Harless Tax Blog

Harless Tax Blog

Entity Structuring for Expanding Family Businesses

Monday, January 25, 2021

Owner-operator businesses usually start out as sole proprietorships, which is fine until your business starts to grow, and your family status changes. Life can throw your business a curve ball when you least expect it. Retirement, divorce, illness, even irreconcilable differences with a new partner or staff. Whatever life pitches, you should have a plan for possible risks and choose the right structure to protect both the business and your family. There are also important tax considerations!

Here are some insights into the choices you have regarding business structure:

Sole Proprietorship

Smaller owner-operator businesses are usually structured as sole proprietorships with no legal separation between the owner and the business. All properties and liabilities are in the owner’s name and the owner is liable for any legal or financial issues in the business. Startup and compliance requirements are minimal, and profits and losses are passed down to the owner and claimed on the owner’s personal tax form using Schedule C (Form 1040).

Here’s a common scenario: one day you get married, and before you know it your spouse and your children now work hand in hand with you. Your sole proprietorship is now a family business. What choices do you have?

1. The business can stay a sole proprietorship with your spouse and children hired as employees. You get a bit of a tax break because if one spouse is employed by another, the wages of the spouse are not subject FUTA, and wages of your kids under age are not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes and not subject to FUTA if the kids are under age 21. WOW!

2. If you and your spouse run the business together while sharing both profits and losses, the business is now considered a partnership even if there is no formal partnership agreement. Business income and loss are no longer reported on a Schedule C, Form 1065 is now required.

3. Another option for a married couple owning and operating a business together is to elect treatment as a “qualified joint venture,” in order to continue filing as sole proprietors for federal tax purposes. In this case, each spouse must file a separate Schedule C to report their share of profits and losses.

There is no legal separation between the owner and the business in a sole proprietorship, so should the owner die, the business will terminate, and its assets will become part of the owner’s estate. The business does not necessarily get passed down to the remaining family members. A sole proprietor must include a provision in their will directing that the business be sold or a successor is appointed.

If a divorce between the sole proprietor and the spouse occurs, unless the spouse is a co-owner, there is no automatic sharing of the assets and the details are decided in the divorce proceedings.

Partnerships

In a partnership there is more than one owner. That could mean two spouses, two siblings or a parent and child. In a partnership the owners share legal, financial, and management responsibilities. Profits and losses are passed down to the partners, and each partner is equally taxed. For the family’s sake, be sure there is a partnership agreement in place. Without predetermined resolution methods, any argument over who works harder or disagreement about how to run the business can wreak havoc.

A partnership is like a sole proprietorship in the sense it has no legal separation from the owners. We highly recommend putting a buy-sell agreement in place for how to handle the business in the event of a partner’s death, retirement, divorce or departure.

C Corporations

C Corporations are legal entities separate from the owners. Owners and shareholders have a substantial amount of protection from personal liability and those operating the corporation are employees. Family members in the business are also employees and may also be shareholders. If the business wants to sell stock to raise money for growth, the C Corp structure is a good choice.

A corporation files its own tax return, IRS Form 1120. The corporation claims deductions for business expenses and a flat corporate rate of 21%. The disadvantage is the “double taxation” factor where the company is not only taxed on its profits but then the owners are taxed again when they receive dividend distributions which are taxed on their personal income tax return. There are compliance requirements and fees, but the advantages of tax saving deductions, liability protection and the ability to sell shares may make the C Corp worth it.

Incorporating a business involves filing Articles of Incorporation with the state. The corporation bylaws dictate how the company deals with divorces, deaths, succession and whether or not the company must stay in the family or can be sold to an outside party. There must also be rules on what happens to the shares in case of death, divorce, or company buy-out. Some family members may run the business and others may serve on the board. If the family corporation goes public, the board of directors governs decision-making. By creating bylaws mandating only family members can be on the board, a family can retain better control. Families can also decide to limit the number of shares going to non-family members.

S Corporations

The S Corp is a special election which allows owners/members to pass business income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their member shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S Corps are then required to report the income and losses on their personal tax returns. Many family-owned businesses choose to elect S Corp status because of the treatment of employment taxes. Only wages are subject to self-employment taxes and other business profits can be distributed as dividends, which are only subject to income tax, but no payroll taxes are required. To elect S Corp status, the business must file IRS Form 2553 by March 15th, and meet ongoing filing requirements such as:

  • Reporting financial activity (Form 1120S, Schedule K-1s for shareholders),
  • Withholding federal income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes from employees’ wages,
  • Filing IRS Form 941 each quarter to report these withholdings, and
  • Filing a Federal Unemployment Tax Return annually (IRS Form 940).

Family Limited Liability Company (LLC)

The LLC structure offers the liability protections of a corporation without the stringent compliance regulations. In a Family LLC, owners are called members and must be related by blood or marriage, and one family member acts as the managing member. LLCs are required to have an operating agreement which defines the rights related to ownership, decision making, transferring of assets and what happens in the case of divorce, death, retirement, etc.

LLC member’s personal assets are protected if the company gets sued or can’t pay its debts. An LLC is a pass-through entity, and all income flows through to members and is reported on their personal tax returns. The LLC can choose to be taxed as a C Corp or an S Corp. For example:

  • The LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship or partnership will pay payroll taxes on all profits, so paying an immediate family member makes no difference to the owner’s taxes.
  • The LLC taxed as an S Corp can decide to split up profits as wages and shares so only part of the profits is subject to payroll taxes.
  • The LLC taxed as a C Corp with be double-taxed, profits taxed at the corporation level and then wages taxed.

Reach Out to Us: Let our tax professionals and business consultants help you choose the right entity for your family businesses to put you on a straight path to success. Contact us at 855-666-4201 or charless@harlessandassociates.com. More info on the benefits of the C corp vs the S corp, and small business structuring for tax efficiency HERE: Harless Blog >

Drill Down on Second Round PPP Loans

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 is a long-awaited bill that combined individual stimulus payments and the expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program. The bill also has far-reaching tax consequences, it confirmed that “no amount shall be included in the gross income of the eligible recipient by reason of forgiveness,” and “no deduction shall be denied, no tax attribute shall be reduced, and no basis increase shall be denied, by reason of the exclusion from gross income.” This means that the forgiven amount from a PPP loan will have no effect on income or tax credits, and a company can now deduct expenses paid for with PPP funds.

“PPP 2” is a new, more targeted small-business assistance program. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions.

When will the new PPP loans will be available?

The application window for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans was opened Friday, January 15, for lenders with $1 billion or less in assets, and applies for both first- and second-draw PPP loans. The program will begin accepting applications for first- and second-draw loans from large lenders on Tuesday, January 19.

For all types of PPP loans, no collateral or personal guarantee is required. For these new loans, any amount not forgiven becomes a loan at 1% for five years.

What kinds of PPP loans will be available?

  • At the high level, there is funding for three categories of PPP loans in this legislation: 1st time PPP loans for businesses who qualified under the CARES Act but did not get a loan;
  • 2nd draw PPP loans for businesses that obtained a PPP loan but need additional funding; and
  • More funds for businesses that returned their first PPP loan, or did not get the full amount for which they qualified.
  • Are there PPP loan maximum amounts?

The loans are capped at $10 million for first-time borrowers, and $2 million for second-time PPP borrowers.

In general, first- and second-time PPP borrowers may receive a loan amount of up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs (with a cap per employee of $100,000 annualized) in 2019, 2020, or the year prior to the loan. PPP borrowers with such as hotels and restaurants can receive up to 3.5 times their average monthly payroll costs on second-draw loans.

The maximum for a first-draw PPP loan is $10 million, the same as in the original PPP. Applicants must provide a Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, and state quarterly wage unemployment insurance tax reporting forms from each quarter in 2019 or 2020 (whichever is used to calculate the loan amount), or equivalent payroll processor records, along with evidence of any retirement and health insurance contributions.

The maximum loan amount for second draw loans is $2 million. In all the examples below, the loan amount caps out at $2 million. Businesses that are part of a single corporate group can’t receive more than $4,000,000 of second draw PPP loans total. An eligible entity may receive only one second draw loan.

As before, a business may qualify for up to 2.5 times average monthly payroll costs. You can arrive at this figure either by one of two methods— your choice (except hospitality businesses see below):

  • Multiply average gross monthly payroll cost for the 1-year period before the date the loan is made by 2.5, or
  • Multiply average gross monthly payroll cost for 2019 or 2020 (borrower’s choice) by 2.5.

New companies not yet in business for the 1-year period preceding February 15, 2020, will use a slightly different formula to arrive at the average monthly payroll costs. They will divide the payroll costs paid or incurred by the date they apply by the number of months in which those costs were incurred and multiply the result by 2.5 (or 3.5 for hospitality businesses). Again, new businesses must have been in business by February 15, 2020 in order to be eligible.

Seasonal businesses may apply based on the average monthly payroll costs for any 12-week period between February 15, 2019 and February 15, 2020. A seasonal employer is defined as one that:

  • “Does not operate for more than 7 months in any calendar year; or
  • During the preceding calendar year, had gross receipts for any 6 months of that year that were not more than 33.33 percent of the gross receipts of the employer for the other 6 months of that year.”

Businesses with a NAICS code beginning in 72 (generally hospitality and restaurant businesses) may receive up to 3.5 times average monthly payroll cost using their choice of these two methods:

  • Multiply average gross monthly payroll cost for the 1-year period before the loan is made by 3.5 or
  • Multiply average gross monthly payroll cost for 2019 or 2020 (borrower’s choice) by 3.5.

Note that all of these methods allow the business to use payroll costs incurred or paid during the applicable time period. (You may incur a payroll cost but not actually pay it until the pay period.)

What are eligible costs? Anything new?

PPP borrowers can have their first- and second-draw loans forgiven if the funds are used on eligible costs. As with the first round of the PPP, the costs eligible for loan forgiveness in the revised PPP include payroll, rent, covered mortgage interest, and utilities. To be eligible for full loan forgiveness, PPP borrowers will have to spend no less than 60% of the funds on payroll over a covered period between eight or 24 weeks.

In addition, the following costs are now eligible:

  • Covered worker protection and facility modification expenditures, including PPE, personal protective equipment, to comply with COVID-19 federal health and safety guidelines, including:
    • a drive-through window facility;
    • an indoor, outdoor, or combined air or air pressure ventilation or filtration system;
    • a physical barrier such as a sneeze guard;
    • an expansion of additional indoor, outdoor, or combined business space;
    • an onsite or offsite health screening capability.
  • Covered property damage costs related to property damage and vandalism or looting due to public disturbances in 2020, that were not covered by insurance or other compensation.
  • Expenditures to suppliers that are essential at the time of purchase to the recipient’s current operations.
  • Covered operating expenditures, and a number of back-office functions, including accounting. Payments for any business software or cloud computing service for business operations; product or service delivery; the processing, payment, or tracking of payroll expenses; human resources; sales and billing functions; or accounting or tracking of supplies, inventory, records, and expenses.

Who is eligible for “simplified” forgiveness?

Borrowers that receive a PPP loan of $150,000 or less shall receive forgiveness if the borrower signs and submits to the lender a certification that includes a description of the number of employees the borrower was able to retain because of the loan, the estimated total amount of the loan spent on payroll costs, and the total loan amount.

The SBA has yet to create the simplified application form which includes all PPP loans, both under the first round and the new ones, by late January. The form may not require additional materials unless necessary to substantiate revenue loss requirements. Borrowers are required to retain relevant records related to employment for four years and other records for three years, as the SBA may review and audit these loans to check for fraud.

We recommend considering opening a separate bank account to deposit your PPP funds and track expenditures.

What if I didn’t get a PPP loan before?

There is funding for “first draw” PPP loans and you can apply on terms similar to the original CARES Act. You do not have to demonstrate the 25% revenue loss for a first-time loan, and your business may qualify if it has more than 300 employees, provided it qualifies based on the previous CARES Act rules.

First time PPP loans are available to borrowers that were in operations on February 15, 2020, and are from one of the following groups:

  • Businesses with 500 or fewer employees that are eligible for other SBA 7(a) loans.
  • Sole proprietors, independent contractors, and eligible self-employed individuals.
  • Not-for-profits, including churches.
  • Accommodation and food services operations with NAICS codes starting with 72 that have fewer than 500 employees per physical location.
  • 01(c)(6) business leagues, such as chambers of commerce, visitors’ bureaus, etc., and “destination marketing organizations” that have 300 or fewer employees and do not receive more than 15% of receipts from lobbying. The lobbying activities must comprise no more than 15% of the organization’s total activities and have cost no more than $1 million during the most recent tax year that ended prior to Feb. 15. 2020. Sports leagues are not eligible.
  • News organizations that are majority-owned or controlled by an NAICS code 511110 or 5151 business or not-for-profit public broadcasting entities with a trade or business under NAICS code 511110 or 5151. The size limit for this category is no more than 500 employees per location.

PPP applicants must submit documentation sufficient to establish eligibility and to demonstrate the qualifying payroll amount, which may include, as applicable, payroll records; payroll tax filings; Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income; Form 1040, Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business, or Schedule F, Profit or Loss From Farming; income and expenses from a sole proprietorship; or bank records.

Who is eligible for second draw PPP loans?

Many small businesses and independent contractors may be eligible for second draw PPP loans if they received a PPP loan previously and qualify. First, similar to the first rounds of PPP, eligible small businesses may include:

  • Small businesses, nonprofit organizations, organizations for veterans, tribal business concerns, and small agricultural cooperatives.
  • Sole proprietors, self-employed individuals or independent contractors.
  • Certain small news organizations, destination marketing organizations, housing cooperatives, and 501(c)(6) nonprofits may now also be eligible.

Borrowers are eligible for a 2nd-draw PPP loan of up to $2 million, provided they have:

  • 300 or fewer employees. Businesses with multiple locations that qualified under the CARES Act may qualify for a second draw provided they employ fewer than 300 people in each location. Affiliation rule waivers from the CARES Act still apply.
  • Used or will use the full amount of their first PPP loan on or before the expected date for the second PPP loan to be disbursed to the borrower. The borrower must have spent the full amount of the first PPP loan on eligible expenses.
  • Experienced a revenue reduction of 25% or more in all or part of 2020 compared with all or part of 2019. This is calculated by comparing gross receipts in any 2020 quarter with an applicable quarter in 2019, or, a borrower that was in operation for all four quarters of 2019 can submit copies of its annual tax forms that show a reduction in annual receipts of 25% or greater in 2020 compared with 2019.

Gross receipts defined to include all revenue in whatever form received or accrued (in accordance with the entity’s accounting method) from whatever source, including from the sales of products or services, interest, dividends, rents, royalties, fees, or commissions, reduced by returns and allowances. Forgiven first-draw PPP loans are not included in the 2020 gross receipts.

Certain types of businesses are not eligible including most businesses normally not eligible for SBA loans, businesses where the primary activity is lobbying, and businesses with certain ties to China. The CARES Act made an exception for certain non-profits and agricultural cooperatives which are not normally eligible for SBA 7(a) loans. Publicly traded companies are not eligible to receive second draw PPP loans.

How is the 25% reduction in revenues calculated?

Business owners will compare gross receipts of the business before expenses are subtracted. They will compare those for any quarter in 2020 to the same quarter in 2019 to determine if revenues decreased by at least 25%.

Businesses must have been in operation by February 15, 2020 to be eligible. What if you weren’t in business all of 2019?

  • If you were not in business during the first or second quarter of 2019 but you were in business in the third and fourth quarter of 2019, then you may compare any quarter in 2020 with the third or fourth quarter of 2019 to determine whether gross receipts were reduced by at least 25%.
  • If you were not in business during the first, second or third quarter of 2019, but you were in business in the fourth quarter of 2019, then you may compare any quarter in 2020 with the fourth quarter of 2019 to determine whether gross receipts were reduced by at least 25%.
  • A business that wasn’t in business in 2019 but was in business before February 15, 2020 will compare gross receipts from the second, third or fourth quarter of 2020 to that first quarter of 2020 to determine whether gross receipts were reduced by at least 25%.

The periods are now comparing any of the 4 quarters of 2020 to the corresponding quarter in 2019 –or – the entire 2020 year compared to 2019.

Note that according to the legislation, for loans of up to $150,000 you can simply certify your revenue loss when you apply, but on or before you apply for forgiveness you will have to produce documentation of that revenue loss. We won’t know exactly what the SBA will consider acceptable until it provides guidance.

Does it matter if the company is cash or accrual based? The application must be made on the same basis as the company’s tax return.

What counts as payroll?

Payroll is the same as defined in the CARES Act with one new addition: Group benefits are defined to include group life, disability, vision, or dental insurance.

Payroll does not include:

  • The compensation paid to an employee in excess of $100,000 on an annualized basis;
  • Any compensation of an employee whose principal place of residence is outside the United States;
  • Qualified sick and family leave wages for which a credit is allowed under sections 7001 and 7003 of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Do not include amounts paid to 1099 contractors; they may apply on their own!

Self-employed? Independent contractors and the self-employed with no employees will still qualify based on 2.5 months of net profit (capped at $100,000) on their Schedule C tax form for 2019 or 2020. Businesses with a NAICS code beginning in 72 qualify for 3.5 times average monthly payroll.

Partnerships will qualify by using the sum of:

  • Net earnings from self-employment of individual general partners in 2019 or 2020 (borrower’s choice), as reported on IRS Form 1065 K-1, reduced by section 179 expense deduction claimed, unreimbursed partnership expenses claimed, and depletion claimed on oil and gas properties, multiplied by 0.923537, that is not more than $100,000, divided by 12;
  • The average total monthly payment for employee payroll costs incurred or paid by the borrower during the same year elected by the borrower;
  • Multiplied by 2.5 or 3.5 for businesses with a NAICS code beginning in 72.

Can I reapply for a loan if I returned my first one?

Yes! If you returned all or part of your PPP loan, you may apply for an “amount equal to the difference between the amount retained and the maximum amount applicable.” Or, if you did not accept the full amount you may request a modification to allow you to borrow the full amount for which your business is eligible.

Is there loan forgiveness for second draw PPP loans?

Just like the first round of PPP, these loans may be entirely forgiven if spent for primarily payroll during the proper time period. Currently there are three PPP loan forgiveness applications: Form 3508, Form 3508EZ, and Form 3508S. Borrowers can continue to use those forms for PPP loans they received earlier in 2020, unless and until new applications are released. However, we expect Treasury and the SBA to release new loan forgiveness applications.

In addition, there is also simplified (but not automatic) forgiveness for loans of $150,000 or less.

Will an EIDL Grant be subtracted from my PPP for loan forgiveness?

No. The legislation repeals the requirement that an EIDL grant (advance) be deducted for purposes of PPP forgiveness. In addition, the SBA Administrator is required within 15 days of when this legislation is enacted to “ensure equal treatment” for borrowers whose loans have already been forgiven and who had their grants subtracted from the forgiven amount.

How do I apply for one of these PPP loans?

Not all lenders who offered PPP loans in the first round will participate this time around. Lenders approved by the SBA will make these loans. You’ll need to submit the following information with the application:

  • If you are self-employed with no employees, your IRS Form 1040 Schedule C (whichever was used to calculate loan amount); documentation that you are self-employed (such as IRS Form 1099-MISC detailing nonemployee compensation received (box 7), invoice, bank statement, or book of record that establishes that the applicant is self-employed); and a 2020 invoice, bank statement, or book of record to establish that the applicant was in operation on or around February 15, 2020.
  • If you are not self-employed, Form 941 (or other tax forms containing similar information) and state quarterly wage unemployment insurance tax reporting forms from each quarter in 2019 or 2020 (whichever was used to calculate payroll), as applicable, or equivalent payroll processor records, along with evidence of any retirement and employee group health, life, disability, vision and dental insurance contributions. A partnership must also include its IRS Form 1065 K-1s.
  • If you are self-employed with employees, your 2019 or 2020 IRS Form 1040 Schedule C (whichever was used to calculate loan amount), Form 941 (or other tax forms or equivalent payroll processor records containing similar information) and state quarterly wage unemployment insurance tax reporting forms from each quarter in 2019 or 2020 (whichever was used to calculate loan amount), as applicable, or equivalent payroll processor records, along with evidence of any retirement and employee group health, life, disability, vision and dental insurance contributions, if applicable. A payroll statement or similar documentation from the pay period that covered February 15, 2020 must be provided to establish the applicant was in operation on February 15, 2020.

For all of these borrowers, you do not have to include documentation of your reduction of revenues if the loan amount is less than $150,000, but you will have to submit it when you apply for forgiveness.

If the loan amount is greater than $150,000, then you will have to submit documentation of the reduction in revenues, which may include documentation sufficient to establish that your business experienced a 25% reduction in revenue, which may include relevant tax forms (including annual tax forms), or if not available, a copy of the quarterly income statements or bank statements.

If you are applying for a second draw PPP loan with the first lender that processed your first draw loan you don’t need to include duplicate information already submitted.

REACH OUT TO US: Our accountants played a large role in helping many of our clients receive Paycheck Protection Program loans last year. Now, the PPP is back and better, and clients will again need advice and assistance in accessing the 2nd program. We can help you figure out if you are eligible and should apply, whether a 1st time or 2nd time borrower, and how to maximize your forgiveness. We do have the recently released PPP applications and can review them with you. We will continue to delve into this legislation and will provide additional insights by updating this article.We are available for your questions at 855-666-4201.

Financial Stress of COVID Continues to Cripple Medical Practices

Monday, January 25, 2021

A survey by the Physicians Foundation estimated that 8% of all physician practices nationally — around 16,000 — have closed under the stress of the pandemic. Many physicians are leaving medicine entirely because of the pandemic. According to a survey from Medscape, almost 25% of doctors are considering retiring early.

Practices operating with thin margins, especially primary care practices, are bearing the brunt of patients staying away due to pandemic fears. As revenues drop, overhead remained the same, and the cost of PPE has been added on top of it all. Telehealth services have not been able to completely replace dollars that were lost.

According to the AMA the average physician has experienced a 32% drop in revenue since February of 2020. Some who had emergency reserves to weather the storm has seen those reserves depleted. Many eligible for government loans have little or nothing left moving into 2021. More worrisome is that the fear of catching COVID is preventing folks from getting the care they need for chronic conditions.

Even dental practices are feeling the squeeze. Patient visits are halved, and staggered. Now air purifiers and sneeze guards are de rigueur, as is PPE for staff. Rent and utility bills still come due, but PPP money is mostly gone. Some patients that need treatment are nervous about finances and out of work so they are looking for lower cost alternatives to expensive implants and dental work.

Burnout is taking even more of a toll on healthcare providers than before the pandemic, and financial stress is certainly a contributor.

The COVID crisis has affected short term revenue, but if your financial position is solid, chances are you will emerge stronger in the long term. There are strategies physician practices can pursue to weather the financial storm associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Avoid spending right now, personally and professionally. You can probably do without that new car for the time being, and you probably don’t really need that Peloton bike no matter how much you want it. There may come a time when those dollars that you spent will be greatly needed. Physician practices should limit new spending to practice enhancements. Patient traffic is unpredictable, so it’s better to save for the unknown and wait for more stability. There are expenses required during COVID-19 pandemic, but do not go beyond special air purifiers, sneeze guards, PPE, and required expenses.

2. Speak with your Fuoco Group accountant about taxes. Believe it or not, there are opportunities that can arise during economic crises. Find out if you fall into a lower tax bracket due to reduced income. Is this the year you look at a Roth Conversion to take advantage of lower tax rates? The partnership model creates more control for physicians over their taxable income, individually they can expense a lot more than their corporate counterparts. If you consider the likelihood of future tax increases, the new Secure Act permits physician partners to really reduce their tax savings during retirement with Mega Backdoor Roth 401(k). Beyond those opportunities, partnerships permit highly paid partners to incorporate and implement additional tax savings options.

3. Don't rush to pay down debt. Medical professionals should be careful about taking cash and paying down debt for the next 90 to 180 days. If there is a vaccine in the fall, your practice business is good, and you have saved a lot of money by being ultraconservative, then look at paying debt down. The Federal Reserve System has been taking actions to promote lending, but medical practices cannot count on finding a lender if they experience a cash crunch.

4. Take advantage of the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). You have an interest-free period for 24 weeks, and if you follow the rules, such as spending 60% of your funds on payroll, and you get the loan forgiven at the end of 24 weeks, it is a home run. Even if a medical practice cannot get a PPP loan forgiven, remember it is a 1% interest rate loan. So, it may make sense to do the 30-month payback and carry the loan if you can't financially afford to bring your staff back. If you have gotten PPP assistance, keep the funds in a dedicated account to pay for expenses such as payroll and rent. When the practice pays for insurance or for payroll, reimburse out of the separate PPP account for the exact, specific payments to have the proof for the bank and for SBA that the PPP funds were used for the purposes outlined.

Keep in mind The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, has made additional PPP Loan money available, streamlined forgiveness, and extended many tax breaks for medical groups. Let us help guide you if you missed round one, or would like to dip into the well a second time.

5. Develop a new financial plan for your practice. While you are working on a new budget, expense evaluation, cash flow projection, tax estimate etc., don’t forget to do your personal tax planning as well. You may wish to review your retirement plan contributions, and review asset allocations and rebalance your portfolio too.

6. Take the long view. The pandemic has shown that reimbursement for primary care services must be reformed, and fee-for-service is a failure. It is a system that is based on face-to-face visits, which obviously does not work in a pandemic. During the pandemic, the CMS as well as private health plans have moved in the right direction on advance payments which will help primary care practices keep their doors open. This could be a step forward on the road to prospective payments, but that conversation has been a long time coming. In addition, government and private payers need to provide appropriate reimbursement for innovative care delivery models like telemedicine.

REACH OUT TO US: You have to have a passion for caring for your patients but don’t be ashamed to run a profitable business. Money should not be your primary motivator, but you have to run a profitable business so you can practice great medicine. Talk to us about your viable options for 2021. A new financial action plan or restructuring may help you and your practice weather the economic pressures on the medical field right now. Call us toll free at 855-666-4201 or email charless@harlessandassociates.com.

You can’t sue Pfizer or Moderna if you have severe Covid vaccine side effects. The government likely won’t compensate you for damages either

Friday, December 18, 2020

Read original article on CNBC >

If you experience severe side effects after getting a Covid vaccine, lawyers tell CNBC there is basically no one to blame in a U.S. court of law.

The federal government has granted companies like Pfizer and Moderna immunity from liability if something unintentionally goes wrong with their vaccines.

“It is very rare for a blanket immunity law to be passed,” said Rogge Dunn, a Dallas labor and employment attorney. “Pharmaceutical companies typically aren’t offered much liability protection under the law.“

You also can’t sue the Food and Drug Administration for authorizing a vaccine for emergency use, nor can you hold your employer accountable if they mandate inoculation as a condition of employment.

Congress created a fund specifically to help cover lost wages and out-of-pocket medical expenses for people who have been irreparably harmed by a “covered countermeasure,” such as a vaccine. But it is difficult to use and rarely pays. Attorneys say it has compensated less than 6% of the claims filed in the last decade.

Immune to lawsuits

In February, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar invoked the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. The 2005 law empowers the HHS secretary to provide legal protection to companies making or distributing critical medical supplies, such as vaccines and treatments, unless there’s “willful misconduct” by the company. The protection lasts until 2024.

That means that for the next four years, these companies “cannot be sued for money damages in court” over injuries related to the administration or use of products to treat or protect against Covid.

HHS did not respond to CNBC’s request for an interview.

Dunn thinks a big reason for the unprecedented protection has to do with the expedited timeline.

“When the government said, ‘We want you to develop this four or five times faster than you normally do,’ most likely the manufacturers said to the government, ‘We want you, the government, to protect us from multimillion-dollar lawsuits,’” said Dunn.

The quickest vaccine ever developed was for mumps. It took four years and was licensed in 1967. Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine was developed and cleared for emergency use in eight months — a fact that has fueled public mistrust of the coronavirus inoculation in the U.S.

Roughly 4 in 10 Americans say they would “definitely” or “probably” not get vaccinated, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. While this is lower than it was two months ago, it still points to a huge trust gap.

But drugmakers like Pfizer continue to reassure the public no shortcuts were taken. “This is a vaccine that was developed without cutting corners,” CEO Dr. Albert Bourla said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday. “This is a vaccine that is getting approved by all authorities in the world. That should say something.”

The legal immunity granted to pharmaceutical companies doesn’t just guard them against lawsuits. Dunn said it helps lower the cost of the immunizations.

“The government doesn’t want people suing the companies making the Covid vaccine. Because then, the manufacturers would probably charge the government a higher price per person per dose,” Dunn explained.

Pfizer and Moderna did not return CNBC’s request for comment on their legal protections.

Is anyone liable?

Remember, vaccine manufacturers aren’t the ones approving their product for mass distribution. That is the job of the FDA.

Which begs the question, can you sue the U.S. government if you have an extraordinarily bad reaction to a vaccine?

Again, the answer is no.

“You can’t sue the FDA for approving or disapproving a drug,” said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. “That’s part of its sovereign immunity.”

Sovereign immunity came from the king, explains Dunn, referring to British law before the American Revolution. “You couldn’t sue the king. So, America has sovereign immunity, and even each state has sovereign immunity.”

There are limited exceptions, but Dunn said he doesn’t think they provide a viable legal path to hold the federal government responsible for a Covid vaccine injury.

Bringing workers back to the office in a post-Covid world also carries with it a heightened fear of liability for employers. Lawyers across the country say their corporate clients are reaching out to them to ask whether they can require employees to get immunized.

Dunn’s clients who run businesses serving customers in person or on site are most interested in mandating a Covid vaccine for staff.

“They view it as a selling point,” Dunn said. “It’s particularly important for restaurants, bars, gyms and salons. My clients in that segment of the service industry are looking hard at making it mandatory, as a sales point to their customers.”

While this is in part a public relations tactic, it is legally within an employer’s rights to impose such a requirement.

“Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that,” said Reiss.

There are a few notable exceptions. If a work force is unionized, the collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with the union before mandating a vaccine.

Anti-discrimination laws provide some protections as well. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who don’t want to be vaccinated for medical reasons are eligible to request an exemption. If taking the vaccine is a violation of a “sincerely held” religious belief, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would potentially provide a way to opt out.

Should none of these exemptions apply, employees may have some legal recourse if they suffer debilitating side effects following a work-mandated Covid inoculation.

Attorneys say claims would most likely be routed through worker’s compensation programs and treated as an on-the-job injury.

“But there are significant limits or caps on the damages an employee can recover,” said Dunn. He added that it would likely be difficult to prove.

Mandatory vaccination protocols, however, may not happen until the FDA formally approves the vaccines and grants Pfizer and BioNTech or Moderna a license to sell them, which will take several more months of data to show their safety and effectiveness.

“An emergency use authorization is not a license,” said Reiss. “There’s a legal question as to whether you can mandate an emergency observation. The language in the act is somewhat unclear on that.”

$50,000 a year

The government has created a way for people to recover some damages should something go wrong following immunization.

In addition to the legal immunity, the PREP Act established the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), which provides benefits to eligible individuals who suffer serious injury from one of the protected companies.

The little-known government program has been around for a decade, and it is managed by an agency under HHS. This fund typically only deals with vaccines you probably would never get, like the H1N1 and anthrax vaccines.

If a case for compensation through the CICP is successful, the program provides up to $50,000 per year in unreimbursed lost wages and out-of-pocket medical expenses. It won’t cover legal fees or anything to compensate for pain and suffering.

It is also capped at the death benefit of $370,376, which is the most a surviving family member receives in the event that a Covid vaccine proves to be fatal.

But experts specializing in vaccine law say it is difficult to navigate. “This government compensation program is very hard to use,” said Reiss. “The bar for compensation is very high.”

Also worrisome to some vaccine injury lawyers is the fact that the CICP has rejected a majority of the compensation requests made since the program began 10 years ago. Of the 499 claims filed, the CICP has compensated only 29 claims, totaling more than $6 million.

David Carney, vice president of the Vaccine Bar Association, said the CICP might deny a claim for a variety of reasons. “One reason might be that the medical records don’t support a claim,” said Carney, who regularly deals with vaccine injury cases. “We have to litigate a lot of really complex issues ... and provide a medical basis for why the injury occurred.”

Proving an injury was a direct result of the Covid vaccine could be difficult, according to Carney. “It’s not as simple as saying. ‘Hey, I got a Covid treatment, and now I have an injury.’ There is a lot of burden of proof there.”

There is also a strict one-year statute, meaning that all claims have to be filed within 12 months of receiving the vaccine.

“People who are harmed by a Covid vaccine deserve to be compensated fast and generously,” said Reiss. “The PREP Act doesn’t do that.”

Lawyers tell CNBC that it would make more sense for Covid vaccine injuries to instead be routed through another program under the HHS called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which handles claims for 16 routine vaccines. Known colloquially as “vaccine court,” the program paid on about 70% of petitions adjudicated by the court from 2006 to 2018.

And since it began considering claims in 1988, the VICP has paid approximately $4.4 billion in total compensation. That dwarfs the CICP’s roughly $6 million in paid benefits over the life of the program.

The VICP also gives you more time to file your claim. You have three years from the date of the first symptom to file for compensation.

“The VICP allows for recovery of pain and suffering, attorney’s fees, along with medical expenses and lost wages, if any,” said Michael Maxwell, a lawyer who practices in the areas of business litigation and personal injury. “Under the CICP, it’s only lost wages and out-of-pocket medical expenses. That’s it, unless there’s a death.”

The Covid-19 vaccines, however, aren’t on the list of eligible vaccines.

Reiss said the best fix would be to change VICP’s rulebook to add Covid vaccines to its list of covered inoculations. “That will require legislative change. I hope that legislative change happens.”

PPP Data Dump Places Loan Forgiveness Applications Under a Microscope

Thursday, December 17, 2020

December 16, 2020 – By Matthew D. Lee and Marissa Koblitz Kingman. Read Original Article Here >

This month’s court-ordered release of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan data is expected to result in intense scrutiny of the loan forgiveness process, highlighting the need for recipients to proceed with caution when filing forgiveness applications.

Multiple news organization sued the Trump administration in May demanding that it release information on the businesses that benefited from federal pandemic relief programs. A federal judge ordered the administration to disclose the information and on the evening of December 1, 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released data on every “small” business that received a loan from the more than $700 billion forgivable loan package approved by Congress.

The Original Purpose of the Loans

The loans were designed to help small businesses cover explicit allowable expenses such as payroll, rent and mortgage payments. In a statement that accompanied the data release, the SBA stated “small businesses are the driving force of the American economy and are essential to America’s economic rebound from the global pandemic.”

The Problems Exposed by the Data

As discussed in our prior article, PPP Loan Fraud Enforcement 2.0: Preparing for the Next Round of Scrutiny, a Senate subcommittee’s September 1, 2020 analysis of the more than 5.2 million PPP loans issued suggested a high risk for fraud, waste and abuse. The analysis cited issues including missing information on applications, incorrect information on applications, companies receiving more than one PPP loan, loans going to companies that had been debarred or suspended from contracting with the federal government and companies with known performance and integrity issues.

Much like the data that was released in September, this new round of data again revealed that many loan applicants omitted vital information about the borrower, including company names. For some companies that received over $150,000 in loans, the business name was listed as “Not Available.” Addresses were also omitted. Answers to questions regarding race, gender and veteran status were also left unanswered. In its statement accompanying the release of the December 1 data, the SBA appeared to blame the lenders for the missing information: “PPP loan data reflects the information submitted by lenders to the SBA for PPP loans. Approximately 75% of all PPP loans did not include any demographic information at the time of loan application. The loan forgiveness application expressly requests demographic information for borrowers so that SBA can better understand which small businesses are benefiting from PPP loans.”

The data released disclosed the exact amounts received by the top recipients, revealing that many large companies appeared to have gotten $10 million in loans despite the PPP’s original goal of helping small businesses in need of emergency relief. Some of the big businesses that received the large loans have ties to President Trump, according to media reports. Popular restaurant chains, large law firms and hotel operations also received millions of dollars in loans.

What’s Next

The troubling patterns revealed in the analysis of the December 1 and September 1 data releases mean businesses should expect a wide variety of government agencies to engage in more intense and far-reaching enforcement activity than previously expected.

Importantly, as businesses are gearing up to apply for loan forgiveness, they must proceed with caution. The December 1 SBA statement that was released with the new data explained that the listed borrowers were not necessarily eligible for loan forgiveness, despite lender approval: “However, the lender’s approval does not reflect a determination by SBA that the borrower is eligible for a PPP loan or entitled to loan forgiveness. All PPP loans are subject to SBA review and all loans over $2 million will automatically be reviewed. Eligibility and compliance will be reviewed during the loan forgiveness process. Further, a small business’s receipt of a PPP loan should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the small business’ commercial activity or business model.”

The loan application process was riddled with confusion. Borrowers may have been approved for loans by their lenders and received the funds, despite being ineligible. The loan forgiveness process may trigger audits for companies that were unaware they were not entitled to the funds they received. The PPP forgiveness process will most certainly lead to further investigations of fraud and abuse. Borrowers should work closely with their counsel when applying for forgiveness to ensure that they have the correct supporting documentation, accurately calculated the qualified payroll costs, and appropriately used the PPP funds.

Election results could foster more expats

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Original article Accounting Today >

Election Day often brings out the wanderlust in people dissatisfied with the results; the 2020 election is no different. After a tough year, Americans are once again looking into living abroad.

There are currently 9 million U.S. expats living all over the world, a number that stands to grow after this election season as online searches on expat life surge 300 percent above the average. With rising coronavirus numbers in the U.S., combined with the new flexibility offered by remote work, Americans are more inclined than ever to give expat life a try.

While living abroad brings a new lifestyle and a rush of opportunities, it’s important to do the proper research, and consider the logistics and the tax consequences of living abroad, according to Katelyn Minott, a CPA, managing partner of Bright!Tax and currently a resident of Rio de Janeiro.

"The pandemic has created a situation in which many are finding they can work from wherever their computer might be," she said. "And it’s created a global business environment that allows people to travel and follow their heart’s desire to live abroad. But beyond the lifestyle implications of a move abroad, there are financial and tax considerations of a move that many don’t plan for before they pull the trigger on moving."

The most common misunderstanding is the idea that you don’t have to file a tax return from abroad, according to Minott. "Many who live abroad assume that leaving the U.S. and living outside its jurisdiction means no tax returns," she said. "But once they have the basic understanding that U.S. taxes are going to follow them wherever they may be, there are certain mechanisms to reduce and often eliminate U.S. tax. It’s also important to consider that the new country may also have local tax requirements that need to be met."

Many of the countries that are attractive to those looking to relocate have little to no tax, making for significant tax savings overall, Minott observed: "Someone in the British Virgin Islands or the Cayman Islands will be able to take advantage of the low taxes to achieve overall tax savings."

There is quite a bit of recordkeeping involved in properly preparing a U.S. tax return, Minott indicated. "For example, one of the mechanisms utilized to lower U.S. taxable income is the requirement that the taxpayer report their travel to and from the U.S. each year," she said. "There are a couple of ways to qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion. One involves being absent from the U.S. for 330 days during the year. It’s important to keep track of travel, foreign housing expenses, and income earned stateside versus offshore."

A big issue, with possible extremely negative unexpected consequences, is the obligation to report the maximum account balance held in foreign bank and financial accounts to the Treasury Department. The report is made on a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or FBAR, on FinCEN Form 114. A United States "person," including a citizen, resident, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, trust and estate must file an FBAR.

"There are big penalties for failure to do this," said Minott. "The penalties start at $10,000. There’s no reason to miss filing — it’s just a disclosure, it doesn’t yield a tax liability."

State residency is an issue that needs to be carefully examined, according to Minott. "Every U.S. state has different rules surrounding what would be a tax residence," she said. "Some, like California and New York, make it very challenging to break state residency when you’re moving abroad."

"As a result, many taxpayers choose to relocate to a different U.S. state before moving abroad," she said. "Many taxpayers relocate to a non-income-tax state prior to relocation abroad. Texas and Florida are the most popular as interim relocation states."

Not every taxpayer moves to a low or no-tax jurisdiction such as the British Virgin Islands or the Caymans, Minott observed. "Many taxpayers find themselves moving to countries where they do, in fact, have a tax obligation. In those circumstances where they do have a foreign tax obligation, there are also mechanisms to reduce U.S. tax, based on the foreign tax they already paid. More often than not, they won’t be in a double-tax situation thanks to the foreign earned income exclusion, foreign tax credit or a tax treaty in effect with their country of residency."

But for the many freelancers that are taking advantage of the ability to work from anywhere, the self-employment tax does not go away, Minott cautioned. "Unless the country has a totalization agreement with the U.S., the U.S. taxpayer will continue to pay self-employment tax to the IRS," she said.

"Many taxpayers choose to set up a business in their new country," Minott remarked. "This can generate a number of international disclosure requirements with the IRS. Holding a foreign corporation or a partnership interest can create a complex filing situation on the U.S. side. It’s vital that the expat understand the implications of those business interests prior to incorporating or setting up a foreign entity."

Guidance For PPP Borrowers With Ownership Changes

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Original article by Fuoco.com >

The SBA recently issued more new guidance relating to tax-favored loans under the Paycheck Protection Program – this notice concerns responsibilities and procedures when there is a change of ownership for a business entity that has received a PPP Loan.

According to the new SBA guidance, there is a change of ownership for these purposes when at least one of the following occurs:

  • At least 20% of the common stock or other ownership interest of a PPP borrower is sold or transferred, whether in one or more transactions, including to an affiliate or an existing owner of the entity;
  • The PPP borrower sells or otherwise transfers at least 50% of its assets (measured by fair market value), whether in one or more transactions; or
  • The PPP borrower is merged with or into another entity.

Change of ownership does not absolve a borrower of responsibilities concerning their PPP loans. It continues to be responsible for:

  1. Performance of all obligations under the PPP loan;
  2. Certifications made under the PPP loan application, including the certification of economic necessity;
  3. Continued compliance with all other PPP loan requirements, and
  4. Obtaining, preparing and retaining the necessary forms and documentation and providing those forms and documents to the PPP lender, servicer or SBA upon request.

Under the procedural notice, a PPP borrower must notify its lender before it completes a change of ownership and provide documentation of the transaction. SBA approval may be required; the SBA has 60 days to review the submission and make a determination.

In addition, there are different procedures to be followed, depending on whether or not the PPP loan has been satisfied. If a loan hasn’t been satisfied, the borrower must establish an escrow account, controlled by the lender that includes the amount of the outstanding PPP loan balance. The escrow funds must be used first to repay any remaining PPP loan balance after forgiveness has been approved.

The new notice also addresses situations where the new business owner has a PPP loan of its own. It provides details for segregating PPP funds and expenses along with specifying the documentation required.

PPP Forgiveness Simplified For Loans Less Than 50K

Monday, October 26, 2020

Original article by Fuoco.com >

Recipients of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $50,000 or less will be able to apply for forgiveness using a simplified application that was just released by Treasury and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Under the interim final rules, PPP borrowers of $50,000 or less are exempted from any reductions in forgiveness based on:

  • Reductions in full-time-equivalent (FTE) employees; and
  • Reductions in employee salary or wages.

If you are an employee receiving PFL benefits, be aware the payments come from the state. If your employer participates in New York State’s Paid Family Leave program, you need to know the following:

The new application form, SBA Form 3508S, can be used by PPP borrowers applying for forgiveness on PPP loans with a total loan amount of $50,000 or less, unless those borrowers together with their affiliates received loans totaling $2 million or more. Instructions for Form 3508S also were released.

Of the 5.2 million PPP loans approved by the SBA, about 3.57 million were for $50,000 or less. Those loans accounted for about $62 billion of the $525 billion in PPP loans. About 1.71 million PPP loans of $50,000 or less were made to businesses that reported having zero employees or one employee.

The interim final rules streamline the forgiveness process for PPP borrowers of $50,000 or less because they will not be required to perform potentially complicated FTE or salary reduction calculations. Borrowers of $50,000 or less still will have to make some certifications and provide documentation to the lender for payroll and non-payroll costs.

Lender responsibilities
For PPP loans of all sizes, the interim final rules also contain guidance on lender responsibilities with respect to the review of borrower documentation of eligible costs for forgiveness in excess of a borrower’s PPP loan amount.

According to the interim final rules, when a borrower submits Form 3508S or the lender’s equivalent form, the lender will be required to:

  • Confirm receipt of the borrower certifications contained in the form; and
  • Confirm receipt of the documentation the borrower is required to submit to aid in verifying payroll and non-payroll costs, as specified in the instructions to the form.

The borrower is responsible for providing an accurate calculation of the loan forgiveness amount. The borrower will attest to the accuracy of the reported information and calculations on the loan forgiveness application. Lenders are permitted to rely on borrower representations.

In addition, the guidance addresses what a lender should do if a borrower submits documentation of eligible costs that exceed the borrower’s PPP loan amount. According to the interim final rules, the amount of loan forgiveness that a borrower may receive cannot exceed the principal amount of the PPP loan.

Whether a borrower submits SBA Form 3508, 3508EZ, or 3508S, or a lender’s equivalent form, the lender is required to confirm receipt of the documentation the borrower is required to submit to aid in verifying payroll and non-payroll costs. If applicable, the lender also is required to confirm the borrower’s calculations on the loan forgiveness application, up to the amount required to reach the requested forgiveness amount.

2020 May Be Your Last Chance For A Medical Expense Tax Deduction

Monday, October 26, 2020

Original article by Fuoco.com >

Are medical expenses taking a bite out of your budget? This may be your last chance for deducting medical and dental expenses because the threshold for qualifying for deductions is set to revert to its higher level after 2020.

For 2020, the IRS allows all taxpayers to deduct the total qualified unreimbursed medical care expenses that exceeds 7.5% of their Adjusted Gross Income. Prior to that, ACA raised the bar to 10% of AGI (except for seniors). Subsequently, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act returned the threshold to the 7.5% of AGI level for 2017 and 2018. Still with us? Extender legislation enacted by Congress late last year, called the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act, restored the 7.5% of AGI limit for 2019 and 2020. And that’s where we stand now. There is no guarantee the threshold will not revert back to 10%, so try to take full advantage of the lower threshold for this year if you expect to itemize deductions. Make sure you count all the expenses that qualify for the deduction.

What’s deductible?

You can deduct payments for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. You can also deduct payments for treatments affecting any structure or function of the body. Included are health insurance premiums and a portion of premiums paid for long-term care insurance (LTCI) policies based on the insured’s age. In addition:

  • Fees for doctors, dentists, surgeons, chiropractors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other medical practitioners
  • In-patient hospital care or nursing home services, including the cost of meals and lodging charged by the hospital or nursing home
  • Acupuncture treatments or inpatient treatment at a center for alcohol or drug addiction, for participation in a smoking-cessation program and for drugs to alleviate nicotine withdrawal if they require a prescription
  • Expenses to participate in a weight-loss program for a specific disease or diseases, including obesity, diagnosed by a physician
  • Insulin and prescription drugs
  • Payments for false teeth, reading or prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses, hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs, and for guide dogs for the blind or deaf
  • Transportation needed to obtain necessary medical treatment such as fares for taxis, buses, trains and ambulances. If you use your own vehicle, you can deduct the portion of actual costs attributable to medical-based travel or use a standard rate. The standard rate, which is adjusted annually, is 17 cents per mile in 2020.

To claim the medical expenses deduction, you must itemize your deductions, which means you do not take the standard deduction. If your itemized deductions are greater than your standard deduction then it makes sense to claim the medical expenses deduction. If appropriate, you may want to schedule doctor and dentist visits before year end to clear the 7.5% of AGI threshold or boost an existing deduction. More details on eligible medical and dental expenses here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf

Can Your Employer Pick Up The Tab For Your Cell Phone Or Internet

Monday, October 26, 2020

Original article by Fuoco.com >

YOU BET!

Is your organization or some of its key employees working remotely? By now, the work should be flowing well and your employees should be transitioning nicely to performing their jobs at home. Everything probably seemed ok, up until your employees realized that according to the TCJA if they are employed they are not allowed to take the home office deduction. So now, many are most likely asking about reimbursement for cell phones, computers, and internet. This leads to the question, with more employees working remotely, how much of their business expenses can employers reimburse tax-free?

Employers may need to pay employees back for some infrastructure improvements they had to make so they could work remotely. If an employee had to upgrade their home internet service to handle extra data requirements, they may be entitled to reimbursement for those costs. An employer may have to cover the cost of upgrading or replacing a worker’s laptop that is ok for entertainment but too slow for work.

Under federal law, employers only have to reimburse employees if job-related expenses reduce their pay below minimum wage. State laws, however, vary widely in their reimbursement requirements.

Some Background: Listed property (technically, tax code Section 280F) is luxury property. If luxury property is used for business, heightened substantiation requirements apply. At one time, cell phones and computers were both listed property. Cell phones were removed early in the last decade. The TCJA removed computers and peripherals.

After cell phones, tablets, etc., were removed from the listed property category, the IRS released guidance waiving the accountable plan rules requirements for employer-provided equipment. Employees don't have to keep track of their business use. Their personal use is considered a tax-free de minimis fringe benefit.

The only limitation is that employers must have a substantial non-compensatory reason for providing phones to employees. But even there, the bar is set pretty low. You have a substantial non-compensatory business reason if you need to contact employees in a work-related emergency. Conveniently, "work-related emergency” was never defined.

Importantly, the IRS applied the same rules to employees who use their own phones for business. So, you can reimburse employees for their substantiated basic monthly phone and data plan charges (i.e., employees have to submit their bills to you) and employees don't have to account to you for the percentage of their business use.

With so many EEs working from home right now, are there any reimbursement rules that apply when employers pick up the tab for employees' internet access? The IRS never released similar guidance after computers and peripherals were removed. That has left everyone to guess what rules apply when employers reimburse employees who use their home internet access for business.

Reimbursement rules for internet and cell phones

The IRS Small Business Division says you can reimburse employees' home internet access as a business expense, but the regular accountable plan rules apply. The accountable plan rules, which set the rules for tax-free reimbursements of employees’ business expenses, require that:

  • Employees incur expenses in connection with their performance of services for their employers and have a business connection for accessing the internet (working at home would suffice),
  • Employees must substantiate their business use by submitting an accounting of their internet use by providing you with their cable or phone bill and the percentage used for business.
  • Employees substantiate their expenses within a reasonable period of time

CELL PHONE
Due to the pandemic, cellphones become more and more essential to everyday operations and work, so the question about reimbursement for usage is fair.

When it comes to reimbursing employees or providing a monthly stipend for the use of their personal cellphones for business purposes, yes, this a non-taxable fringe benefit - provided that your reimbursement is reasonably calculated to actually reimburse the employees for the actual costs of maintaining the phone.

The Internal Revenue Code provides that gross income includes compensation for services, including fees, commissions, fringe benefits, and similar items. A fringe benefit provided by an employer to an employee is presumed to be income to the employee unless it is specifically excluded from gross income by another section of the Code. Luckily, the Internal Revenue Code also permits an employer to take deductions for any "ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.

So an employer could deduct as a business expense the costs of providing telephone services to its employees. For this reason, the IRS has concluded that the value of cellphone services provided by an employer will not be taxable to the employee if there are substantial reasons relating to the employer's business, and the reimbursement is not simply a way to provide tax-free compensation to the employee.

If you would like to reimburse workers for the cost of their cellphones, you need to adhere to the regular accountable plan rules mentioned above. However, if you provide cellphone reimbursements to boost morale, promote goodwill, or for recruiting purposes, the IRS will consider the phone costs taxable wages.

COMPUTER
Sensitive company material and client information should not be stored on employees' personal computers. That makes buying your telecommuters separate laptops a wise investment. These are working condition fringe benefits, which you can provide to employees tax-free. Employees must be told they can only use the new devices for work; any personal use of a laptop is taxable.

MICELLANEOUS ITEMS
Can you reimburse employees who need to purchase computer desks and chairs in order to work from home? These items could qualify as fringe benefits, but employees would have to keep track of their business and personal use, which isn't reasonable.

Instead it would be better to buy those items for employees but keep the items on the company's books. Depreciate them, as you would any business property, or write them off. If this is a long term move to reduce office space, you could allow employees to take their office stuff home. You must normally value and tax items employees take home, but if the value is de minimis because the stuff is old or been depreciated down to $0, you probably won't have a problem.