35 Million Unprocessed Tax Returns Due To IRS Delays

The various pandemic-era programs introduced by the federal government have increased the tax authority’s workload and caused delays in the tax refund process.
The IRS has been under extreme pressure since the start of the pandemic, tasked with implementing a range of federal relief programs designed to support individuals, families and businesses affected by covid-19.
“The IRS and its employees deserve tremendous credit for what they have accomplished under very difficult circumstances, but there is always room for improvement.” Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins wrote in her report. “This year, the IRS is dealing with an unprecedented number of returns requiring manual review, slowing the issuance of refunds,” Collins continued. “These processing backlogs matter greatly because most taxpayers overpay their tax during the year by way of wage withholding or estimated tax payments and are entitled to receive refunds when they file their returns. Moreover, the government uses the tax system to distribute other financial benefits.”
The 35 million pending returns account for 20 percent of the total returns submitted. And with the May 17 federal tax deadline almost two months in the past, the IRS is well beyond the 21-day processing time it typically strives for. Myriad reasons account for the delay.

The 2021 tax filing season started late and was extended an extra month due to the coronavirus pandemic. To make matters worse, the agency was inundated with phone calls and unable to keep up. During the 2021 filing period, the IRS received 167 million phone calls, four times more than during the 2019 season. As a result, only 9% of calls were answered by a live customer service representative.The popular “1040” line, the most frequently dialed IRS toll-free number, received 85 million calls during the 2021 filing season, with only 3% of callers reaching a live person.

Since the start of 2021, the IRS has issued the second and third economic impact payments, better known as stimulus checks. The second, for up to $600, started going out at the end of December 2020, as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. The third, for up to $1,400, started going out in the middle of March, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The IRS began accepting tax returns on February 12. So the latest check was processed during tax season, its busiest time of the year.

Another key component of the American Rescue Plan is the updated Child Tax Credit. Starting July 15, the IRS will pay $3,600 per child to parents of children up to age five. Half will come as six monthly payments, and half as a 2021 tax credit. That comes out to $300 per month and another $1,800 at tax time. The total amount changes to $3,000 per child for parents of six to 17 year olds, or $250 per month and $1,500 at tax time. The IRS has also been standing up this new program of monthly Child Tax Credit payments during tax season. While the agency has now sent out three stimulus checks, it has no experience sending out millions of periodic payments. Resources dedicated to setting up this program are resources not dedicated to its core mission, which is to “provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.”

Erin Collins’s report also cites limited resources and technology issues as reasons for delays in processing tax returns. The agency operated under many of the same limitations that have affected office workers the world over during the pandemic. That included remote work, which can affect efficiency. The IRS is also understaffed and underfunded. Congress has continually reduced the agency’s budget over the last decade. Funding and total employment are both down by about 20 percent.

Beginning the tax season at a disadvantage contributed to the 35 million-return backlog. Tasking the IRS with stimulus checks and the updated Child Tax Credit at the same time drew resources away from processing tax returns. And a history of understaffing and underfunding set them up for failure. All of this put a strain on Americans who were counting on timely refunds.

Restricted Stock & RSUs: 3 Planning Tips

Equity compensation is becoming more mainstream and is not just for executives anymore. Grants of restricted stock or restricted stock units (RSUs) are getting to be more common than stock options – and the rules are different, as is the tax planning. Below we will look at some of the particulars of how restricted stock and RSUs operate, how to understand a grant, planning for the tax consequences, and what to do after the shares vest.

How Restricted Stock and RSUs Work

At their core, restricted stock and RSU company shares that vest according to a schedule can be awarded as compensation. The vesting schedule can be tied to length of employment, meeting certain performance criteria, or a combination of both. Upon vesting, the employee owns the shares themselves and can do what they wish with them – from holding, selling, gifting, etc. While this might sound simple, the devil is in the details.

Understanding Your Grant

First, it is important to understand that restricted stock or RSUs are similar to stock options but have important tax and financial planning differences.

There are important facts you need to determine. First, how does the vesting schedule work; what amount of shares vest and when? Is the vesting simply tied to length of service or are there performance or even liquidity event triggers? Second, what are your tax-withholding choices?

From there, you can determine or at least estimate key factors such as how much the award will be worth both pre-tax and post-tax.

Tax Planning – Section 83(b) Election

Taxation can be tricky with restricted stock and RSUs. One strategy is to use a Section 83(b) election for restricted stock.

Typically, a person is taxed when the restricted stock vests regardless of whether the shares are sold. The Section 83(b) election allows the taxpayer to be taxed on the share value at the grant date instead. This election can be made within 30 days from the grant date of the restricted stock and is not an option for RSUs.

Why would you want to consider a Section 83(b) election? Remember that regardless of the election or not, you are taxed as ordinary income for the share value regardless of whether you hold or sell the shares. The advantages are that if you think the stock price will rise between the grant and vesting, then you will pay less ordinary income tax and have lower cash outflows. Second, after the initial taxation of the grant, the change in value after this point is capital gains.

Tax Planning – Withholding

The other issue to consider is not withholding enough taxes. The IRS rules say that your company is required to withhold 22 percent for restricted stock and RSUs (37 percent for income over $1 million during the same year).

The problem is that there is a good chance your margin tax bracket is higher than 22 percent if you are receiving these kinds of equity compensation awards. As a result, you will need to make some estimated payments to cover the difference. Unless you have enough cash from other sources, you may need to consider liquidating some of your shares to cover the tax bill.

The conundrum here is that if you do not see the shares immediately and the price falls, then you will be selling shares at a lower value than what you are being taxed on. It is best to consider your holistic tax scenario and work with your tax advisor to come up with a plan.

Game Plan for After Vesting

Aside from the tax consequences, you need to consider the impact on your overall financial planning. One of the biggest risks taxpayers can face is that they become heavily concentrated in the company stock. You will need to look at your overall portfolio and consider if you need to diversify depending on how much of your net worth is tied up in a single stock now.

Some financial planners recommend looking at the situation this way in an example with your shares worth $150,000 at vesting. If you had $150,000 in cash to invest, pay down debt, etc., would you use all of that to buy the company stock? If the answer is no, then why would you hold it? In other words, do not let tax implications lead your financial planning decisions.

Conclusion

More and more companies are issuing compensation in equity forms such as restricted stock grants or RSUs. Make sure you understand your vesting schedule and conditions so you can plan for the tax implications as well as your overall financial picture.

How to Develop a Hybrid Work Policy Post-Pandemic

According to a Prudential survey, 87 percent of respondents said they would prefer to work remotely at least one day per week. This is compared to 13 percent of respondents preferring to work at the office all the time. The same survey found that one-third of respondents wouldn’t want to work for a business that had a 100 percent on-site work policy.

According to a report from Microsoft titled, “The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?” 54 percent of employees report “feeling overworked” while 39 percent say they “feel exhausted.” The study attributes these employee feelings to an overload of “digital collaboration” through “remote meetings, emails, chats, and groups working on documents together.” With workers reporting a desire for change in the workplace, how can companies develop their own hybrid work policy?

Crafting an Effective Hybrid Work Policy

By developing the right mix of remote work and office work, employees and employers can find a balance that works well for everyone. Looking to Fujitsu, as Harvard Business Review (HBR) explains, we can study a model of how the pandemic changed everyone’s view – including owners, managers and workers – of working in the office all the time.

Hiroki Hiramatsu, head of the human resources unit at Fujitsu, realized that the 120 minutes people spent traveling to work could be put to better use. There was a better mousetrap to be devised to make both the business and its workers more efficient with a hybrid workplace plan. For businesses that want to create more flexible working arrangements, HBR believes there are four areas of focus:

1. Employee’s Position and Responsibilities

The first task is to examine the employee’s position and list of responsibilities. HBR looks at the job of a strategic planner and hones in on the attribute of focus. They are responsible for creating business plans and obtaining details on their industry. Requiring intense focus, they need time that is not interrupted; hence, this can be performed virtually anywhere.

Looking at the team manager, being able to coordinate things is imperative. Team managers are more efficient and effective in person to provide guidance and job-improving feedback while in the office working on projects.

While there’s no cut-and-dry call on where both of the scenarios could be done, with a hybrid work policy, certain tasks can be done anywhere, while other tasks are more effectively completed at home or at the office. A hybrid work policy merges the benefits for businesses and their employees.

2. Worker Inclinations

HBR explains that it’s imperative to understand individual worker preferences and aid teams to work within such preferences. Using the example of two strategic planners, there are different employees with different work and family lives. One lives far away from the office, has a busy family life with kids in school and prefers a hybrid work approach. The other employee is at an earlier stage in their career, doesn’t have a dedicated home workspace and lives near the office.

This stage is where companies can speak with employees and have them take surveys to see how a hybrid workplace policy can be constructed for optimal employee engagement.

3. Reworking How Work is Done

When it comes to working outside the office, HBR explains that in a hybrid work environment, businesses have to get creative, especially with technology. HBR uses the example of the Norwegian Equinor corporation that is involved in handling gas from North Sea fields. In place of normal operations for plant inspections, robotic devices were supplied to provide real-time visual data for inspection engineers to complete their jobs remotely with the same level of accuracy.

4. Equal Policy Application

Regardless of the hybrid policy that’s developed, it’s important to maintain inclusion and fairness. HBR points out that without applying the policy evenly, it can lead to less productive workers, higher rates of burnout, fewer instances of teamwork, and more turnover. Additionally, with select employees having time- and place-dependent jobs unsuited or not optimized for a hybrid workplace, many felt they were treated unfairly when this approach is taken.

HBR gives the example of how Brit Insurance changed the traditional approach to the uneven application of a hybrid work policy. One out of 10 of its employees were chosen randomly, from all departments and job roles. Over the next six months, these employees were put in six-person groups to work together virtually. After reflecting on their working styles and capabilities, and their coworkers’ and company’s needs, they concluded that by developing ideas based on their experience and sharing them with the CEO, change would occur. The project resulted in the Brit Playbook, documenting novel ideas for employees to work together.

While each business is unique and will have its own tailored hybrid plan, taking the time to learn how to develop it effectively it will help reduce problems in implementing it.

Sources

https://news.prudential.com/presskits/pulse-american-worker-survey-is-this-working.htm

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work

https://hbr.org/2021/05/how-to-do-hybrid-right

Wishing on a Star: Investors Pour Billions in to SPACs

A SPAC is a special purpose acquisition company. It is typically sponsored by a venture capitalist or a private equity firm that has expertise in a specific sector or industry, such as green technology. A SPAC launches as an IPO, but it is nothing more than a shell company that raises money from investors. Post-IPO, it has a limited amount of time (one to two years) to merge with an existing company, where the capitol is deployed. Once that happens, the private operating company trades publicly under the SPAC name.

While SPACs have been around for about 30 years, they’ve only become popular in the past year or so. In fact, this year investors have already poured more than $100 billion into these vehicles, and that’s more than the total amount raised since they were first introduced. SPACs offer investors the opportunity to buy into a startup, which might be at early-, middle- or late-stage development when it partners with the SPAC. In 2020 and 2021, industries heavily represented by SPACs include electric vehicles, consumer-oriented technology, communications and retail.

What makes the SPAC particularly interesting is that investors do not know what company they are buying into since the entity has no commercial operations of its own. As such, they are sold largely based on trust in the management sponsor and belief in the growth potential for the industry it represents.

SPACs differ from traditional IPOs in that the IPO price is not based on the valuation of an existing business. Instead, investors typically pay $10 per common share of regular stock at the initial offering. These shares are referred to as units. Each unit also includes a warrant, which offers the right to purchase the company’s stock at a specific price and at a later date. Once a SPAC merges with a private company, the shares and warrants are listed and publicly traded on the stock exchange. Capital raised by the sale of warrants is typically used to compensate the SPAC sponsor.

One of the appeals of the SPAC model is that individual investors have the opportunity to invest in a startup that has been vetted and funded by an experienced private equity partner. This presents less risk as well as a ground-floor opportunity that is usually not feasible for individual investors. Most IPO opportunities require higher capital investments and occur at a later stage of development. SPACs provide the opportunity to commit a smaller investment at an earlier stage in a company’s life cycle, which often offers the potential for higher returns.

Unfortunately, the lack of a longer, established track record also increases risk – which is something the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently scrutinizing. For now, the SEC has taken a hands-off approach, hoping the market will regulate itself. However, if SPAC sponsors oversell the entity’s capabilities or investors become disillusioned with the returns on their investment, the SPAC market may be subject to considerable regulation in the future.

As for investment returns, the outcomes are mixed. Initial SPAC IPOs tend to outperform the S&P 500. However, once SPACs merge with their respective private companies, the results tend to be less impressive. Given their recent surge in popularity, there’s no way to gauge their long-term performance success. 

5 Tips for Going Back to the Office

Slowly, our world is changing. A percentage of the population has been vaccinated and many employees are headed back to the office. However, this may cause a bit of anxiety – and understandably so. Here are few ways to help take the edge off of returning to the workplace.

Wake up Earlier

For some of you, working from home might have caused you to shift your office hours. Maybe you’re starting later and staying up later. Whatever your routine, it’s safe to say that generally, office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A few days, perhaps a week, before you expect to go back, set your alarm earlier. Each day, baby step it back a few minutes to the time you roused yourself before the shutdown began. Though things might never be the same, at least your re-entry into the work world might feel somewhat familiar.

Prepare the Night Before Your First Day

Along with starting your day earlier, think through everything you need to take with you. Do you drink coffee? Make sure you have a thermos with a hot cup of joe ready to go. Do you eat lunch at work? Make your lunch the night before; or if you prefer microwavable meals, be sure you’ve got all your favs ready to pop into your work bag. Ensuring that you will have sustenance at whatever time you lunch will save you a lot of worry.

Review Your Workplace Protocols

Here we’re talking about rules to keep you safe. Do you need a mask if you’ve been vaccinated? What if you haven’t been vaccinated? Do you need to always wear a mask? Will there be hand sanitizer onsite or do you need to bring your own? Email HR or leadership to be fully aware of the policy so you can keep up-to-date with any changes. Staying informed will help calm your nerves.

Manage Your Stress

Make sure you’re being mindful of how you’re feeling emotionally before, during, and after you return to work. If you’re dealing with anxiety when you’re back at work, practice self-care. Take a walk outside during lunch to get some fresh air. If you like to exercise and your gym is open, plan a quick workout. If for some reason you can’t leave the office, try meditation apps like Calm, Headspace or Simple Habit. (These are also great when you get home and before you go to bed – anytime, actually.) You might also call a friend or family member and share how you’re feeling. Letting off some steam and expressing yourself helps alleviate some of the pressure that might be building up.

Communicate with Your Team

Making the transition back to the office can be challenging, if not downright tough. To diffuse any misunderstandings, practice transparency with everyone, no matter what their position. If you’re a manager, lay out your expectations so that everyone is on the same page. If you’re an individual contributor, make sure your manager and peers know what you’re working on, your hours, and any out-of-the-office days you have coming up. Many companies are asking employees, initially, to split their time between the office and home, which means that for some a full transition back to the office is yet to come. Regardless, overcommunicating will ensure you don’t miss out on anything important.

We may never return to the days before the pandemic. However, we’re making strides to get back to a place of normalcy and are here to guide you every step of the way.

Sources

Returning To Work In The Office? 5 Tips To Prepare For The Transition

Recognizing the Abolishment of Slavery and Compensating Law Enforcement, Overseas Federal Employees and Disaster Relief Victims

Juneteenth National Independence Day Act (S 475) – This bill authorizes Juneteenth National Independence Day on June 19 as a legal public holiday. The bill was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on Feb. 25. It was passed by both the House and the Senate on June 16 and signed into law by the president on June 17.

Protecting America’s First Responders Act (S 937) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on April 29. The legislation ensures that certain law enforcement and first responders who have become permanently and totally disabled as a result of personal injuries sustained in the line of duty have prompt access to specific payments and benefits. The bill passed in the Senate on June 10 and is currently under consideration in the House.

HAVANA Act of 2021 (S 1828) – This bill provides financial support and resources for American officials suffering from the so-called Havana Syndrome – a mysterious set of symptoms that first affected federal employees stationed in Cuba in 2016. The bill authorizes disability benefits to American personnel who have experienced qualifying anomalous health incidents while serving in other countries throughout the world. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on May 25 and passed in the Senate on June 8. It is currently under consideration in the House.

Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act (HR 539) – Introduced by Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) on Jan. 28, this bill would prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from taking back disaster assistance funds that it mistakenly awarded to victims who applied for assistance in good faith. Under current law, FEMA can go back weeks, months or even years to seek repayment of funds in cases where the agency subsequently determined it mistakenly granted assistance, but no fraud was committed. This bill would require FEMA to waive that disaster relief debt. The legislation passed in the House on June 15 and is in the Senate for consideration.

United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (S 1260) – This bill establishes a Directorate for Technology and Innovation in the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the purpose of strengthening U.S. leadership in critical technologies. The legislation authorizes investments in research, development and manufacturing in key technology focus areas, such as artificial intelligence, high performance computing and innovation to support national security strategy. The Office of Science and Technology Policy is to develop an annual strategy for the federal government to improve national competitiveness in science and research, and help grow critical industries to generate jobs for the future. The bill was introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on April 20 and passed in the Senate on June 8. It is currently under consideration in the House.

NJ Governor Murphy signs $235M in relief for small businesses

New Jersey small businesses and other entities crushed by the coronavirus pandemic are now eligible for another round of grant funding under a package of bills totaling $235 million in aid that Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Tuesday.
“Throughout the past year, we have focused our relief efforts on supporting New Jersey’s small businesses so they can emerge from the pandemic stronger than before,” said Governor Murphy. “This additional funding will help us add to the more than 60,000 small businesses that have received aid to date.”
In the Assembly the bills were sponsored by Assembly members Vince Mazzeo, Roy Freiman, Lisa Swain, Andrew Zwicker, John Armato, Chris Tully, Pedro Mejia, Angela McKnight, Adam Taliaferro, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Linda Carter, Joann Downey, Yvonne Lopez, Stanley Sterley, and Eric Houghtaling. In the Senate, the bills were sponsored by Senators Dawn Marie Addiego, Vin Gopal, and Joseph Lagana.
The funding will be administered by the NJEDA, which has reopened its Phase IV grant pre-application for those businesses that missed the original deadline. To date, the EDA has distributed more than $420 million in aid to some 63,000 businesses across the state. The breakdown of the $235 million in proposed today’s bill package is as follows:
  • Microbusinesses: $120 million
  • Bars and Restaurants: $20 million
  • Child Care Facilities: $10 million
  • Other Small Businesses and non-profits: $50 million
  • New Businesses and Start-Ups: $25 million
  • Sustain and Serve: $10 million

 

Small Business Recovery Grant Program

The New York State COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program was created to provide flexible grant assistance to currently viable small businesses, micro-businesses and for-profit independent arts and cultural organizations in the State of New York who have experienced economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications open last Thursday for $800 million in state grants to help the smallest businesses recover from the pandemic – and the money may not be taxed by Albany.
The State Legislature is expected to approve a proposal from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to exempt the COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program from state income tax. The grants vary between $5,000 and $50,000.
The money will serve as reimbursement of employee wages, rent and mortgage payments, taxes, utility bills and other operating expenses from the pandemic, between March 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021. Also reimbursable is the purchase of masks, gloves, face shields and other personal protective equipment and improvements to ventilation systems to slow the coronavirus’ spread during the period.
Read more on eligibility and apply here:

New York Forward Loan Fund accepting Pre-Applications

New York Forward Loan Fund (NYFLF) is a new economic recovery loan program aimed at supporting New York State small businesses, nonprofits and small landlords as they reopen after the COVID-19 outbreak and NYS on PAUSE.
Pre-applications for the New York Forward Loan Fund are now open. This is not a first-come, first-served loan program. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.  For small businesses and nonprofits, you are encouraged to prepare your pre-application in advance by taking advantage of the application preparation resources available here.

SBA Launches $100M Community Navigator Pilot Program

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced today that it is accepting applications for its new Community Navigator Pilot Program. This new initiative, established by the American Rescue Plan, will leverage a community navigator approach to reach our nation’s smallest businesses, with a priority focus on those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as women and veterans. SBA will accept applications through July 12, 2021, and anticipates making award decisions by August 2021.

The Community Navigator Pilot Program will roll out $100 million in grants total and between $1-$5 million per applicant for “a two-year performance period” to “eligible organizations to provide counseling, networking and to serve as an informal connection to agency resources to help small businesses recover from the economic devastation” brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

In February 2021, Congress met to provide a blueprint on assistance to small businesses with provisions under the American Rescue Plan. Members of Congress met with constituents to discover at local levels the impact of the pandemic and the effect it is having on businesses that may have been left out in early rounds of relief.

“As someone proudly representing one of the most diverse congressional districts in the country, I am glad the Community Navigator Pilot Program will soon be launching,” said Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia. “We have already seen the difficulties diverse communities face in accessing critically-needed relief resources, from securing PPP funds to rental relief. Through targeted outreach to small businesses in underserved communities, we can ensure that everyone is able to take advantage of the resources offered by the American Rescue Plan.”

Here’s how the SBA explains in full what the Community Navigator program is:

“Through the Community Navigator Pilot Program, SBA will engage with states, local governments, SBA resource partners, and other organizations in targeted outreach for small businesses underserved communities. These efforts began with SBA issuing an Information Notice that offers advice and guidance on best practices for adopting the community navigator model for use by SBA district offices, state and local government partners, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs), SCORE, and other resource partners. The Biden-Harris Administration and Congressional leaders supported a $100 million investment, as part of the American Rescue Plan, to establish Community Navigator Programs for individuals with disabilities and/or in minority, immigrant, rural, and other underserved communities across the country.”

Making a Difference in Underserved Small Business Communities.  Key in this initiative are partners and people in the community, serving as a two-way information stream, enabling enterprising business owners to receive the help needed from the SBA. Serving as the foundation of America’s economy, these underserved businesses have areas of concern that need to be addressed. Community Navigator Pilot will provide counseling, networking, and the assistance needed during this time of economic recovery.

“The SBA understands the importance of partnering with organizations as well as smaller, local institutions that are already embedded in the fabric of the Main Street business communities they serve,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership Natalie Madeira Cofield. “Community Navigators are the backbone of aiding underserved and underrepresented communities across the nation with recovery.”

For more information on the Community Navigators Initiative, please visit www.sba.gov/navigators.