Stimulus Packages Drive Numerous Tax Changes

In the months since the COVID-19 coronavirus arrived in the United States, federal and state governments have enacted trillions of dollars’ worth of relief and economic stimulus laws. The $1,200 stimulus checks that are being sent to many taxpayers have generated the most headlines, but that is only one of dozens of major changes in U.S. tax laws enacted during the past several weeks.

Here is a brief overview of just a few of the significant changes contained in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and various IRS rule changes. Each of the provisions listed here contains many pages of details, exceptions, and requirements, so your CPA’s guidance is essential at this critical time.

Delayed Deadlines

The IRS deferred the deadline for filing and paying 2019 income taxes until July 15, 2020, and taxpayers can now request extensions to October 15. The deadline for making 2019 contributions to IRAs and health savings accounts was also delayed until July 15. First quarter estimated tax payments are now due on July 15, but second quarter estimated tax payments are still due on June 15, at least for now.

Sick Pay and Paid Leave Requirements and Credits

The FFCRA expanded mandatory sick pay and paid family leave benefits to cover COVID-19-related absences including those caused by the need to care for a child whose school has closed. The expanded provisions apply to companies with 500 employees or less, but companies with 50 employees or less can request to be exempted from the requirements under certain circumstances.

While companies must pay for the emergency benefits initially, the law also provides for refundable tax credits designed to offset some of their expenses, subject to certain caps. Self-employed taxpayers may also be eligible for similar refundable tax credits.

Payroll Credits and Loans

The CARES Act introduced several new programs to encourage companies to keep people on the payroll, even if they are forced to reduce or shut down their operations. One of these is the employee retention tax credit, a refundable and advanceable payroll tax credit of up to $5,000 per employee for qualified companies. Businesses and self-employed individuals also may be able to postpone some of their Social Security tax deposits due this year until 2021 and 2022.

Another CARES Act provision, the Paycheck Protection Program, allows lenders to issue Small Business Administration loans to help eligible businesses maintain their previous employment and wage levels. If companies maintain their payroll levels through the end of June 2020 and meet various other requirements, some or all of the loans may be forgiven. However, companies that participate in this program are not eligible for the employee retention tax credit or deferred Social Security deposits.

Other Tax Changes for Businesses and Individuals

The CARES Act reversed or modified several provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). For example, it restores the net operating loss (NOL) carrybacks that the TCJA had eliminated, and increases the TCJA’s limit on the deductibility of business interest from 30 percent of adjusted taxable income to 50 percent for the 2019 and 2020 tax years. It also accelerates the refund of corporate AMT credits, which the TCJA had spread out over a period of years.

For individual taxpayers, the CARES Act eliminates the required minimum distributions for IRAs and other qualified retirement plans in 2020 and allows for some penalty-free early withdrawals for taxpayers who are directly affected by the coronavirus. It also increases the limits on charitable contribution deductions and changes the rules so that even taxpayers who do not itemize can deduct some of their contributions.

It’s important to note that these are only a partial list of the many tax changes that have gone into effect in recent days. In addition, most states are responding to the crisis with changes of their own—and this is just the beginning. We can expect many more important changes to tax laws soon as political leaders work on additional relief packages.