For many small businesses, the grand reopening is still on hold. The rapid spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has mired a variety of companies in diminished revenue and serious staffing shortages. In response, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has retooled its Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program to offer targeted relief to eligible employers.

A brief history

The EIDL program was in place well before 2020. However, the federal government has ramped up the initiative’s visibility while trying to help small businesses during the pandemic.

With the entire country essentially declared a disaster area, the CARES Act established an enhanced EIDL program for small businesses affected by COVID-19. It offered lower interest rates, longer repayment terms and a streamlined application process.

The American Rescue Plan Act upped the ante, offering eligible companies targeted EIDL advances that are excluded from the gross income of the person who receives the funds. The law stipulates that no deduction or basis increase will be denied, and no tax attribute will be reduced, because of this gross income exclusion.

Latest enhancements

The SBA’s most recent enhancements to the EIDL program offer “a lifeline to millions of small businesses who are still being impacted by the pandemic,” according to SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. (Eligible employers include not only small businesses, but also qualifying nonprofits and agricultural companies in all U.S. states and territories.)

First and foremost, the loan cap has increased from $500,000 to $2 million. Eligible small businesses can use these funds for almost any operating expense, including payroll and equipment purchases. Funds can also be applied for certain debt payments. Specifically, the SBA has expanded the allowable use of EIDL funds to prepay commercial debt and pay down federal business debt.

In addition, the agency has implemented a new deferred payment period under which borrowers can wait until two years after loan origination to begin repaying their COVID-related EIDLs.

Application details

If you believe your small business could qualify and benefit from these newly enhanced EIDLs, first identify how much money you need and how soon you need it. The SBA is offering a 30-day “exclusivity window” to approve and disburse loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans of more than $500,000 will begin after this 30-day period.

The agency has also rolled out a streamlined application process that establishes “more simplified affiliation requirements” modeled after those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The deadline for applications remains December 31, 2021. As is the case with any government loan, it’s better to apply earlier rather than later in case funds run out.

Help with the process

For further details about the new and improved COVID-related EIDL program, go to sba.gov/eidl. And don’t hesitate to contact us. We can help you determine whether your small business qualifies for one of these loans and, if so, assist with completing the application process.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As many states continue to struggle with the current surge in COVID-19 cases, the “new normal” demands continued social distancing in many areas of life. What does this mean for estate planning? Clearly, estate planning is as important today — or arguably more important — than ever. But how do you plan your estate and execute critical documents if you’re uncomfortable with face-to-face meetings or are required to self-quarantine?

Fortunately, many estate planning activities may be able to be done from the safety of your own home. Here are some options to consider, but keep in mind that requirements vary significantly from state to state, so it’s important to discuss your plans with your estate planning advisor.

Most planning can be done remotely

There are definite advantages to meeting with your advisor in person to talk about creating or updating your estate plan. But these discussions can be conducted in video conferences or phone calls, and document drafts can be transmitted and reviewed via email, secure online portals or even “snail mail.”

Traditionally, estate planning documents are executed in an attorney’s office in the presence of witnesses and a notary public. In-office document signings may still be possible with appropriate precautions, but there are other options that may allow you to avoid traveling to an attorney’s office.

The options available depend in part on the type of document being signed:

Wills. In most states, a typewritten will (as well as a modification or codicil to an existing will) must be signed in the physical presence of at least two witnesses. Typically, those witnesses must be disinterested — that is, they don’t stand to inherit or otherwise benefit under the will. But some states permit family members or other interested parties to serve as witnesses. In those states, it may be possible to conduct a will signing at home (with instructions from your attorney) and have members of your household witness it.

What about notarization? Wills are usually notarized as a best practice, but in most states it’s not required. However, wills are often accompanied by a self-proving affidavit, which must be notarized.

Another option in some states is a “holographic,” or handwritten, will, which generally doesn’t require witnesses or notarization.

Trusts. In many states, you can sign a trust document without witnesses or notarization, and it may even be possible to sign it electronically. One potential strategy for avoiding traditional will-signing requirements is to sign a holographic “pour over” will that transfers all assets to a revocable trust, which can accomplish many of the same objectives as a traditional will.

Monitor legal developments

Requirements for signing estate planning documents have been evolving in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic may accelerate the process more. A few states permit electronic wills (e-wills) and online notarization, which makes it possible to execute these documents without the need for physical interaction with anyone. These technologies are still in their infancy, but they’re being considered by lawmakers in many states. Contact us with any questions regarding your estate planning documents.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As vaccination levels rise and major U.S. population centers fully reopen, business owners may find themselves pondering an intriguing thought: Should we have a company retreat this year?

Although there are still health risks to consider, your employees may love the idea of attending an in-person event after so many months of video calls, emails and instant messages. The challenge to you is to plan a retreat that’s safe, productive and enjoyable — and that doesn’t unreasonably disrupt company operations.

Mixing business with fun

First, nail down your primary objectives well in advance. Determine and prioritize a list of the important issues you want to address but include only the top two or three on the final agenda. Otherwise, you risk rushing through some items without adequate time for discussion and formalized action plans.

If one of the objectives is to include time for socializing or recreational activities, great. Mixing business with fun keeps people energized. However, if staff see the retreat as merely time away from the office to party and golf, don’t expect to complete many work-related agenda items. One way to find the right mix is to consider scheduling work sessions for the morning and more fun, team-building exercises later in the day.

Craft a flexible budget

Next, work on the budget. Determining available resources early in the planning process will help you set limits for variable costs such as location, accommodations, food, transportation, speakers and entertainment.

Instead of insisting on certain days for the retreat, select a range of possible dates. Doing so widens site selection and makes it easier to negotiate favorable hotel and travel rates. Keep your budget as flexible as possible, building in a 5% to 10% safety cushion. Always expect unforeseen, last-minute expenses.

The good news is that the hospitality industry is generally trying to rebound from the very difficult downturn it suffered because of the pandemic. So, you may be able to find some special deals offered to “draw out” companies that haven’t held a retreat in a while.

Also, if you wish to truly minimize the health risks, you might want to focus on venues with outdoor facilities, such as farms or golf resorts. You could hold sessions mostly outdoors (weather permitting, of course) where it’s very safe.

Reunite and reenergize

Holding a company retreat this year may be a great way to reunite and reenergize your workforce. As convenient and practical as video meeting technology may be, there’s nothing quite like seeing each other in person. We can help you assess the costs and establish a reasonable budget that supports an enjoyable, productive and cost-effective retreat.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Although auto sales plunged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve since rebounded. In fact, some dealerships are reporting record sales in 2021. Problems remain — including supply bottlenecks. Also, your dealership may be more vulnerable to fraud. Factors such as employees working from home, new vendors and even booming sales, can put your business at risk. Here’s how to prevent fraud from cutting into profits.

Focus on accounting

Fraud prevention starts with strong internal controls. For example, good controls generally require a dealership’s accounting department to post transactions daily, including new and used vehicle sales, repair orders, invoice payments, payroll and cash receipts.

By 1 p.m. on any given day, you should have access to real-time checkbook balances and other accounting information effective as of 5 p.m. the day before. Timeliness makes it easier for you to spot the first signs of fraud and use the data to catch a perpetrator before he or she gets away with theft.

Protections that work

Complex computer passwords that must be changed frequently, background checks on employees and vendors, and security cameras are also essential to preventing fraud. But these protections may have fallen by the wayside during the pandemic. Review your safeguards now and ensure they’re being used.

Your business should always “segregate” duties. Generally, this means that certain tasks, such as managing payroll, are broken into pieces and performed by more than one employee. This limits opportunities to perpetrate fraud and cover up the crime. If you don’t have enough workers to properly segregate duties, consider outsourcing one or more accounting functions to a third-party service.

Loose controls lead to losses

To understand how loose controls can facilitate theft, consider the real-life example of a parts manager who stole $70,000 by selling his employer’s parts and pocketing the cash. If the dealership’s owner had performed random inventory counts throughout the year, rather than waiting for his CPA to physically verify inventories at year end, he could have prevented or limited losses.

In another case, a dealership caught its cashier stealing by voiding service orders and falsifying deposit slips. The cashier’s responsibilities included collecting cash, issuing receipts to customers, preparing the daily deposit slip and reconciling the daily cash report. A loss of $16,000 might have been prevented if the dealership had segregated these duties.

Back to normal

The pandemic is waning. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to relax fraud protections. If you didn’t get a chance to properly vet new workers or vendors in the past year or haven’t kept up with inventory checks, get back to your usual controls as soon as possible. Contact us if you need help or if you suspect fraud in your dealership.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

For businesses, so much has changed over the past year or so. The COVID-19 pandemic hit suddenly and companies were forced to react quickly — sending many employees home to work remotely and making myriad other tweaks and revisions to their processes.

Understandably, you may not have fully documented all the changes you’ve made. But you should; and among the ideal places to do so is in your employee handbook. Now that optimism is rising for a return to relative normalcy, why not look at your handbook with fresh eyes and ensure it accurately represents your company’s policies and procedures.

Legal considerations

Among the primary reasons companies create employee handbooks is protection from legal challenges. Clearly written HR policies and procedures will strengthen your defense if an employee sues. Don’t wait to test this theory in court: Ask your attorney to review the legal soundness of your handbook and make all recommended changes.

Why is this so important? A supervisor without a legally sound and updated employee handbook is like a coach with an old rulebook. You can’t expect supervisors or team members to play by the rules if they don’t know whether and how those rules have changed.

Make sure employees sign a statement acknowledging that they’ve read and understood the latest version of your handbook. Obviously, this applies to new hires, but also ask current employees to sign a new statement when you make major revisions.

Motivational language

Employee handbooks can also communicate the total value of working for your company. Workers don’t always appreciate the benefits their employers provide. This is often because they, and maybe even some managers, aren’t fully aware of those offerings.

Your handbook should express that you care about employees’ welfare — a key point to reinforce given the events of the past year. It also should show precisely how you provide support.

To do so, identify and explain all employee benefits. Don’t stop with the obvious descriptions of health care and retirement plans. Describe your current paid sick time and paid leave policies, which have no doubt been transformed by federal COVID relief measures, as well as any work schedule flexibility and fringe benefits that you offer.

Originality and specificity

One word of caution: When updating their handbooks, some businesses acquire a “best in class” example from another employer and try to adopt it as their own. Doing so generally isn’t a good idea. That other handbook’s tone may be inappropriate or at least inconsistent with your industry or organizational culture.

Similarly, be careful about downloading handbook templates from the Internet. Chances are you’ll have no idea who wrote the original, let alone if it complies with current laws and regulations.

Document and guide

Your employee handbook should serve as a clearly written document for legal purposes and a helpful guide for your company’s workforce. Our firm can help you track your employment costs and develop solutions to any challenges you face.

© 2021