The smallest businesses are getting extra PPP help

The smallest businesses that have had the most trouble accessing forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program will soon get extra help.

The new Biden administration on Monday announced changes for the pandemic aid program focused on helping small and minority owned firms as well as sole proprietors.

Starting Wednesday, the Small Business Administration will only accept applications for PPP loans from firms with fewer than 20 employees.

The administration is also making several changes to the program, including increasing loan amounts for sole proprietors and individual contractors, eliminating restrictions around delinquent student loan debt and non-fraud felony convictions as well as allowing some non-citizen business owners to apply.

Goal is to expand access

The changes will help even the playing field for firms that make up most of the small business community – 98% of small businesses employ fewer than 20 people but have received only 45% of PPP funding thus far, according to the SBA. They also aim to address racial disparities that have been seen in loans as earlier iterations of the program left out many minority-owned businesses.

Supporting these firms is extremely important to the U.S. economic recovery, as small businesses employ nearly half of all working Americans, according to the SBA.

Here’s what small business owners need to know before the application window opens on Wednesday.

1. Businesses can apply for either a first or second draw of funds

If you are self-employed or own a business with fewer than 20 employees, lenders will prioritize your PPP loan applications starting Wednesday.

Eligible businesses can apply for either a first or second draw PPP loan, depending on their individual circumstances. To qualify for the second round of forgivable loans from the SBA, businesses must have spent or plan to spend all of their first loan and show they had a 25% or more drop in revenue in any quarter of 2020.

2. The self-employed can now get more forgivable funding

One of the biggest changes to PPP is how lenders will calculate loans for millions of self-employed workers, including sole proprietors and independent contractors.

For businesses with employees, PPP loans are generally 2.5 times payroll costs. But for one-person firms that don’t have a payroll, lenders used the net profit number from the IRS 1040 Schedule C, which includes deductions. Because of this, some workers saw very low loan amounts in previous rounds of the program.

To fix the issue, the SBA is revising the formula to match what it uses for farmers. This basically means that they will instead calculate loan amounts from gross income instead of net profit, said Chris Hurn, chief executive of Fountainhead Commercial Capital.

3. Apply as soon as possible

Experts aren’t sure if two weeks will be enough for all the smallest businesses that need help to apply for PPP loans, and since there is a limited amount of funding available, businesses should apply as soon as possible.

If you’d like to apply, this means that you should gather your tax documents including Schedule C – either from 2019 or 2020 – and have them ready to submit on Wednesday. It may also be a good idea to get in touch with a lender in your community or one that you have an existing relationship with to submit your paperwork.

In addition, if you’re able to apply for a first round PPP loan right away, there’s possibly time to allocate the money and apply for a second draw, according to Hurn.

What may be next

To be sure, these changes are late in the game for the program, which was first established by the CARES Act in response to the coronavirus pandemic and is currently set to expire at the end of March. That gives only a few weeks with the changes in place before the program ends.

And, it’s not year clear if some of the changes made will be retroactive. This would be especially important for the sole proprietors that got small first draw loans.  

 

WZ WEBINAR: Employee Retention Credit – RECORDING

Dear Clients, Business Associates and Friends:
In case you missed the webinar on 2/4/2021 you can watch it here.
And pdf’s of the presentation materials is also available below:

Presentation

Employee Retention Credit Worksheet

Employee Retention Credit Worksheet – extra rows
As always, Wagner & Zwerman are available to answer any of your questions and concerns and we are committed in providing you with the most updated information as it becomes available.
Best,
WZ Partners

 

Wagner & Zwerman LLP

How to Budget During a Pandemic

February, 2021

Right now with everything that’s going on, navigating your finances might feel overwhelming. However, there are some strategies that will help you manage cash shortfalls. Mariel Beasley of Duke University’s Common Cents Lab offers ways to help you manage during these trying times.

Use Mental Accounting

Translated, this means prioritizing what’s most important and cutting back in those areas that aren’t. While pretty obvious, the finer point according to Beasley is this approach will help you stick to your spending plan by reminding you of your opportunity costs — i.e. what trade-offs you might be making with each purchase. For instance, you might not be able to buy that special something you’ve had your eye on, but you will be able to buy food. Here are the three buckets she recommends for your budget:

  1. Your Bills: Non-negotiable monthly bills like rent, mortgage, utilities, child care, car payment, insurance, phone, and internet.
  2. Weekly Expenses: These costs might vary, but they include groceries, gas, food delivery, and other miscellaneous expenses.
  3. Future Expenses: What’s leftover after you pay your bills and current expenses? Even if you think you don’t have much left, set aside this cash for an emergency fund or retirement savings in high-yield saving accounts like the American Express® High Yield, or Marcus account by Goldman Sachs. Alliant Credit Union even offers a 0.55 percent interest rate on savings accounts. By comparison, the national savings average is 0.05 percent APY. Make sure your money works as hard as it can.

Try Per-Spend vs. Per Month

Instead of budgeting $200 for groceries for the whole month, decide how many times you’ll go to the supermarket during the month (five times), then stick to a per trip budget ($40). You might not spend as much as you think you will. (Tip: Buy store brands, as they’re cheaper and just as good.) Whether you work a job that pays you regularly, you’re on unemployment or you’re living on Social Security, Beasley says that this will help you stretch your money longer between paychecks.

Think Ahead

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Instead of waiting until you’re at a crisis point, act now to protect yourself. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Identify Local Food Pantries. Feeding America is a nationwide network that helps you locate a food bank near you. Organizations such as churches and charities are also pitching in, offering everything from food donations to job search assistance. Government programs such as SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid are options, as well as HEAP (heating your home), should you need something like this.
  2. Have a Plan for Your Rent/Mortgage. If you’re concerned about eviction, understand your rights as a tenant, and most importantly, stay in communication with your landlord. One solution is to get a roommate to share expenses. If you’re running behind on your mortgage, seek out help from your mortgage broker. One way to generate income is to rent out an extra room in your home. If you have family or friends who can help, reach out to them. While the latter might feel like a last resort, you could consider bartering: provide a service to them they might usually pay for like car washes, dog walking, or house cleaning in exchange for the financial help.
  3. Talk to Your Creditors. Contact your creditors to see if you can get a reduced interest rate on any of your payments. You also might ask for discounts and deferment options. Many card issuers are offering financial hardship assistance (waived late fees, flexibility with payments, even skipped payments) during the coronavirus pandemic.

The key to all this is slowing down and focusing on the basics – getting through each week and each day. While the pandemic might feel like it will never end, it will: it’s inevitable. Until then, these tactics can help you take control and stay afloat.

Sources

https://www.cnbc.com/select/how-to-budget-during-coronavirus/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/best/banking/high-yield-online-savings-accounts

Coronavirus: Credit Card Issuers Offer Financial Assistance (cnbc.com)

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New Year-End Tax Provisions

2020 2021 Tax Law ChangesIn late December, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which in addition to providing COVID-19 relief provisions also included many tax provisions and extenders. The Act contained many COVID-related tax provisions, as well as a slew of extenders ranging from one year to permanent. This article will focus on the miscellaneous tax and disaster relief provisions, which are more applicable to most taxpayers.

Miscellaneous Provisions

Charitable Contributions – For tax years 2020-2022, non-itemizers can deduct $300 in charitable contributions ($600 for married couples filing jointly).

Full Business Meals Deduction – Typically, business meals are only 50 percent deductible; however, the new tax law provides for a 100 percent deduction for restaurant meal expenses incurred in 2021 and 2022.

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit – Starting in 2021, a 4 percent rate floor is established for calculating credits related to the acquisition of and bond-financed low-income housing developments.

Minimum Interest Rate for Certain Life Insurance Contracts – The bill ties the rates going forward for section 7702 fixed interest rates for life insurance contracts to benchmark interest rates that are periodically updated.

Minimum Age for Distributions – Certain qualified pensions can make distributions to workers who are 59½ or older and still working, with a special allowance for some construction and building trade workers, where the age is lowered to 55.

Modified Charitable Contribution Limits – An extension for one year through 2021 is given for CARES Act increased limits on deductible charitable contributions for corporations and taxpayers who itemize.

Disaster Relief

Disaster tax relief provisions are available for individuals and businesses in presidentially declared disaster areas on or after Jan. 1, 2020, up through 60 days after enactment.

Use of Retirement Funds – Residents of qualified disaster areas can take up to $100k in qualified distributions from retirement plans or IRAs, penalty-free. Taxpayers have up to three years to pay the distributions back without penalty.

Disaster Zone Employee Retention Credit – A tax credit of up to 40 percent of wages (capped at $6,000 per employee) is available to employers who are actively engaged in a trade or business in a qualified disaster zone.

Disaster Relief Contributions – Corporations are allowed qualified disaster relief contributions of up to 100 percent of their taxable income for 2020.

Tax Extenders

Aside from the miscellaneous and disaster relief provisions, the act extended numerous existing tax laws anywhere from one to five years or even permanently. Below is a list of the extended provisions. Due to the number of extender provisions, only a table is provided below.

One-Year Extensions

  • Sec. 25C 10% credit for qualified nonbusiness energy property.
  • Sec. 30B credit for qualified fuel cell motor vehicles.
  • Sec. 30C 30% credit for the cost of alternative (nonhydrogen) fuel vehicle refueling property.
  • Sec. 30D 10% credit for plug-in electric motorcycles and two-wheeled vehicles.
  • Sec. 35 health coverage tax credit.
  • Sec. 40(b)(6) credit for each gallon of qualified second-generation biofuel produced.
  • Sec. 45(e)(10)(A)(i) production credit for Indian coal facilities.
  • Sec. 45(d) credit for electricity produced from certain renewable resources.
  • Sec. 45A Indian employment credit.
  • Sec. 45L energy-efficient homes credit.
  • Sec. 45N mine rescue team training credit.
  • Sec. 163(h) treatment of qualified mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest.
  • Sec. 168(e)(3)(A) three-year recovery period for racehorses two years old or younger.
  • Sec. 168(j)(9) accelerated depreciation for business property on Indian reservations.
  • Sec. 4121 Black Lung Disability Trust Fund increase in excise tax on coal.
  • Sec. 6426(c) excise tax credits for alternative fuels and
  • Sec. 6427(e) outlay payments for alternative fuels.
  • The American Samoa economic development credit (P.L. 109-432, as amended by P.L. 111-312).

Two-Year Extensions

  • Sec. 25D residential energy-efficient property credit (the bill also makes qualified biomass fuel property expenditures eligible for the credit).
  • Sec. 45Q carbon oxide sequestration credit (through 2025).
  • Sec. 48 energy investment tax credit for solar and residential energy-efficient property.

Five-Year Extensions

  • Sec. 45D new markets tax credit.
  • Sec. 45S employer credit for paid family and medical leave.
  • Sec. 51 work opportunity credit.
  • Sec. 108(a)(1)(E) gross income exclusion for discharge of indebtedness on a principal residence.
  • Sec. 127(c)(1)(B) exclusion for certain employer payments of student loans.
  • Sec. 168(e)(3)(C)(ii) seven-year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complexes.
  • Sec. 181 special expensing rules for certain film, television, and live theatrical productions.
  • Sec. 954(c)(6) lookthrough treatment of payments of dividends, interest, rents, and royalties received or accrued from related controlled foreign corporations under the foreign personal holding company rules.
  • Sec. 1391(d) empowerment zone designation.
  • Sec. 4611 Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund financing rate.
  • Sec. 1397A increased expensing under Sec. 179 and Sec. 1397B nonrecognition of gain on rollover of empowerment zone investments are both terminated for property placed in service in tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2020.
  • The Sec. 1394 empowerment zone tax-exempt bonds and Sec. 1396 empowerment zone employment credit, which expire Dec. 31, 2020, were not extended.

Permanent Extensions

  • Sec. 213(f) reduction in medical expense deduction floor, which allows individuals to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income instead of 10%.
  • Sec. 179D deduction for energy-efficient commercial buildings (the amount will be inflation-adjusted after 2020).
  • Sec. 139B gross income exclusion for certain benefits provided to volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders.
  • Sec. 45G railroad track maintenance credit; however, the credit rate is reduced from 50% to 40%.

Conclusion

The Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in December 2020 not only extended many existing tax laws and instituted COVID-19 relief, but it also changes many typical tax laws (at least temporarily). Taxpayers should pay attention to these year-end tax law changes as they can significantly impact their tax situations.

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How Firms Can Restore Balance Sheets to Better Health

Covid 19 Restore Balance SheetsAccording to the World Bank Group, for businesses in emerging markets and developing economies, the bottom fourth percentile of the non-financial corporate (NFC) sector saw their balance sheets deteriorate. Looking at these businesses’ Interest Coverage Ratio, the average figure dropped to 0.06 from 0.35 between the fourth quarter of 2019 and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic’s ongoing effects.

The ICR is a measure of a firm’s ability to repay their debt in accordance to existing obligations, whereby a higher ratio indicates a better ability to do so. This is calculated by dividing earnings before interest and taxes by Interest expense.

With businesses seeing losses of as much as three-quarters of revenue in a three-month timeframe, as McKinsey & Company explains, a “cash war room” needs to be established to address this liquidity crisis. McKinsey & Company wants companies to look at every possible way to improve their financial situation due to their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cash and Sales Collections

One of the first things McKinsey & Company recommends doing is evaluate current and future cash collections and sales collections. If there’s a large percent of overdue or chronically overdue invoices, shifting employees to collections may provide substantive positive cashflow. However, if a business’s working capital is insufficient, other aspects of the balance need to be addressed to increase business health.

Tackling Debt Obligations

Whether it’s used to maintain operations or for ongoing investments, debt can be a useful tool. However, if a company takes on too much debt and is hit by an unexpected event like the COVID-19 pandemic, severely reducing sales, debt can become a burden for the company. Along with increasing the level of risk for investors, if a company can’t reduce its debt load eventually, it could be forced to declare bankruptcy or default on loans.

However, there are a few things a business can do to tackle its debt. Publicly traded companies can offer more shares for sale. Businesses can contact their lenders to see if interest rates can be lowered, payments can be frozen or spread out over longer timeframes. Reducing staff levels or renegotiating leases on machines or real estate also can free up excess cash burn.

According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a March 2020 report titled “Small Business Road Map to Financial Resources” revealed that crowdfunding might be a good alternative to taking on additional loans. Whether a business owner or entrepreneur, they can exchange “token rewards” for donations from individuals without sacrificing any interest in their company’s ownership.

Improve the Balance Sheet’s Current Ratio

Another way to improve one’s balance sheet is to determine the company’s current ratio and make adjustments accordingly.

Looking at the formula, Current Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities, businesses can get an answer quickly.

If the ratio is below 1, then there needs to be some attention paid to figuring out how to better pay debts needed to be paid within 12 months, or short-term liabilities, with current assets or assets convertible to cash within the same timeframe.

Use a sweep account, which is a bank account that transfers money not needed for day-to-day operations into a different, but easily accessible account that earns more interest. Other ways include reducing the need to rent additional space, using machines/cloud services less often, and dialing back labor/marketing.

Taking action, including these for balance sheet health, can increase the chance of business survival during the pandemic and beyond.

Sources

https://blogs.worldbank.org/allaboutfinance/covid-19-and-corporate-balance-sheet-vulnerabilities-emerging-markets

https://www.occ.treas.gov/topics/consumers-and-communities/minority-outreach/small-business-road-map-fin-march-2020.pdf

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-cfos-role-in-helping-companies-navigate-the-coronavirus-crisis

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While Many Suffer Financially, Some Manage to Profit off Pandemic

Billionaires in CovidThe Federal Reserve recently reported that the 50 richest people in the United States increased their net worth by $339 billion during the first half of 2020. There are two primary contributors to this near-unprecedented level of growth. The first is that many either owned or were heavily invested in tech companies that thrived during the pandemic. Increased technology demands for remote work, online shopping, streaming entertainment, and socially-distanced socializing created a lucrative COVID-19 economy in some sectors.

Another reason is that the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve proactively infused the economy with stimulus capital. That helped mitigate long-term market disruption that might have otherwise occurred.

The short explanation of how to leverage assets for greater wealth during a pandemic is to be well-capitalized and invested in the stock market. To wit, over 88 percent of the equity in corporations and in mutual fund shares is owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. In other words, they’re not sitting on their cash; it is continually working for them.

In fact, nearly every tragedy has some form of silver lining investment opportunity. For example, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes are good for the construction and contracting industries. The pandemic is interesting because it has large and almost exclusively benefited technology companies – in as much as they serve other industries.

The obvious pandemic winners are streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix, but also consider the proliferation of video conference technologies, online financial services, and telemedicine. All of these innovations existed before COVID-19, but it took a global pandemic for them to become mainstream services. Moreover, it is unlikely that their popularity will wane once the virus is contained. After all, we love convenience, and few things are more convenient than being able to conduct daily activities – such as work and doctor’s appointments – from the comfort of your own home.

But just as the coronavirus boosted fortunes in many market sectors, it depressed others, such as cruise lines, movie theaters, and airline stocks, as well as oil prices. Unless you have a crystal ball, it’s always a good idea to diversify your portfolio across a variety of asset classes and market sectors. That way losses in some investments are likely to be offset by gains in others.

In recent years, the wealthy also have benefited from generous tax breaks provided by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. To diversify gains achieved during the pandemic, they may take advantage of provisions from this legislation, such as the conservation easement charitable deduction. This can be claimed when purchasing land with strong development potential and then donating it to a land trust or government agency. This might create a higher tax deduction based on the appraised value. A similar approach can be used with the Opportunity Zone tax break. This eliminates taxes on capital gains earned from long-term investments in businesses or developments in specific low-income areas of the country.

Rest assured, while vaccines will lead the way to recovery from the pandemic, other crises will follow – as will opportunities to make money on them. Some of them are even easy to predict. After all, the exacerbation of climate change is evident in the increase and severity of extreme weather events. This offers two avenues for an investment opportunity. The first is reactive, such as rebuilding what has been damaged or destroyed. The second is preventive, which means investing in renewable energy resources that reduce carbon emissions, such as solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy solutions.

It is important to recognize, however, that we can’t always predict what type of crisis will happen next. Therefore, it is inadvisable to try to time the market for investments, particularly when saving for a long-term goal such as retirement. Instead, consider aligning your assets with investments that help build a stronger society, such as sustainable energy, technology advances, and healthcare innovation.

The biggest takeaway here is that the key to crisis opportunism is to be well-capitalized with liquid assets that can repositioned quickly. It is no accident that economic declines are often most advantageous to the extremely wealthy. If you were able to save more money during the pandemic due to less opportunity to travel or spend on other indulgences, consider using this windfall to position your investment portfolio for crisis opportunism in the future.

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Protecting American Ports, Federal Buildings, Allies, Oceans, and Whistleblowers

Congress protects WhistleblowersSave Our Seas 2.0 Act (S 1982) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Alan Sullivan (R-AK) on June 26, 2019. The purpose of the legislation is to improve efforts to clean up marine debris, encourage recycling and strengthen domestic infrastructure to prevent the creation of new marine debris. The bill passed in the Senate in January 2020, the House in December, and was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 18, 2020.

Digital Coast Act (S 1069) – This bill revised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Digital Coast program for critical coastal management and data tracking for the ocean and the Great Lakes coasts. It was introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) on April 9, 2019, passed in both Houses, and was signed into law on Dec. 18, 2020.

Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2019 (S 2258) – This Act was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on July 24, 2019. It is designed to prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who report criminal antitrust violations to the federal government. The bill authorizes an employee to seek relief by filing a complaint with the Department of Labor or a lawsuit in the US. district court if he believes he is discharged or otherwise discriminated against by his employer for reporting violations. The legislation passed in the Senate in October 2019, in the House in December 2020, and was signed into law on Dec. 23, 2020.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 [Including Coronavirus Stimulus & Relief] (HR 133) – With overwhelming bipartisan support, this legislation is the vehicle for both the government funding bill for 2021 and another phase of economic stimulus in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is the fifth-longest bill to be passed by Congress in the history of the country. The Act was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 27, 2020.

Secure Federal Leases from Espionage and Suspicious Entanglements (LEASE) Act (S 1869) – This bill requires disclosure of ownership of high-security space leased to a Federal agency, including whether that owner is a foreign person and the country associated with the entity. It was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on June 13, 2019, passed in the Senate in March 2020, the House in November, and was signed into law by the president on Dec. 31, 2020.

Securing America’s Ports Act (HR 5273) – This Act requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a plan to increase by 100 percent the rate of scanning commercial and passenger vehicles and freight rail entering the United States via land ports. The plan will utilize large-scale non-intrusive inspection systems, such as X-ray and gamma-ray imaging technology. This bill was introduced by Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) on Nov. 26, 2019. It passed in the House in February 2020, the Senate in December, and was enacted on Jan. 5 by President Trump.

Eastern European Security Act (HR 2444) – This bill authorizes the president to offer low-cost loans to NATO Eastern European allies (formerly part of the Soviet Bloc that still rely on Russian military gear) in order to more easily purchase U.S. weapons and equipment. The goal is for them to invest in American defense innovation instead of Russian or Chinese hardware. The bill was introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) on May 1, 2019, passed in the House last March, and in the Senate on Jan. 1. It was one of the last pieces of major legislation passed by the 116th Congress and was signed into law by President Trump on Jan. 13.