Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials are seeing a large increase in the number of new businesses being launched. From June 2020 through June 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that business applications are up 18.6%. The Bureau measures this by the number of businesses applying for an Employer Identification Number.

Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many of the expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your federal tax bill.

How to treat expenses for tax purposes

If you’re starting or planning to launch a new business, keep these three rules in mind:

  1. Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one. 
  2. Under the tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. As you know, $5,000 doesn’t go very far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
  3. No deductions or amortization deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to start earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?

Eligible expenses

In general, start-up expenses are those you make to:

  • Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
  • Create a business, or
  • Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.

To qualify for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To be eligible as an “organization expense,” an expense must be related to establishing a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

Plan now

If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As mitigation measures related to COVID-19 ease, it will be interesting to see which practices and regulatory changes taken in response to the pandemic remain in place long-term. One of them might be relief from a sometimes-inconvenient requirement related to the administration of 401(k) plans.

A virtual solution

In IRS Notice 2021-40, the IRS recently announced a 12-month extension of its temporary relief from the requirement that certain signatures be witnessed “in the physical presence” of a 401(k) plan representative or notary public.

The original relief, which appeared in IRS Notice 2020-42, was provided primarily to facilitate plan loans and distributions under the CARES Act. However, the relief could be used during 2020 for any signature that, under regulations, had to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative or notary public. This included required spousal consents. The relief was subsequently extended through June 30, 2021, under IRS Notice 2021-03.

Under the notices, signatures witnessed remotely by a plan representative satisfy the physical presence requirement if the electronic system uses live audio-video technology and meets four requirements established under the original relief:

  1. Live presentation of a photo ID,
  2. Direct interaction,
  3. Same-day transmission, and
  4. Return with the representative’s acknowledgment.

Signatures witnessed by a notary public satisfy the physical presence requirement if the electronic system for remote notarization uses live audio-video technology and is consistent with state-law requirements for a notary public.

Comments requested

As mentioned, IRS Notice 2021-40 further extends the relief — subject to the same conditions — through June 30, 2022. The notice also requests comments regarding whether permanent modifications should be made to the physical presence requirement. Comments are specifically requested regarding:

  • The costs and other effects of the physical presence requirement and its temporary waiver,
  • Whether the relief has resulted in fraud, coercion or other abuses,
  • How the witnessing requirements are expected to be fulfilled as the pandemic abates,
  • What procedural safeguards should be instituted if the physical presence requirement is permanently modified, and
  • Whether permanent relief should use different procedures for witnessing by plan representatives or notary publics.

Comments should be submitted by September 30, 2021.

More information

Going forward, the need for a signature may often relate to spousal consents. If your business recently established a 401(k), the plan may be designed to limit or even eliminate the need for spousal consents.

However, plans that offer annuity forms of distribution are still subject to the spousal consent rules. And other 401(k) plans must require spousal consent if a married participant wants to name a nonspouse as primary beneficiary. Feel free to contact our firm for more information on the latest IRS guidance addressing employee benefits.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Credit and debit card fraud was already a big problem when COVID-19 hit. Although how much payment card fraud increased in 2020 depends on the source, most experts agree that, like most types of fraud, it flourished during the pandemic. COVID-19-related prevention and treatment scams and increased online shopping likely contributed to this rise.

If you become a victim, it’s probably good to hear that the law protects consumers from serious losses. But to reduce financial liability, you need to follow the reporting rules carefully.

Unauthorized credit card charges

If your credit card is lost or stolen and you report the loss to the card issuer before your card is used in a fraudulent transaction, you can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. If you report it after unauthorized charges have been made, you may be responsible for up to $50 in charges.

Some card issuers have decided not to hold their customers liable for any fraudulent charges regardless of when they notify the card company. And if your account number is stolen but not the actual card, your liability is $0. But either you or the card issuer must identify the fraudulent transactions for them to be removed.

Compromised debit cards 

If you report a missing debit card before any unauthorized transactions are made, you aren’t responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If you report a card loss within two business days after you learn of the loss, your maximum liability for unauthorized transactions is $50.

If you report the card loss after two business days but within 60 calendar days of the date your statement showing an unauthorized transaction was mailed, your liability can jump to $500. Finally, if you report the card loss more than 60 calendar days after your statement showing unauthorized transactions was sent, you could be liable for all charges. This includes money taken from accounts linked to your debit account.

What if you notice an unauthorized debit card transaction on your statement, but your card is still in your possession? You have 60 calendar days after the statement showing the unauthorized transaction is sent to report it and avoid liability.

Action steps

When reporting a card loss or fraudulent transaction, contact the issuer via phone. Then follow up with a letter or email. This should include your account number, the date you noticed the card was missing (if applicable), and the date you initially reported the card loss or fraudulent transaction.

Because liability levels depend in some circumstances on your card issuer, it pays to find out your issuer’s policies — before you’re subject to them. Also take steps to protect your payment card and personal information. The Federal Trade Commission provides a good list of fraud protection practices at consumer.ftc.gov (search for “credit card fraud”). Contact us for more information.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of people engaged in the “gig” or sharing economy had been growing, according to several reports. And reductions in working hours during the pandemic have caused even more people to turn to gig work to make up lost income. There are tax consequences for the people who perform these jobs, which include providing car rides, delivering food, walking dogs and providing other services.

Bottom line: If you receive income from freelancing or from one of the online platforms offering goods and services, it’s generally taxable. That’s true even if the income comes from a side job and even if you don’t receive an income statement reporting the amount of money you made.

Basics for gig workers

The IRS considers gig workers as those who are independent contractors and conduct their jobs through online platforms. Examples include Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and DoorDash.

Unlike traditional employees, independent contractors don’t receive benefits associated with employment or employer-sponsored health insurance. They also aren’t covered by the minimum wage or other protections of federal laws and they aren’t part of states’ unemployment insurance systems. In addition, they’re on their own when it comes to retirement savings and taxes.

Pay taxes throughout the year

If you’re part of the gig or sharing economy, here are some tax considerations.

  • You may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments because your income isn’t subject to withholding. These payments are generally due on April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year. (If a due date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the due date becomes the next business day.)
  • You should receive a Form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation, a Form 1099-K or other income statement from the online platform.
  • Some or all of your business expenses may be deductible on your tax return, subject to the normal tax limitations and rules. For example, if you provide rides with your own car, you may be able to deduct depreciation for wear and tear and deterioration of the vehicle. Be aware that if you rent a room in your main home or vacation home, the rules for deducting expenses can be complex.

Keeping records

It’s important to keep good records tracking income and expenses in case you are audited by the IRS or state tax authorities. Contact us if you have questions about your tax obligations as a gig worker or the deductions you can claim. You don’t want to get an unwanted surprise when you file your tax return.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected various industries in very different ways. Widespread lockdowns and discouraged movement have led to increased profitability for some manufacturers and many big-box retailers. The restaurant industry, however, has had a much harder go of it — especially smaller, privately owned businesses in economically challenged areas.

In response, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has launched the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). It was established under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed into law in March. The RRF went live for applications on May 3, and the SBA is strongly urging interested, eligible businesses to apply as soon as possible.

Who’s eligible?

Funds are available for restaurants, of course, but also many other similar types of businesses. Food stands, trucks and carts can apply, as well as bars, saloons, lounges and taverns. Catering companies may also file an RRF application.

In addition, the program is available to snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars, as well as “licensed facilities or premises of a beverage alcohol producer where the public may taste, sample, or purchase products,” according to the SBA.

For some restaurant-like businesses, on-site sales to the public must comprise at least 33% of gross receipts. These include bakeries; inns; wineries and distilleries; breweries and/or microbreweries; and brewpubs, tasting rooms and taprooms.

How much funding is available?

Under the ARPA, the RRF received a total of $28.6 billion in direct relief funds for restaurants and other similar establishments that have suffered economic hardship and substantial operational losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The dollar amount an eligible business can receive under the RRF will equal its decrease in gross revenues during 2020 compared to gross revenues in 2019 — less the amount of any Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans received. Other amounts must be excluded from 2020 gross receipts as well, including:

  • SBA Section 1112 debt relief,
  • SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans,
  • SBA advances (targeted and otherwise), and
  • Local small business grants.

Overall, the RFF may provide a qualifying establishment with funding equal to its pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and not more than $5 million per physical location. Recipients must use funds for allowable expenses by March 11, 2023.

What will we need to apply?

A timely, properly completed application is critical to acquiring this funding. An applicant business must submit documentation of its 2020 and 2019 gross receipts, as well as at least one of the following:

  • A federal tax return,
  • A point of sale report, or
  • Externally or internally prepared financial statements.

Warning: Internally prepared financials could significantly delay SBA review of your application.

You’ll also need to disclose the amount of any PPP loans you’ve received. However, the SBA’s online application system should provide this information automatically.

Get started now

To get started, register for an account at restaurants.sba.gov. The SBA advises applicants to first download a sample version of the application here. Our firm can help you identify necessary documentation and navigate the process.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Congress recently passed, and President Trump signed, a new law providing additional relief for businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. One item of interest for small business owners in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) is the opportunity to take out a second loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The basics

The CAA permits certain smaller businesses who received a PPP loan to take out a “PPP Second Draw Loan” of up to $2 million. To qualify, you must:

  • Employ no more than 300 employees per physical location,
  • Have used or will use the full amount of your first PPP loan, and
  • Demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts in the first, second or third quarter of 2020 relative to the same 2019 quarter. Applications submitted on or after Jan. 1, 2021, are eligible to use gross receipts from the fourth quarter of 2020.

Eligible entities include for-profit businesses (including those owned by sole proprietors), certain nonprofit organizations, housing cooperatives, veterans’ organizations, tribal businesses, self-employed individuals, independent contractors and small agricultural co-operatives.

Additional points

Here are some additional points to consider:

Loan terms. Borrowers may receive a PPP Second Draw Loan of up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll costs in the year preceding the loan or the calendar year. However, borrowers in the hospitality or food services industries may receive PPP Second Draw Loans of up to 3.5 times average monthly payroll costs. Only a single PPP Second Draw Loan is permitted to an eligible entity.

Gross receipts and simplified certification of revenue test. PPP Second Draw Loans of no more than $150,000 may submit a certification, on or before the date the loan forgiveness application is submitted, attesting that the eligible entity meets the applicable revenue loss requirement. Nonprofits and veterans’ organizations may use gross receipts to calculate their revenue loss standard.

Loan forgiveness. Like the first PPP loan, a PPP Second Draw Loan may be forgiven for payroll costs of up to 60% (with some exceptions) and nonpayroll costs such as rent, mortgage interest and utilities of 40%. Forgiveness of the loans isn’t included in income as cancellation of indebtedness income.

Application of exemption based on employee availability. The CAA extends current safe harbors on restoring full-time employees and salaries and wages. Specifically, it applies the rule of reducing loan forgiveness for a borrower reducing the number of employees retained and reducing employees’ salaries in excess of 25%.

Deductibility of expenses paid by PPP loans. The CARES Act didn’t address whether expenses paid with the proceeds of PPP loans could be deducted. The IRS eventually took the position that these expenses were nondeductible. The CAA, however, provides that expenses paid both from the proceeds of loans under the original PPP and PPP Second Draw Loans are deductible.

Further questions

Contact us with any questions you might have about PPP loans, including applying for a Second Draw Loan or availing yourself of forgiveness.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The new COVID-19 relief law that was signed on December 27, 2020, contains a multitude of provisions that may affect you. Here are some of the highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which also contains two other laws: the COVID-related Tax Relief Act (COVIDTRA) and the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act (TCDTR).

Direct payments

The law provides for direct payments (which it calls recovery rebates) of $600 per eligible individual ($1,200 for a married couple filing a joint tax return), plus $600 per qualifying child. The U.S. Treasury Department has already started making these payments via direct bank deposits or checks in the mail and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.

The credit payment amount is phased out at a rate of $5 per $100 of additional income starting at $150,000 of modified adjusted gross income for marrieds filing jointly and surviving spouses, $112,500 for heads of household, and $75,000 for single taxpayers.

Medical expense tax deduction

The law makes permanent the 7.5%-of-adjusted-gross-income threshold on medical expense deductions, which was scheduled to increase to 10% of adjusted gross income in 2021. The lower threshold will make it easier to qualify for the medical expense deduction.

Charitable deduction for non-itemizers

For 2020, individuals who don’t itemize their deductions can take up to a $300 deduction per tax return for cash contributions to qualified charitable organizations. The new law extends this $300 deduction through 2021 for individuals and increases it to $600 for married couples filing jointly. Taxpayers who overstate their contributions when claiming this deduction are subject to a 50% penalty (previously it was 20%).

Allowance of charitable contributions 

In response to the pandemic, the limit on cash charitable contributions by an individual in 2020 was increased to 100% of the individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI). (The usual limit is 60% of adjusted gross income.) The new law extends this rule through 2021.

Energy tax credit

A credit of up to $500 is available for purchases of qualifying energy improvements made to a taxpayer’s main home. However, the $500 maximum allowance must be reduced by any credits claimed in earlier years. The law extends this credit, which was due to expire at the end of 2020, through 2021.

Other energy-efficient provisions

There are a few other energy-related provisions in the new law. For example, the tax credit for a qualified fuel cell motor vehicle and the two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicle were scheduled to expire in 2020 but have been extended through the end of 2021.

There’s also a valuable tax credit for qualifying solar energy equipment expenditures for your home. For equipment placed in service in 2020, the credit rate is 26%. The rate was scheduled to drop to 22% for equipment placed in service in 2021 before being eliminated for 2022 and beyond.

Under the new law, the 26% credit rate is extended to cover equipment placed in service in 2021 and 2022 and the law also extends the 22% rate to cover equipment placed in service in 2023. For 2024 and beyond, the credit is scheduled to vanish.

Maximize tax breaks

These are only a few tax breaks contained in the massive new law. We’ll make sure that you claim all the tax breaks you’re entitled to when we prepare your tax return.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Lessons of 2020: Change management

The year 2020 has taught businesses many lessons. The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic followed by drastic changes to the economy have forced companies to alter the size of their workforces, restructure work environments and revise sales models — just to name a few challenges. And what this has all meant for employees is change.

Even before this year’s public health crisis, many businesses were looking into and setting forth policies regarding change management. In short, this is a formalized approach to providing employees the information, training and ongoing coaching needed to successfully adapt to any modification to their day-to-day jobs.

There’s little doubt that one of the enduring lessons of 2020 is that businesses must be able to shepherd employees through difficult transitions, even (or especially) when the company itself didn’t bring about the change in question.

Why change is hard

Most employees resist change for many reasons. There’s often a perceived loss of, or threat to, job security or status. Inconvenience and unfamiliarity provoke apprehension. In some cases, perhaps because of misinformation, employees may distrust their employers’ motives for a change. And some workers will always simply believe the “old way is better.”

What’s worse, some changes might make employees’ jobs more difficult. For example, moving to a new location might enhance an organization’s image or provide safer or more productive facilities. But doing so also may increase some employees’ commuting times or put employees in a drastically different working environment. When their daily lives are affected in such ways, employees tend to question the decision and experience high levels of anxiety.

What you shouldn’t do

Often, when employees resist change, a company’s decision-makers can’t understand how ideas they’ve spent weeks, months or years deliberating could be so quickly rejected. (Of course, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, tough choices had to be made in a matter of days.) Some leadership teams forget that employees haven’t had time to adjust to a new idea. Instead of working to ease employee fears, executives or supervisors may double down on the change, more strictly enforcing new rules and showing little patience for disagreements or concerns.

And it’s here the implementation effort can break down and start costing the business real dollars and cents. Employees may resist change in many destructive ways, from taking very slow learning curves to calling in sick to filing formal complaints or lawsuits. Some might even quit.

The bottom line: by not engaging in some form of change management, you’re more likely to experience reduced productivity, bad morale and increased turnover.

How to cope

“Life comes at ya fast,” goes the popular saying. Given the events of this year, it’s safe to say that most business owners would agree. Identify ways you’ve been able to help employees deal with this year’s changes and document them so they can be of use to your company in the future. Contact us for help cost-effectively managing your business.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Hit the target with your email marketing

Online retail sales have been booming during the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend has been driven not only by the buying public’s increased inclination to minimize visits to brick-and-mortar stores, but also by the effectiveness of many retailers’ virtual marketing efforts.

One such effort that can benefit most any type of business is email marketing. Although social media marketing tends to get the lion’s share of attention these days, email remains a viable medium for getting out your message — particularly to existing customers.

As your company endeavors to continue marketing its products or services in an uncertain economy, be sure your emails hit the target by relying on some tried-and-true fundamentals.

Draw their attention

Every email starts with a subject line; be sure yours are catchy. They should be no longer than eight words and shouldn’t be in all caps. Put yourself in the customer’s place by paying close attention to demographics. Ask yourself whether you would open the email if you fit the profile. Also, clearly indicate the message’s content.

If your subject line is compelling enough, your recipients will open the email. And the first thing readers should see upon doing so is an equally memorable headline. Make sure it’s different from the subject line, short (four or five words) and in a larger font size than the body of the message.

Make your case

When it comes to the body of the email, make it a quick and easy read. Most people won’t read a lot of text. Think of each marketing email as an “elevator speech,” a quick and concise pitch for specific products or services.

Above all, be persuasive. Customers want to fulfill their needs at a reasonable price, but they may not always have a clear idea of what those needs are. Don’t expect them to search for answers about whether you can meet these expectations. Show them what you’ve got to offer and tell them why they should buy.

Add finishing touches

Consider including visual and interactive content in your marketing emails — such as images, GIFs and videos. Bear in mind, however, that not all email providers support every type of interactivity. Use it judiciously and gather feedback from customers on whether the content is a nice touch or an annoyance.

Last, but not least, close with a “call to action.” Instill a sense of urgency in readers by setting a deadline and telling them precisely what to do. Otherwise, they may interpret the email as merely informational and file it away for reference or simply delete it. Be sure to include clear, “clickable” contact info.

Measure and improve

These are just a few of the basics to keep in mind. We can help your business measure the results of its marketing activity, email and otherwise, and come up with cost-effective ideas for improving the profit-potential of how you interact with your customers and prospects.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to shut down. If this is your situation, we’re here to assist you in any way we can, including taking care of the various tax obligations that must be met.

Of course, a business must file a final income tax return and some other related forms for the year it closes. The type of return to be filed depends on the type of business you have. Here’s a rundown of the basic requirements.

Sole Proprietorships. You’ll need to file the usual Schedule C, “Profit or Loss from Business,” with your individual return for the year you close the business. You may also need to report self-employment tax. 

Partnerships. A partnership must file Form 1065, “U.S. Return of Partnership Income,” for the year it closes. You also must report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. Indicate that this is the final return and do the same on Schedules K-1, “Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, Etc.”

All Corporations. Form 966, “Corporate Dissolution or Liquidation,” must be filed if you adopt a resolution or plan to dissolve a corporation or liquidate any of its stock.

C Corporations. File Form 1120, “U.S. Corporate Income Tax Return,” for the year you close. Report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. Indicate this is the final return.

S Corporations. File Form 1120-S, “U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation” for the year of closing. Report capital gains and losses on Schedule D. The “final return” box must be checked on Schedule K-1.

All Businesses. Other forms may need to be filed to report sales of business property and asset acquisitions if you sell your business.

Employees and contract workers

If you have employees, you must pay them final wages and compensation owed, make final federal tax deposits and report employment taxes. Failure to withhold or deposit employee income, Social Security and Medicare taxes can result in full personal liability for what’s known as the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty.

If you’ve paid any contractors at least $600 during the calendar year in which you close your business, you must report those payments on Form 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation.”

Other tax issues

If your business has a retirement plan for employees, you’ll want to terminate the plan and distribute benefits to participants. There are detailed notice, funding, timing and filing requirements that must be met by a terminating plan. There are also complex requirements related to flexible spending accounts, Health Savings Accounts, and other programs for your employees.

We can assist you with many other complicated tax issues related to closing your business, including Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans, the COVID-19 employee retention tax credit, employment tax deferral, debt cancellation, use of net operating losses, freeing up any remaining passive activity losses, depreciation recapture, and possible bankruptcy issues.

We can advise you on the length of time you need to keep business records. You also must cancel your Employer Identification Number (EIN) and close your IRS business account.

If your business is unable to pay all the taxes it owes, we can explain the available payment options to you. Contact us to discuss these issues and get answers to any questions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA