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Shot clockMore 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).     

Background

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.

BasketballDuring these trying times, especially with stay-at-home orders still in effect in most states, it is difficult not to over-focus on the uncertainty that lies ahead.  Hopefully, we can find healthy distractions to refocus our attention. 

In normal times, one of the many healthy distractions in our lives was viewing live sporting events such as basketball, football, baseball and soccer.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 shut down these activities.  The television networks quickly responded, without letting their stations go dormant, rebroadcasting historic sporting events. 

Silver bulletLast week, we reported that the IRS issued Notice 2020-32, wherein (relying primarily on Code Section 265) it emphatically pronounced that taxpayers receiving Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans do not get to have their cake and eat it too!  As a result of the notice, if a taxpayer’s PPP loan is forgiven and, in accordance with the CARES Act, has no cancellation of debt income as he/she/it would otherwise have under Code Section 61(a)(11), the taxpayer cannot deduct the business expenses for which it used the forgiven loan proceeds. 

As we explained last week, the government’s conclusion, from a purely academic perspective, makes some sense.  In normal times, taxpayers should not get a double tax benefit from a forgiven debt (i.e., a deduction with respect to expenses paid from the loan proceeds and an exemption from tax on the forgiven loan).  However, we are not living in normal times.

CakeIn Notice 2020-32, issued yesterday, the IRS emphatically pronounced that taxpayers receiving Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans do not get to have their cake and eat it too!

As we discussed in a recent blog post, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), signed into law on March 27, 2020, created the PPP under which the Small Business Administration is authorized to make up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses to enable them to meet payroll costs, benefits, rent and utility payments.  On April 24, 2020, Congress increased the amount of available funds under the PPP to $659 billion when the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act was signed into law.

The CARES Act expressly excludes from gross income any amount forgiven under the PPP.  The question left unanswered by the CARES Act is whether the amounts forgiven that were spent by borrowers on otherwise allowable business expenses (i.e., payroll costs, rent, utilities, transportation and interest) are deductible under Code Section 162.

Notice 2020-32 quickly points out to taxpayers and tax advisers – not so fast – there are no free lunches.  In essence, if the loan is forgiven and, as a result of the CARES Act, a taxpayer has no cancellation of debt income as he/she/it would otherwise have under Code Section 61(a)(11), the taxpayer certainly does not get to deduct the business expenses for which it used the forgiven loan proceeds.

Person paying an pin machineIn 2015, the U.S. Tax Court issued its ruling in the case of David W. Laudon v. Commissioner, TC Summary Option 2015-54 (2015).[1] The case may not raise or even resolve any novel tax issues, but it reminds us of what is hopefully the obvious relative to the deductibility of business expenses. The Court’s opinion and its recitation of the underlying facts, however, make for an extremely interesting and entertaining read.

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Larry J. Brant
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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.

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