What’s Next for a Stimulus Bill?

Covid-19 Stimulus Bill Number 2The Senate Republicans’ slimmed-down stimulus bill recently failed to materialize after receiving less than the 60 votes needed to move forward. The “skinny” stimulus bill, with a price tag of only $650 billion, was intended to be a way to quickly inject stimulus into the economy and bypass both the multi-trillion-dollar Republican HEALS Act and the Democratic HEROES Act.

The current stimulus limbo leaves millions of Americans in a position of uncertainty. Four main areas that the Senate bill intended to address but are now up in the air include a second round of stimulus checks and the impact on struggling tenants and homeowners, as well as the long-term unemployed.

Next Round of Stimulus Checks

The first stimulus bill, the CARES Act, sent more than $300 billion in stimulus checks to Americans back in March to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 slowdowns. While this helped millions, many people’s jobs or businesses remain impaired due to the economic impact of the pandemic, and they are hoping for a second stimulus check to help them get by.

With the failure of the Senate bill and the stalemate in the House, the chances of a second round of checks continues to diminish. On the bright side, the U.S. Treasury noted it is ready to print and mail the checks as soon as something is authorized.

Troubled Tenants and Homeowners

The economic fallout from the pandemic placed many tenants and homeowners in the position of being evicted or foreclosed. The CARES Act from March placed a temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, sparing millions. Following this measure, President Trump issued an executive order in August granting the CDC authority to cease evictions as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC took this order and announced a stop to all evictions until the end of 2020.

For homeowners with federally backed mortgages, the CARES Act moratoriums on single-family foreclosures were also extended until the end of 2020. Moreover, many states passed laws protecting those without federally backed loans from foreclosure.

For both renters and homeowners, these protections will disappear once we enter 2021 unless the government steps in with new legislation or regulations. Keep in mind that for both renters and mortgage holders, payments are being deferred and not canceled – so ultimately, they will still need to make the payments.

Long-Term Unemployment

Millions remain unemployed due to the pandemic; without federal help, their unemployment benefits will expire soon. The CARES Act gave an additional 13 weeks of benefits on top of the initial 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits; however, for those impacted on the front-end of the pandemic, these extended benefits will expire at the end of November.

The Senate bill included $300 per week of benefits through the last week of 2020; however, with this failing and without additional aid to state funds, the long-term unemployed won’t have anything to rely on if Congress does nothing.

Conclusion

Democrats responded with a smaller version of their original second-round stimulus bill, coming in a price tag of $2.2 trillion, down from the original $3.4 trillion. This is likely too high a price tag still to garner Republican support. If nothing happens before the mid-October recess, then we will all be waiting until after the Nov. 3 election.

3 State Level Tax Hikes That Might Be Coming Due to COVID-19

No surprise, but Americans are consuming and spending less since the coronavirus kicked in.  Retail sales dropped to 8.7 percent in March, the largest month-over-month decline since the Census Bureau started tracking this data. Previously, the sharpest decline was less than half this – at 3.9 percent from October 2008 to November 2008, during the previous economic crisis. The reduction in consumer spending is due in part to lockdowns, spending more time at home for fear of the virus, and the economic impact – whether it’s losing a job, reduced hours, or in anticipation of tougher times ahead.

While consumer spending is down at a net level, there appear to be some winners and some losers in the post-COVID world of staying in and working from home. Restaurants and apparel are the hardest hit, whereas online retailers, home, garden, grocery, and alcohol sales are all up.

The decline and shift in consumer spending are having a strong negative impact on state sales tax revenues. Nationwide, sales taxes account for approximately 20 percent of all state revenue, so the decline in consumer spending will have a material impact on state budgets. As a result, states are looking at new ways to generate or increase revenue to offset the trend. Below we’ll look at three ways states are looking to raise taxes to make up for holes in their budgets.

Grocery Staples 

Eating out less and working from home mean Americans are spending more at the grocery store; approximately 13 percent more year-over-year, per Census data. The issue for states is that groceries are generally not taxed or low-taxed, although there are a few items that apply the full tax rate.

Kansas, for example, applies the full sales tax rate to groceries. The consequence of this is that grocery sales make up about 15 percent of Kansas’ total sales tax revenue. The consequence of this policy is that the state’s sales tax revenue has barely taken a hit year-to-date.

States are taking notice and may move to the trend of taxing groceries as a way to recover part of their declining sales tax revenues.

Digital Taxes

Another trend is the increase in streaming services and one-time rentals/purchases of digital goods for entertainment and working at home. Currently, 22 states tax streaming services, and 30 states tax digital goods. Other states will look to start taxing these services as well, and digital taxes will start to expand into cloud storage and other services as more people work remotely.

Sin Taxes

Sin taxes are taxes on goods and services that are “bad” for us; think alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and marijuana (where it’s legal). Increases in sin taxes are generally easier to pass as they don’t apply to the overall general population and politicians can play the moral angle.

During the last recession, for example, lawmakers in more than 12 states increased tobacco and liquor taxes. Newer sin taxes are being instituted, such as those on vaping equipment and supplies.

Conclusion

The exact form and structure will vary, but one thing is certain: States will institute or increase taxes in areas where the money is being spent to ensure their sales tax revenue remains stable. 

R&D Tax Credits May be Part of the Next Tax Relief Bill

As the economic impact of COVID-19 lingers and an impending second wave is on everyone’s mind, Congress is already thinking of new legislation to stimulate the economy. One of the ideas on the top of the list is an expansion of the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit as part of the next COVID-19 relief bill.

Proposals for the R&D Tax Credit

There are numerous proposals for changing the R&D tax credits. It is seen as an investment in the U.S. economy, with some believing the credit is an effective tool to combat offshoring. Some of the main proposals for changes to the R&D tax credit include:

  • Doubling the current credit
  • Giving businesses the ability to immediately use the credit instead of having carryforward credits
  • Expanding the credit for domestic manufacturing
  • Increasing the refundable amount for startups

Will My Business Qualify?

The best candidates for R&D tax credit are companies that operate in the following spaces: manufacturing, architecture, engineering, construction, software, life sciences and medical devices. The key determinate is whether your company makes or improves something; this will give you the best chance to qualify.

Contractors

There is a misconception that if your business is hired or contracted to perform work for other organizations that you cannot qualify for the R&D tax credit. This is not necessarily true; contractors (especially government contractors) can qualify if they have both economic risk and retain substantial rights as contractors.

Startups

The R&D tax credit is refundable in part (against employer payroll tax) for startups. The idea is to expand the refundability so that the credit can be offset against more than just payroll taxes and even perhaps to make it refundable (to some degree) in general. The idea here is that startups won’t be forced to carryforward credits for years and can then reinvest the cashflow to accelerate growth and jobs creation.

Internal Use Software

Internal use software is software that companies develop themselves. It can be stand-alone software or modifications to existing systems through substantial improvements, the development of add-ons or modules – the idea is to expand the space of what qualifies for the credit for internal use software. This would allow companies that traditionally wouldn’t have qualified (such as finance institutions, banks and retail stores) to now potentially be eligible.

Conclusion

This next relief package is likely to be considered prior to the summer congressional recess. Many analysts believe the bill will focus on provisions that help businesses hire back laid-off workers, retain current employees and grow over the long-term. It’s likely the R&D tax credit will play a key role in the latter objective.

R&D Tax Credits May be Part of the Next Tax Relief Bill

R&D Tax Credits, Next Tax Relief BillAs the economic impact of COVID-19 lingers and an impending second wave is on everyone’s mind, Congress is already thinking of new legislation to stimulate the economy. One of the ideas on the top of the list is an expansion of the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit as part of the next COVID-19 relief bill.

Proposals for the R&D Tax Credit

There are numerous proposals for changing the R&D tax credits. It is seen as an investment in the U.S. economy, with some believing the credit is an effective tool to combat offshoring. Some of the main proposals for changes to the R&D tax credit include:

  • Doubling the current credit
  • Giving businesses the ability to immediately use the credit instead of having carryforward credits
  • Expanding the credit for domestic manufacturing
  • Increasing the refundable amount for startups

Will My Business Qualify?

The best candidates for R&D tax credit are companies that operate in the following spaces: manufacturing, architecture, engineering, construction, software, life sciences and medical devices. The key determinate is whether your company makes or improves something; this will give you the best chance to qualify.

Contractors

There is a misconception that if your business is hired or contracted to perform work for other organizations that you cannot qualify for the R&D tax credit. This is not necessarily true; contractors (especially government contractors) can qualify if they have both economic risk and retain substantial rights as contractors.

Startups

The R&D tax credit is refundable in part (against employer payroll tax) for startups. The idea is to expand the refundability so that the credit can be offset against more than just payroll taxes and even perhaps to make it refundable (to some degree) in general. The idea here is that startups won’t be forced to carryforward credits for years and can then reinvest the cashflow to accelerate growth and jobs creation.

Internal Use Software

Internal use software is software that companies develop themselves. It can be stand-alone software or modifications to existing systems through substantial improvements, the development of add-ons or modules – the idea is to expand the space of what qualifies for the credit for internal use software. This would allow companies that traditionally wouldn’t have qualified (such as finance institutions, banks and retail stores) to now potentially be eligible.

Conclusion

This next relief package is likely to be considered prior to the summer congressional recess. Many analysts believe the bill will focus on provisions that help businesses hire back laid-off workers, retain current employees and grow over the long-term. It’s likely the R&D tax credit will play a key role in the latter objective.

HEROES ACT Can Combat Economic Downtown

The HEROES Act, otherwise known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, can greatly improve the benefits for the earned income tax credit (EITC) for eligible workers who don’t have children. This legislation would also help wage earners in the business-to-consumer and leisure sectors of the economy impacted severely by the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking at the HEROES Act legislation and how it would help childless wage earners, we need to examine the rules surrounding the EITC and how many additional filers may qualify. While childless students pursuing formal education are still required to be 25 for EITC eligibility, filers as young as 19 (down from 25 years old), as well as filers aged up to 67 (up from 64), are now able to apply for the childless EITC. This legislation would also increase the credit’s ceiling to $1,487, from $538.

Looking at these proposed amendments to the tax code, this would act as a one-time stimulus to the economy when the credit is disbursed to eligible filers, specifically focused on low-income wage earners. Based on a review by the Tax Policy Center, 75 percent of the benefits created by the HEROES Act legislation for the EITC would be directed toward the lowest fifth of U.S. earners. Sectors of the economy that will benefit from this effect include health care, manufacturing, construction, and professional services.

However, there is one consideration that must be taken into account, especially in periods of low economic growth. If eligible wage earners see their earnings fall, then the EITC also will become smaller. There is a possibility that the U.S. House and Senate may work together to modify this legislation to speed up or get rid of the phasing-in process, thereby correcting this flaw.   

Another piece of the HEROES Act changes how people can claim the EITC when they file their 2020 taxes. The legislation will allow filers to claim their EITC according to their 2019 or 2020 income, permitting filers to choose the tax year that gives them a more favorable credit. This takes inspiration from other tax years when victims of natural disasters were able to obtain more favorable tax credits. The HEROES Act will give this choice of tax years to all filers eligible for the EITC, not exclusively for childless workers.

Regardless of the process, this could aid in stabilizing economic conditions now or in the future, regardless of why the economy suffers. This is because this legislation would ensure a falling EITC doesn’t increase a wage earner’s overall losses.

Making this type of change to how the EITC is awarded to childless workers would give greater certainty for more predictable financial help and streamline things for legislators and government officials to distribute monies during the next economic downturn.

No matter what form this legislation ultimately takes, if and when it’s signed into law, there are other pieces of legislation containing similar amendments to the EITC found within the HEROES Act. Elements proposed for improving the EITC for eligible filers are contained within the Working Families Tax Relief Act, the Middle-Class Act, and the Cost-of-Living Refund.

IRS Questions and Answers on COVID-19 IRA and 401(k) Loans & Distributions

The CARES Act stimulus package substantially relaxed the rules around certain retirement account loan and distribution requirements, but with much confusion. As a result, the IRS recently put out a FAQ document to address the COVID-19 rule relaxation around IRA and 401(k) loans and distributions. This important information should come as welcome news for the nearly one percent of all retirement plan holders who have already taken a distribution under the new rules, according to Fidelity Investments.

Who’s eligible?

If you, a spouse or dependent tested positive for COVID-19, you automatically qualify. You also may qualify under less direct circumstances, such as experiencing economic hardship due to being quarantined, laid off, receiving a reduction in work hours, or missing work because you don’t have childcare. Business owners who are forced to close or reduce operating hours also qualify.

How Much Can I Take Out? 

COVID-19 impacted individuals can take up to $100k in distributions without paying the 10 percent penalty imposed on early withdrawals by people under 59½ years old. The $100,000 limit is the total for all the plans you have. For example, if you take $70k out of your 401(k), you can take only up to $30k out of your IRA under these rules. You will still owe taxes on the distributions as ordinary income; however, you are able to pay the taxes owed over a three-year period.

Can I Pay Myself Back?

The law also allows you to pay yourself back. Taxpayers can replace their distributions if they do so within a three-year timeframe. This means that if you take out a distribution in 2020, start to pay the taxes owed over the three-year rule and then pay back the distribution in 2022, you’ll be able to amend your 2020 and 2021 returns to get a refund, as well as not pay the tax you would have owed in 2022.

How Do Loans Work?

The maximum amount you can borrow increases from $50,000 to $100,000. You also can borrow the entire amount of your plan balance up to this limit (net of any outstanding loans). Moreover, for any loans you already have within the plan, the due date for payments due through the end of 2020 can be postponed for up to one year.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Yes. First, there is more guidance coming from the IRS. Second, if you are eager to know what this formal guidance will look like, you can turn to the Hurricane Katrina relief rules from 2005 as this is what is expected will apply for the COVID-19 measures as well. Lastly, the IRS will generate a new form 8915E where taxpayers will report the repayment of COVID-19 covered distributions.

Be Right About Free Money: Potential Legal Risks of the Paycheck Protection Loan Program

Paycheck Protection Loan ProgramOne of the most important provisions of the CARES Act for small businesses is called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP is a $349 billion program designed to assist small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) facing financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic through specifically structured loans.

The loan program offers funding to cover payroll for up to eight weeks, with the intent of stemming from unemployment. These loans can be forgiven and essentially become a grant if your business meets certain criteria with no need to repay the money.

As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch – or in this case, free government money. There are potential legal risks that could jeopardize the forgivability of the loan.

Conditional Grants

Another way to look at the PPP loans is as conditional grants. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) notes that loans will be forgiven in full if the funds are used for appropriate costs. Covered costs include payroll, mortgage interest, rent and utilities. Further, the payroll costs must account for at least 75 percent of the loan proceeds used. The employer needs to maintain or quickly rehire employees and maintain wage and salary levels in order to receive 100 percent forgiveness.

The Devil’s in the Certification Details

The loan application process requires certain certifications. Businesses that are still operating need to certify that the current economic uncertainty makes the loan necessary to keep operations going.

If this seems vague, it’s because it is. There probably isn’t a small business out there that is not facing significant uncertainty in the current climate. The problem is that the certification standard the PPP lays out is extremely subjective. As a result, with the encouragement for businesses to apply, many may do so under the impression that they will have their loan fully forgiven to only run into trouble later if they don’t meet the certification standards.

Legal Risks

By not providing any definition about the nature or extent of the required impact to operations that would make the loan request “necessary to support ongoing operations,” the SBA is making both applicants and lenders apprehensive.

Some law firms are even warning clients via their newsletters about potential legal exposure under the False Claims Act (FCA). Legal counsels are cautioning that a misrepresentation included in an application could result in FCA liability. Businesses must navigate between being as aggressive as possible to bolster their application while staying within the rules of the program.

More Certification Guidance is Needed

The government agencies involved need to provide more clear and objective guidance on the conditions needed to meet the certification requirements of the loan application process. Without clear and definable guidance as to what constitutes facing economic uncertainty, small businesses could face problems in the future.

Objective criteria such as a percentage of revenue decline or order capacity would provide a rather bright-line test and give both guidance to businesses and confidence in the process. 

Should You File an Amended 2018 Return?

Amended 2018 Tax ReturnDuring the holiday season in December, Congress passed the Consolidated Budget Appropriations Act of 2020. Included in this Act was a tax package that renewed more than 24 tax provisions through what are known as extenders. An extender makes a tax provision effective retroactively. Some of the extender provisions are rather esoteric, so we’ll only focus on those most applicable to the broader taxpayer base.

Extenders in More Detail

Among the widely applicable extender provisions, there are the following. It’s best to check with your tax professional to see which of the more than two dozen extenders may apply to your personal situation.

  • Deducting PMI (private mortgage insurance) if you itemize
  • The delusionality of some types of tuition and fees
  • The ability to exclude debt forgiveness on a qualified residence

Wait, I Don’t Understand What Happened?

Most people are probably wondering at this point how they can obtain the benefit of these retroactive changes, which were not allowed when they filed their original 2018 tax return. The answer is to file an amended tax return – or Form 1040X.

Taxpayers often need to file an amended return when they receive updated or changed inputs, such as when a brokerage sends a corrected Form 1099. Unlike this situation where the basis of your filing changed due to updated information, with the extenders you’ll only want to file if it’s to your benefit.

But Do I Have to File an Amended Return?

Tax law does not actually require that a taxpayer file an amended return when learning the original return submitted did not reflect the correct amount of tax. The assumption is that it was correct the first time. Amendments are allowed, but they are not mandatory.

If you do choose to file an amended return, you have to adjust everything to reflect the tax law and any changes in the information received. You are not allowed to pick and choose only the favorable difference between the original and amended filing.

OK, But Should I File an Amended Return?

The answer to this question is probably a tax accountant’s favorite – it depends.

The most frequent worry among taxpayers is that filing an amended return will trigger an IRS audit. This fear arises from the fact that generally returns are filed and processed electronically, but all amended returns are processed by live people. The biggest risk here is to not include a full explanation of the changes in the return, including what is different, why it’s changed and the basis for the difference.

Refund or No Refund – Does it Matter?

Another question that often perplexes taxpayers is whether they should file an amended return if doing so will not result in an additional refund. Just because your amended tax return won’t result in a check in your mailbox, there are situations where it’s still to your benefit. One example is if the amended return will increase your capital or passive loss carryforwards.

The Sands of Time

Since amended returns are processed by people and not electronically, the turn-around time is a bit longer than most returns. The IRS says amended tax returns typically take eight to 12 weeks, but it’s often longer.

Conclusion

While you might not have to file an amended return, it could be to your benefit from either the tax extenders, corrected information that arrived after your initial filing or a combination of both. Every taxpayer situation is different, so it’s best to consult us.

Taxes and Tariffs: The U.S. Response to France’s Digital Tax

How it All Started

Back in July of 2019, France passed what was dubbed a “digital tax” targeting the largest tech companies. Impacting approximately 30 big companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple, the tax applies to revenues earned from digital services of companies that earn more than $830 million in total and at least $27.86 million in France. The tax levy is a 3 percent charge on revenue from digital services.

The United States soon responded with threatening 100 percent tariffs on certain classes of French luxury goods, such as wine, champagne, cheese and makeup. These tariffs were estimated to cover more than $2.4 billion in French goods per year.

Responses on Both Sides

French President Emmanuel Macron came out to comment that the digital tax is not intended to be an anti-American move, and that big tech companies of all stripes could be covered by the tax. The criteria that determines who is subject to the digital tax, however, means that essentially only American companies are the ones being taxed.

Some in the United States claim it’s as simple as jealously over our strong technology sector, while others say that the main motivation for the French tax is a need to mitigate burgeoning budget deficits.

President Trump’s Reaction

Rarely one to back down on international trade issues, President Donald Trump criticized the digital tax for unfairly targeting American tech companies, going so far as to call out the European Union as behaving worse than China in its trading relationship with the United States. He reiterated his stance that he’s willing to fight tariffs with tariffs.

Negotiations with the EU

U.S. and European Union officials are negotiating an agreement over taxing big tech, but that didn’t stop the current treasury secretary from threatening more retaliatory tariffs. Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, recently said that the United States will impose new tariffs on French automobile imports if the issue isn’t resolved to America’s satisfaction. He claimed the digital tax is purely arbitrary, hence his random call for taxing automobiles in response. Moreover, Mnuchin called the tax “discriminatory in nature” at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.

Taxes and Tariffs on Hold

For now, France is delaying the implementation of its digital tax through the end of 2020 in response to U.S. pressure on threatened luxury goods and automobile tariffs. They aim to come to a resolution before year-end with the Trump administration. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire is optimistic an agreement can be worked out and believes entering a trade war with the United States would be foolish.

The Future

Currently, other European countries, including Britain and Italy, are acting against big tech companies they believe don’t pay their fair share of taxes to their countries. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that the United States is willing to go to bat and protect its companies with retaliatory tariffs in these cases as well. For now, not much is settled – but we should see a clearer direction before the year is out.

When Should You Switch Your Side Hustle to a Business Entity Structure?

Starting a side hustle today is easier than ever. Between the numerous websites that act as marketplaces and project jobs that can be found on the internet, almost anyone can turn a skill or hobby they have into something they can make money off. Many people who do this are just looking to make a little extra money on the side, but this side hustle can turn into something bigger – and this is where the tax and legal questions come in.

Sole Proprietorship

For someone just starting or looking to make a little extra on the side, there’s nothing special you need to do when it comes to filing your federal taxes. Just complete an extra form that is called Schedule C of your personal tax return. This is referred to as doing business as a sole proprietorship.

But that is where the simplicity stops. While organizing your business, the default way as a sole proprietor takes the least effort and expense; however, there are risks associated with this path, particularly legal liability risks.

Legal Risks

The biggest problem is that the sole proprietorships form leaves personal as well as business assets exposed to the risk of being sued. Lawyers will often recommend that the moment a business has paying clients, it should be converted to an LLC or corporation to provide legal protection by separating the business and personal assets.

While this legal advice is technically true, it doesn’t consider the cost benefit of the situation. The problem is that the costs of forming and running an LLC or corporation can easily exceed the money earned from a side hustle. Combine this with the probability of getting sued at all (in each personal situation) and for most side hustles, it’s simply not worth it to form an LLC or corporation. The key question then is when is it worth it to switch from a sole proprietorship to an LLC or a corporation?

When Side Hustle Grows Up

What about the taxation issue? Generally, tax savings aren’t a good reason to convert a sole proprietorship to an LLC or corporation. Particularly, making the move from a sole proprietorship to a single member LLC will not help for tax purposes and in fact may only increase your chances of an audit. Moreover, operating as an LLC will cost more both for the initial filing as well as ongoing annual expenses. Legal liability remains the main reason to convert the entity structure.

Hidden Tax Issues

All three pass-through entity types (sole proprietor, LLC and S-Corporations) calculate your income in the exact same way under current laws. There is however a hidden tax to consider: the self-employment tax. Self-employment taxes are paid on all sole proprietor earnings, but only on the salary portion of LLC or S-Corp earnings. Any profits over and above your salary are considered dividend payments and are not subject to self-employment taxes.

Unfortunately, the income level needed to change entity structures depends on each individual situation, but you’ll need the savings to at least cover the initial and long-term compliance costs of filings, fees and tax preparation costs. Let’s look at two examples to see how this works.

Imagine a business is earning $100,000 in net profit and from this you pay yourself $40,000 as salary and take the remaining $50,000 as dividends. At the current 15.3 percent self-employment tax rate, this translates into a savings of $7,650. Now imagine a side hustle that only earns $25,000 from which you take $15,000 as salary and the remaining $10,000 as dividends. This only translates into $1,530 in tax savings.

In the first case above, you’ve not only generated enough tax savings to more than cover your tax preparation and filing costs, but you’ll end up with more money in your pocket and have stronger legal protection. In the second case, you’ll barely save enough to cover your costs – and you’ll create more work for yourself.

Conclusion

Your side hustle might be small right now, but tomorrow it could grow into the next big thing, so make sure your organizational structure makes sense now.