement with those who follow your accounts. Many people are feeling isolated and would welcome conversation starters, coping tips, authentic replies to questions and gratitude for compliments.

As always, however, interaction with the public on social media can be fraught with danger. Choose discussion topics carefully, exercise restraint in dealing with criticism, and be on guard for “trolling” or conversations that could get into politics, religion or other sensitive topics.

Social media was once a brave new world for businesses to navigate. For the time being, it may be the only world in which many companies can interact directly with a large number of customers and prospects. Manage your message carefully. We can help you assess the costs and results of your marketing efforts, including on social media, and devise sensible strategies.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Nearly everyone has heard about the Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) that the federal government is sending to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The IRS reports that in the first four weeks of the program, 130 million individuals received payments worth more than $200 billion.

However, some people are still waiting for a payment. And others received an EIP but it was less than what they were expecting. Here are some answers why this might have happened.

Basic amounts

If you’re under a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold, you’re generally eligible for the full $1,200 ($2,400 for married couples filing jointly). In addition, if you have a “qualifying child,” you’re eligible for an additional $500.

Here are some of the reasons why you may receive less:

Your child isn’t eligible. Only children eligible for the Child Tax Credit qualify for the additional $500 per child. That means you must generally be related to the child, live with them more than half the year and provide at least half of their support. A qualifying child must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or other qualifying resident alien; be under the age of 17 at the end of the year for the tax return on which the IRS bases the payment; and have a Social Security number or Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number.

Note: A dependent college student doesn’t qualify for an EIP, and even if their parents may claim him or her as a dependent, the student normally won’t qualify for the additional $500.

You make too much money. You’re eligible for a full EIP if your AGI is up to: $75,000 for individuals, $112,500 for head of household filers and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. For filers with income above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000/$112,500/$150,000 thresholds.

You’re eligible for a reduced payment if your AGI is between: $75,000 and $99,000 for an individual; $112,500 and $136,500 for a head of household; and $150,000 and $198,000 for married couples filing jointly. Filers with income exceeding those amounts with no children aren’t eligible and won’t receive payments.

You have some debts. The EIP is offset by past-due child support. And it may be reduced by garnishments from creditors. Federal tax refunds, including EIPs, aren’t protected from garnishment by creditors under federal law once the proceeds are deposited into a bank account.

If you receive an incorrect amount

These are only a few of the reasons why an EIP might be less than you expected. If you receive an incorrect amount and you meet the criteria to receive more, you may qualify to receive an additional amount early next year when you file your 2020 federal tax return. We can evaluate your situation when we prepare your return. And if you’re still waiting for a payment, be aware that the IRS is still mailing out paper EIPs and announced that they’ll continue to go out over the next few months.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Several major companies have already filed for bankruptcy during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and many more large and small businesses are expected to follow suit. If you’re a creditor of a company that’s liquidating, it may be challenging to get back what you’re owed. That’s where a solvency opinion can help. An expert determines whether the company could meet its long-term interest and repayment obligations when it made — or didn’t make — payments to creditors.

Examining the subject

Solvency experts consider many issues when examining a business. But ultimately, the outcome of three tests enable an expert to determine solvency:

1. Balance sheet. At the time of the transaction at issue, did the subject’s asset value exceed its liability value? Assets are generally valued at fair market value, rather than at book value. The latter is typically based on historic cost, and fixed assets (such as vehicles and equipment) may be reduced by annual depreciation expense. But the balance sheet is just a starting point. Adjustments may be needed to balance sheet items so that they more accurately reflect the fair market value of assets.

2. Cash flow. This test examines whether the subject incurred debts that were beyond its ability to pay as they matured. It involves analysis of a series of projections of future financial performance. Experts consider a range of scenarios. These include management’s growth expectations, lower-than-expected growth, and no growth — as well as past performance, current economic conditions and future prospects.

3. Adequate capital. The final test determines whether a company has adequate capital and is likely to survive in the normal course of business, bearing in mind reasonable fluctuations in the future. In addition to looking at the value of net equity and cash flow, experts consider factors such as asset volatility, debt repayment schedules and available credit.

Companies generally are considered solvent by solvency experts if they pass all three of these tests.

Presumed insolvent

Courts typically presume that a company is insolvent unless a party to litigation proves otherwise. You can bolster your position with a comprehensive solvency analysis performed by a qualified expert. Contact us for more information about obtaining one.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Some of the most effective estate planning strategies involve setting up irrevocable trusts. For a trust to be deemed irrevocable, you, the grantor, lose all incidents of ownership of the trust’s assets. In other words, you’re effectively removing those assets from your taxable estate.

But what if you’re uncomfortable placing your assets beyond your control? What happens if your financial fortunes take a turn for the worse after you’ve irrevocably transferred a sizable portion of your wealth? This may be an especially pertinent question in light of the current economic downturn resulting from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

If you’re married, and feel as though your marriage is strong, a spousal lifetime access trust (SLAT) allows you to obtain the benefits of an irrevocable trust while creating a financial backup plan.

A SLAT in action

A SLAT is simply an irrevocable trust that authorizes the trustee to make distributions to your spouse if needs arise. Like other irrevocable trusts, a SLAT can be designed to benefit your children, grandchildren or future generations. You can use your lifetime gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions (currently, $11.58 million each) to shield contributions to the trust, as well as future appreciation, from transfer taxes. And the trust assets also receive some protection against claims by your beneficiaries’ creditors, including any former spouses.

The key benefit of a SLAT is that by naming your spouse as a lifetime beneficiary you retain indirect access to the trust assets. You can set up the trust to make distributions based on an “ascertainable standard” — such as your spouse’s health, education, maintenance or support — or you can give the trustee full discretion to distribute income or principal to your spouse.

To keep the trust assets out of your taxable estate, you must not act as trustee. You can appoint your spouse as trustee, but only if distributions are limited to an ascertainable standard. If you desire greater flexibility over distributions to your spouse, appoint an independent trustee. Also, the trust document must prohibit distributions in satisfaction of your legal support obligations.

Another critical requirement is to fund the trust with your separate property. If you use marital or community property, there’s a risk that the trust assets will end up in your spouse’s estate.

Understand the pitfalls

There’s a significant risk inherent in the SLAT strategy: If your spouse predeceases you, or if you and your spouse divorce, you’ll lose your indirect access to the trust assets. One way to mitigate this risk is to use dual SLATs. In other words, you and your spouse each establish an irrevocable trust using your separate property and naming each other as lifetime beneficiaries.

If you’re considering using a SLAT, or would like to learn about other estate planning strategies, contact us to learn more about the benefits and risks.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Thanks to affordable technology, more and more companies have been allowing employees to work remotely in recent years. It’s become feasible to procure laptops, set up security protocols, use cloud servers and rely on employees’ home Wi-Fi connections to create functional virtual workspaces. In turn, many of these businesses have lowered overhead costs such as office rent and utilities.

Of course, with the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many companies have had to mandate that any employees who can work from home do so. As a result, virtual team building has become more important than ever.

Ensure consistency of processes and expectations

When employees work from home, many of the processes they use to complete tasks and fulfill duties may change slightly — or even drastically — to fit the technology used to execute them. This can cause confusion and lead to mistakes or conflicts that affect employee morale.

Make sure every virtual team develops and follows processes that produce results consistent with those generated on your physical premises. Doing so may require a concerted effort that slows productivity temporarily while everyone gets on the same page.

Meanwhile, reinforce with workers that your expectations of them are the same whether they work on-site or remotely. They shouldn’t feel as if they must work extra hard from home to “prove themselves,” but they do need to demonstrate that they’re getting things done.

Hold regular meetings — and “irregular” ones

Among the biggest challenges for work-from-home employees is feeling disconnected from their fellow team members. Brief, regularly scheduled Web-based meetings are a good way to address this dilemma. These gatherings allow everyone to see or hear one another (or both) and provide employees with the opportunity to voice concerns and contribute ideas.

If a given team is relatively new at working remotely, or you just want to bring any group of employees closer together, you could also hold special meetings specifically geared toward team building. There’s a wide variety of icebreakers, games and activities that teams can use to learn more about each other and to gain comfort in communicating.

For example, you can invite participants to share stories and photos of their pets, hold trivia contests or even sing karaoke. Just be sure to tailor such team-building efforts to your company’s culture and be wary of pushing remote workers too far out of their comfort zones.

Find a way

Whether your business has had employees working remotely for years or just recently had to ask workers to stay home because of COVID-19, there are plenty of ways to help them communicate better and enhance their performance as a team. We offer assistance in measuring productivity and making smart investments in the right team-building technology.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Do you want to save more for retirement on a tax-favored basis? If so, and if you qualify, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution for the 2019 tax year between now and the extended tax filing deadline and claim the write-off on your 2019 return. Or you can contribute to a Roth IRA and avoid paying taxes on future withdrawals.

You can potentially make a contribution of up to $6,000 (or $7,000 if you were age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019). If you’re married, your spouse can potentially do the same, thereby doubling your tax benefits.

The deadline for 2019 traditional and Roth contributions for most taxpayers would have been April 15, 2020. However, because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the IRS extended the deadline to file 2019 tax returns and make 2019 IRA contributions until July 15, 2020.

Of course, there are some ground rules. You must have enough 2019 earned income (from jobs, self-employment, etc.) to equal or exceed your IRA contributions for the tax year. If you’re married, either spouse can provide the necessary earned income.

Also, deductible IRA contributions are reduced or eliminated if last year’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is too high.

Two contribution types

If you haven’t already maxed out your 2019 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these three types of contributions by the deadline:

1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2019 tax return. If you or your spouse do participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to the following MAGI phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phaseout range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:
    • For a spouse who participated in 2019: $103,000–$123,000.
    • For a spouse who didn’t participate in 2019: $193,000-$203,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan: $64,000–$74,000.

Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution. But those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.

2. Roth. Roth IRA contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free, if you satisfy certain requirements.

Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly: $193,000–$203,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers: $122,000–$137,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your 2019 MAGI is within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions, you’ll only be taxed on the growth.

Act soon

Because of the extended deadline, you still have time to make traditional and Roth IRA contributions for 2019 (and you can also contribute for 2020). This is a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has opened the floodgates to scam artists attempting to profit from sick, anxious and financially vulnerable Americans. On the frontlines fighting fraud are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and other government agencies. Here are some of the fraud schemes they’re actively investigating —  and the perpetrators they’ve rounded up.

Peddling false hope

The FTC has sent warning letters to almost 100 businesses for making scientifically unsubstantiated claims about their products. Companies from California to Virginia, Indiana to Florida have touted (mostly online or by phone) “treatments” for COVID-19, even though the federal government hasn’t approved any vaccines or cures for the disease.

Letter recipients must stop making deceptive claims immediately and notify the FTC within 48 hours about the actions they’ve taken. Noncompliance can result in a federal court injunction and an order to refund deceived customers. Just last week, the FTC took the seller of a “wellness booster” to court. Originally, the product — capsules containing Vitamin C and herbal extracts — had been marketed as a cancer cure. But the enterprising fraudster pivoted in March 2020 to exploit COVID-19 fears.

Technological accomplices

Producers and marketers of fake cures aren’t the only companies under scrutiny. The FTC, in joint letters with the Federal Communications Commission, has warned several Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers for “assisting and facilitating” illegal telemarketing and robocalls related to COVID-19. This is a violation of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule.

The DOJ has also come down on several VoIP providers for knowingly transmitting robocalls from “government officials.” Although there’s uncertainty about whether VoIP and similar services can be considered liable for the actions of their users, law enforcement officials are clearly serious about taking down those who would exploit the pandemic for personal gain.

Opportunity knocks

Government agencies also have their sights on smaller, opportunistic scams. Recently, the FTC warned consumers to beware of fake COVID-19 testing sites set up in parking lots with realistic looking signs, tents and workers. Not only have these criminals obtained Social Security and credit card numbers from test-seekers, but they may have helped spread contagion through unsanitary contact with them.

And the DOJ is raising the alarm about the role cryptocurrency is playing in many COVID-19 schemes. Everyone from snake-oil sellers to bad-investment promoters are asking their victims to pay with cryptocurrency. Therefore, it should be recognized as a red flag.

How to stay safe

Many fraud schemes present since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States — small business loan scams, charity fraud and attempts to steal stimulus payment checks — also continue apace. Your best defense, as always, is to hang up on suspicious calls, delete fake-looking emails and be wary of any claims that sound too good to be true. If you encounter fraud, report it to ftc.gov.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has refocused people’s thoughts on the health and safety of their families. In addition to taking the necessary steps today to protect your loved ones, it’s equally important to consider their financial security in the future.

If you don’t have a will, drafting one should be your first step in developing a comprehensive estate plan. Because of stay-at-home orders in many states, it may be tempting to turn to online do-it-yourself (DIY) tools that promise to help you create a will (and other estate planning documents). Even though this may be a relatively cheap option, using these online tools is risky except in the simplest cases.

A will that isn’t executed properly under state law isn’t legally binding. Therefore, your assets may be divided according to state intestacy laws, regardless of your intentions. And, if you have young children, a court may appoint their legal guardian.

No “one-size-fits-all” solution

Despite what you might have read online, there’s no single prototype for wills. It’s complicated because the laws can vary widely from state to state. For instance, some states recognize oral wills, while others don’t. Or a state may require two or even three attesting witnesses.

One common mistake of DIY wills is leaving out important provisions that can lead to challenges in the future. Case in point: If the will doesn’t include a residuary clause addressing amounts that are “left over” after estate debts and tax payments have been settled, an unspecified party could walk away with a large sum of money. It might even be a family member you had wanted to “disinherit.”

Turn to a professional

The bottom line is that there is too much risk by taking shortcuts when it comes to drafting your will. Have your will drafted and executed by a reputable attorney. Questions? Contact us.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected many Americans’ finances. Here are some answers to questions you may have right now.

My employer closed the office and I’m working from home. Can I deduct any of the related expenses?

Unfortunately, no. If you’re an employee who telecommutes, there are strict rules that govern whether you can deduct home office expenses. For 2018–2025 employee home office expenses aren’t deductible. (Starting in 2026, an employee may deduct home office expenses, within limits, if the office is for the convenience of his or her employer and certain requirements are met.)

Be aware that these are the rules for employees. Business owners who work from home may qualify for home office deductions.

My son was laid off from his job and is receiving unemployment benefits. Are they taxable?

Yes. Unemployment compensation is taxable for federal tax purposes. This includes your son’s state unemployment benefits plus the temporary $600 per week from the federal government. (Depending on the state he lives in, his benefits may be taxed for state tax purposes as well.)

Your son can have tax withheld from unemployment benefits or make estimated tax payments to the IRS.

The value of my stock portfolio is currently down. If I sell a losing stock now, can I deduct the loss on my 2020 tax return?

It depends. Let’s say you sell a losing stock this year but earlier this year, you sold stock shares at a gain. You have both a capital loss and a capital gain. Your capital gains and losses for the year must be netted against one another in a specific order, based on whether they’re short-term (held one year or less) or long-term (held for more than one year).

If, after the netting, you have short-term or long-term losses (or both), you can use them to offset up to $3,000 ordinary income ($1,500 for married taxpayers filing separately). Any loss in excess of this limit is carried forward to later years, until all of it is either offset against capital gains or deducted against ordinary income in those years, subject to the $3,000 limit.

I know the tax filing deadline has been extended until July 15 this year. Does that mean I have more time to contribute to my IRA?

Yes. You have until July 15 to contribute to an IRA for 2019. If you’re eligible, you can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA, plus an extra $1,000 “catch-up” amount if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2019.

What about making estimated payments for 2020?

The 2020 estimated tax payment deadlines for the first quarter (due April 15) and the second quarter (due June 15) have been extended until July 15, 2020.

Need help?

These are only some of the tax-related questions you may have related to COVID-19. Contact us if you have other questions or need more information about the topics discussed above.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act eliminates some of the tax-revenue-generating provisions included in a previous tax law. Here’s a look at how the rules for claiming certain tax losses have been modified to provide businesses with relief from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

NOL deductions

Basically, you may be able to benefit by carrying a net operating loss (NOL) into a different year — a year in which you have taxable income — and taking a deduction for it against that year’s income. The CARES Act includes favorable changes to the rules for deducting NOLs. First, it permanently eases the taxable income limitation on deductions.

Under an unfavorable provision included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), an NOL arising in a tax year beginning in 2018 and later and carried over to a later tax year couldn’t offset more than 80% of the taxable income for the carryover year (the later tax year), calculated before the NOL deduction. As explained below, under the TCJA, most NOLs arising in tax years ending after 2017 also couldn’t be carried back to earlier years and used to offset taxable income in those earlier years. These unfavorable changes to the NOL deduction rules were permanent — until now.

For tax years beginning before 2021, the CARES Act removes the TCJA taxable income limitation on deductions for prior-year NOLs carried over into those years. So NOL carryovers into tax years beginning before 2021 can be used to fully offset taxable income for those years.
For tax years beginning after 2020, the CARES Act allows NOL deductions equal to the sum of:

  • 100% of NOL carryovers from pre-2018 tax years, plus
  • The lesser of 100% of NOL carryovers from post-2017 tax years, or 80% of remaining taxable income (if any) after deducting NOL carryovers from pre-2018 tax years.

As you can see, this is a complex rule. But it’s more favorable than what the TCJA allowed and the change is permanent.  

Carrybacks allowed for certain losses

Under another unfavorable TCJA provision, NOLs arising in tax years ending after 2017 generally couldn’t be carried back to earlier years and used to offset taxable income in those years. Instead, NOLs arising in tax years ending after 2017 could only be carried forward to later years. But they could be carried forward for an unlimited number of years. (There were exceptions to the general no-carryback rule for losses by farmers and property/casualty insurance companies).

Under the CARES Act, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning in 2018 through 2020 can be carried back for five years.

Important: If it’s beneficial, you can elect to waive the carryback privilege for an NOL and, instead, carry the NOL forward to future tax years. In addition, barring a further tax-law change, the no-carryback rule will come back for NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after 2020.

Past year opportunities

These favorable CARES Act changes may affect prior tax years for which you’ve already filed tax returns. To benefit from the changes, you may need to file an amended tax return. Contact us to learn more.

© 2020 Covenant CPA