During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government enacted three major pieces of legislation to provide financial relief to individuals and families. The American Recovery Plan Act (“ARPA”), the most recent legislation, provides the third round of Economic Impact Payments (“EIPs”), also referred to as stimulus payments (and “recovery rebates” in the acts), to millions of Americans.
It is not unreasonable to anticipate that there will be a federal tax policy transformation following a change in the political control of the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. What may be unreasonable, however, is making knee-jerk tax planning decisions in anticipation of possible modifications to the Internal Revenue Code (the "Code"). Reactionary planning, unless it is well thought out and is based upon sound business judgment, could end up being disastrous. During the present times, tax advisors and their clients need to be cautious in their tax planning and any related decision-making.
Looking through a lens solely focused on federal taxation, it seems that commentators, tax advisors and taxpayers alike are all worried about the future. Possible tax policy changes on the horizon that are being bantered about include:
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021
In a bipartisan effort, H.R. 133-116th Congress: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021") overwhelmingly passed both the House and the Senate on December 21, 2020. It is now on President Trump's desk awaiting his signature.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which spans almost 6,000 pages, once signed into law, will bring holiday cheer to many. The new law includes a huge variety of provisions aimed at assisting individuals and businesses during this time of need. One provision in particular is aimed at curing a wrong created by the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") in Notice 2020-32.
On November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act (“Act”) was signed into law by President Barack Obama. One of the many provisions of the Act significantly impacted: (i) the manner in which entities taxed as partnerships are audited by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”); and (ii) who is required to pay the tax resulting from any corresponding audit adjustments. The new rules sprung into life for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.
When we thought times were bad enough with the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread social unrest in our country, the West Coast, including the Pacific Northwest, was struck with unprecedented wildfires and massive windstorms, taking lives, destroying property and rendering the air quality throughout the region unhealthy. On September 16 and 17, the Internal Revenue Service announced good news for many taxpayers residing in Oregon.
In News Release OR-2020-23 and News Release IR-2020-215, the IRS announced that, due to the wildfires and windstorms striking Oregon, the deadline for certain Oregonians to file returns and make tax payments will be extended to January 15, 2021.
More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, and approximately four months since the IRS issued Notice 2020-32, it is looking increasingly likely that taxpayers will not be permitted to deduct business expenses funded with Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan proceeds that are ultimately forgiven. It is terribly late in the game not to have finality on the issue, especially with the third quarter 2020 estimated tax payments due on September 15 (next week).
As we previously discussed, PPP loans authorized by the CARES Act may be forgivable, in whole or in part, if taxpayers use the proceeds for qualifying expenses (namely, payroll, benefits, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities). Unlike other debt that is forgiven, PPP loan amounts forgiven pursuant to the CARES Act do not constitute cancellation of debt income.
On August 8, 2020, President Trump issued an executive order, directing the U.S. Treasury to grant employers the ability to defer the withholding, deposit and payment of certain payroll taxes as further COVID-19 tax relief. The deferral applies only to the employee portion of Social Security taxes and Railroad Retirement taxes (i.e., 6.2 percent of wages) required to be withheld and paid under Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Sections 3101(a) and 3201(a) from September 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.
PRACTICE ALERT: The deferral does not apply to required employee Medicare tax withholdings under Code Section 3101(b) (either the standard 1.45 percent on all wages or the additional 0.9 percent tax on wages in excess of $200,000). Further, the deferral is not available for the employer’s share of Social Security (6.2 percent) or Medicare (1.45 percent) taxes.
IRS NOTICE 2020-65
On August 28, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-65, providing guidance relative to the president’s executive order. It provides answers to several important questions.
Notice 2020-65 defines employers required to withhold and pay Social Security and Railroad Retirement taxes as “Affected Taxpayers.” It goes on to provide that the due date for withholding and payment of the employee portion of Social Security taxes and Railroad Retirement taxes for the period September 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 is postponed until the period commencing January 1, 2021 through April 30, 2021.
As most people are aware, the 2019 income tax filing and payment deadlines for all taxpayers who file and pay their federal income taxes on April 15, 2020, were automatically extended until July 15, 2020. This relief is automatic and generally applies to all individual, trust and corporation tax returns. Additionally, this relief extends to estimated tax payments for tax year 2020 that were due on April 15, 2020.
People First Initiative
Additionally, the People First Initiative offered taxpayers who owed taxes some further relief. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig stated relative to the People First Initiative:
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act waives the requirement that taxpayers take required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) for 2020 from IRAs, 401(k) plans and other defined contribution plans. Taxpayers who already took 2020 RMDs may be able to return them to their retirement plans or IRAs and avoid paying income tax on the distributions. The timing, however, is critical.
Notice 2020-51, issued by the IRS last week, provides needed clarity about this provision of the CARES Act.
The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) continues its quest to provide guidance relative to the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) enacted as part of the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (“PPPFA”) enacted by Congress to provide clarification and remove some of the rigidity surrounding the PPP.
The PPP legislation and much of the guidance PPP borrowers have received to date is fraught with complexity and inconsistency. The SBA is doing its best, as Paul McCartney and John Lennon expressed in their hit song We Can Work It Out, to help PPP borrowers get through these trying times:
Try to see it my way
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long
We can work it out
We can work it out
In that vein, the SBA recently issued interim final rules (“IFRs”) focused on PPP loan forgiveness. Additionally, last week the SBA published a revised PPP loan forgiveness application (“Form 3508”), and a new short-form forgiveness application (“Form 3508EZ”).
Larry J. Brant
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder in Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant practices in the Portland office. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.