The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is the attempt by Congress to reduce the economic dislocation caused by the current pandemic. Taxes play a key role in the Act, along with several economic stimulus policies. 

Normally a new tax law requires time to figure out all the details. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 is still looking for clarifications on several issues, some of which are addressed in the CARES Act. COVID-19 had pushed economic decline into overdrive. The American economy has never declined at such a pace. Businesses and individuals went from good economic conditions to millions unemployed and many businesses forced to close. A draconian stimulus package was required.

The CARES Act is $2.2 trillion of federal stimulus. With no time to iron out the details, rumors are flying. Normally reputable sources of information are struggling to get facts out. Misinformation is rampant. This post, along with the accompanying Facebook Live event, will outline the facts as they currently stand. The facts might change is some situations. I will correct those errors in this post periodically so you have a reliable resource.  There are many instances where the only answer is: I don’t know. Because nobody does, even the people in charge of the programs. 

I broke this post into sections covering several of the most important points of the CARES Act. While I might touch on issues in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), it is not the focus of this post. This post has many links to reputable sources. Use them, as they will contain additional updated information.

 

Stimulus Checks for Individuals

A refundable tax credit is provided by the Act of $1,200 for individuals ($2,400 for joint returns). There is an additional $500 rebate for each child under age 17. 

There is a lot of confusion around who gets the recovery rebate and how much. 

  • First, Social Security recipients also get the rebate. The Treasury Department and the IRS got this wrong when they stated these people must file a tax return to get the rebate. The Act made it clear this was not required and after much drama the Treasury Department changed its positions; a tax return is not required.
  • Second, the rebate is not taxable income.
  • Third, the IRS will direct deposit the rebate into your bank account if you used direct deposit on your last tax return or Social Security check. Everyone else will get a check in the mail.
  • Fourth, direct deposit payments will begin the week of April 13th and continue until all who qualify get their payment. Checks will be mailed starting in mid-May and continue until all are issued. The IRS will use information from your 2019 tax return to determine if you qualify for a rebate (see details below). If you did not file your 2019 tax return, the IRS will use your 2018 return. If you file neither year, the IRS will issue the rebate once you file your 2019 return anytime during 2020. If you do not need to file a 2018 or 2019 return you can file a 2020 tax return where the rebate will be issued then if you qualify.
  • Fifth, the rebate is on the 2020 tax return to be filed in the Spring of 2021. The rebate is a refundable credit (you get the rebate even if you have no tax liability). If the IRS screws up and overpays you, you don’t have to pay back the over-payment. If the IRS underpays you, you get the remaining amount with your 2020 tax return.
  • Sixth, there is an issue involving children that might be rectified in a future bill from Congress. Children 17 and older and in college or school are still usually claimed on the parent’s return. The parent gets nothing (children under 17 are an additional $500 to the parent, $0 for those 17 and older) even if the child is in school or college, but if the child files their own return — and not claimed on the parent’s return — the child would get $1,200. There are several problems here. Technically, there are no dependents on a tax return since the TCJA. However, similar rules are still followed for education credits and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). It isn’t as simple as removing a child from the parent’s return. The child has to disclose on their return they are a Dependent of Another when they file. If the parent is providing more than 50% of their support the child cannot claim themselves. It is vital to review all the support rules. If your child provides more than half of her support they can claim themselves and probably qualify for a rebate. 
  • Seventh, if you owe back taxes you will still receive the rebate. The only exception to receiving the rebate is if you owe back child support. Back child support is first paid before any rebate is sent to you.

The rebate is based upon your adjusted gross income (AGI). Single taxpayers get the full $1,200 rebate up to an AGI of $75,000 ($112,500 for head of household; $150,000 AGI for joint filers) The rebate is reduced by $50 for every $1,000 of AGI above the threshold (the CARES Act actually says a 5% reduction for AGI above the threshold) until it is reduced to zero at $99,000 for single taxpayers without children ($198,000 for joint returns without children). The complete phaseout of the rebate is higher if you have a qualified child as the rebate is reduced $50 per $1,000 over the threshold, meaning you can have a higher AGI with children and still get a small rebate

Planning tip! While caution must be advised when it comes to not claiming a child in college when the child does not provide more than half of their own support, there is an opportunity for high incomers to plan their rebate.

If your income is over the phaseout level for 2019 — but not 2018 — it might be advantageous to wait until you get your rebate before filing your 2019 tax return. if the opposite is true (2019 income is under the threshold and 2018 is above) you want to file your 2019 tax return as soon as possible. The IRS will issue your rebate anytime during 2020 once a tax return is filed if one (2018 or 2019) was not previously filed or additional rebate is allowed. If both 2018 and 2019 are over the threshold you have one more chance to get the rebate. If your 2020 income is below the limit the unpaid rebate you qualify for will be added to the 2020 return.

Remember, if the IRS sends too much you do not have to repay it. 

Here is a calculator to estimate how much you can expect in your rebate check.

 

Tax Return and Estimated Payment Due Dates

This section is not in the CARES Act.

The Treasury Department extended tax season for 2019 tax returns until July 15, 2020. That means 2019 tax returns are now due July 15, 2020. Any balance due is due at that time without additional penalty or interest. Estimated tax payments are also due July 15th. That means the April 15th and June 15th estimated payments can be made as one lump-sum by July 15th without interest or penalty. 

 

Charitable Contributions

Prior to the TCJA the maximum deduction allowed for cash charitable contributions for individuals was limited to 50% of AGI. The TCJA increased this to 60%. The CARES Act increases this limit again to 100% for tax years beginning after December 31, 2019. In all cases, the excess charitable contribution is carried forward up to 5 years.

Corporations (regular corporations, not S corporations) move from 10% to 25% of taxable income as the deductible limit for charitable contributions, with the remainder carried forward up to 5 years.

The CARES Act also allows up to a $300 cash charitable contribution deduction above-the-line (if you do not itemize) for individuals. The $300 above-the-line deduction excludes donor advised funds.

 

Student Loans

Federal student loan interest and principle are suspended for 6 months, from March 16 through September 30, 2020. Private loans no not count! There are several exceptions. All Stafford loans, PLUS loans for educational costs (instead of for tuition), consolidation loans under FFEL and Perkins loans.

Suspended payments will not hurt your credit. Interest will not accrue during this time either. Automatic payments are cancelled. To make a payment anyway, it will need to be done manually. Payments during the suspended period are applied to already accrued interest first and then principle. If financially able, making student loan payments on federal loans will pay down the loan faster as interest is not accruing for 6 months.

There is also a provision for employers to pay up to $5,250 annually of an employee’s student loans tax-free. This provision applies to payments made from March 28, 2020 to December 31, 2021. This cap includes other employer provided educational assistance. This might be a powerful tool to reward employees for 2020 and 2021.

Note: Some of the student loan material came from sources I trusted mostly. However, I was unable to verify all the material. I will update soon when I can verify this information with certainty..

 

Unemployment Benefits

For those impacted by COVID-19, funding has been provided for unemployment benefits, even if you exhausted state unemployment benefits or normally do not qualify for state benefits (self-employed, excluded members of a small business, etc.) These benefits run from January 27, 2020 to December 31, 2020.

There is also an additional $600 per week for up to 4 months, along with state benefits. Once state benefits expire, an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits are funded by the federal government.

All unemployment benefits are managed through your state’s unemployment office. My office has heard from clients some states are not up to speed on this yet. It may take persistence to get all the benefits you qualify for.

 

Required Minimum Distribution

The required minimum distribution (RMD) are waived for 2020.

 

Retirement Plan Distributions

Retirement plan distributions prior to age 59 1/2 face a 10% penalty in addition to the income taxes on the income. The CARES Act allows individuals to take a distribution of up to $100,000 from a qualified plan without the 10% penalty. The income tax on the distribution is still subject to income tax, but can be paid 1/3 each year starting in 2020. If the distribution is coronavirus related the distribution can be repaid to an eligible retirement plan within three years to avoid the income tax on the distribution as well.

Some states also have an early retirement plan distribution penalty (i.e. Wisconsin). The state penalty usually reflects the federal penalty. However, each state may treat this differently. Many problems can exists if the state of your residence does not follow federal law. For example: Your state may subject distributions to income tax in the current year. Later repayments to a qualified plan might be treated as an excess contribution on the state level. It is vital you discuss these issues with a competent tax professional before using this provision of the CARES Act. There are many considerations from a state tax standpoint beyond the federal CARES Act.

 

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan Grants

Small businesses have many tools from the CARES Act to deal with financial problems stemming from the coronavirus. My office was inundated with calls about the $10,000 grant provided to all businesses. Actually, this is technically a loan grant that is forgiven and is not added to income when it is forgiven.

Clients calling about this are right. Most small businesses will qualify (I think). The question is: How long will it take for money to arrive? Your guess is as good as mine. I think it is a good idea for all businesses to file an online application found here

Will everyone who applies get $10,000? Probably not. But many, even most, probably will.

The $10,000 is really “up to” $10,000 and treated as an advance. So don’t start spending before the check arrives. It could be weeks or months before funds arrive.

 

Delayed Payment of Employment Taxes

Employers can delay payment of the employer’s portion of the Social Security payroll tax. This does not apply to the Medicare portion of the payroll tax. 

As a recap: Employees have 6.2% withheld from their wages up to the cap for that particular year. The employer forwards this to the government, along with another 6.2% as the employer’s share of the payroll tax. It is the employer’s portion only that can enjoy a delayed payment. All of the employer’s Social Security portion of the payroll tax from March 12, 2020 to January 1, 2021 can be delayed. Half (50%) is due December 31, 2021 and the remainder by December 31, 2022. 

Self-employed individuals can take advantage of the same delay of payment for 6.2% of their self-employment tax. 

Note: If you receive any loan forgiveness under the CARES Act, including the Payroll Protection Loan Program, you are not allowed to delay tax payments under this provision.

 

Forgivable SBA Loans

Now we come to the elephant in the room. These so-called forgivable loans are shrouded in concerns. Just as the Treasury Department changed the rules on if Social Security recipients must file a tax return, the department changed the rules at least once on the terms of these loans to small businesses

These SBA loans are handled through your financial institution. As of Friday (April 3, 2020) some banks opened for applications. Here is a sample application. Many smaller banks are not ready to accept application. Bank of America in an email to my office outlined their procedures: notably, you must have a lending and deposit history with the bank. I have heard other large banks are easier to work with. 

Applications will start being accepted April 10th for independent contractors and the self-employed.

Payroll Protection Program Loans (PPP) have many details. Rather than make this post any longer, I will refer you to an excellent article in the National Law Review. We will use the National Law Review article in the Facebook Live. The video will be inserted into this post at the conclusion of the event. (See the video above.)

You should also review the SBA page on the topic. 

Here a few highlights to consider. These loan are not guaranteed forgiven! Too many people calling my office think this is guaranteed free money. It isn’t There are many rules to follow before they will forgive the loan.

  • First, employers can receive up to $10 million for 2.5 months of average payroll expense, including health benefits.
  • Second, this is in addition to the $10,000 advance Economic Disaster Injury Loan. 
  • Third, it only applies to businesses with 500 or fewer employees.
  • Fourth, the portion of the loan not forgiven must be repaid over a term no longer than 10 years at an interest rate of 4% or less.
  • Fifth, the amount forgiven is limited to payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities paid or incurred over the 8 week period beginning with the loan origination date.
  • Sixth, if you lay off employees or reduce wages between February 15, 2020 and June 30, 2020, the amount of the loan forgiven is reduced proportionally. 

You are strongly urged to speak with your lending institution you intend to secure funding through for this program. You will need to provide additional information when you apply for the loan. This program is not as easy as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Grants application. 

 

Additional Resources

In addition to the National Law Review article linked above, I strongly recommend the following resources:

CARES Act Summary by Foley (Pay special attention to the Employee Retention Credit not covered in this post.)

SBA Bridge Loans

SBA Paycheck Protection Program

SBA Disaster Loan Applications

Ward and Smith Review

Text of H.R. 748 known as the CARES Act (Caution: As a bill works through Congress many ideas are floated. Only the bill that became law counts. News reports frequently discuss items that “might” be in the final law. Again, read the final bill that became law for an understanding of the provisions.)

 

Stay safe, kind readers.

 


 

 

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