THE 2020 CARES ACT

Many of you may know that the tax deadline has been delayed until July 15th, and you may be somewhat familiar with some of the other emergency legislation that has recently been enacted, but I wish to use this forum to help you understand the most important and meaningful changes.

On Friday afternoon, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed the House of Representatives and the President signed it into law.  The bill builds upon earlier versions of the CARES Act and is intended to be a third round of federal government support in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis and associated economic fallout, succeeding the $8.3 billion in public health support passed two weeks ago and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It is the bipartisan product of negotiations between both Democrats and Republicans.

The CARES Act provides more robust support to both individuals and businesses, including changes to tax policy. The bill includes:

  • Expanded unemployment insurance (UI) for workers, including a $600 per week increase in benefits for up to four months and federal funding of UI benefits provided to those not usually eligible, such as the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history.  The federal government is waiving the typical waiting period for benefits by fully funding the first week of UI for states that choose to suspend such waiting periods. Additionally, the federal government will fund an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits through December 31, 2020 after workers have run out of state unemployment benefits.
  • $350 billion allocated for the Paycheck Protection Program, which is meant to help small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) impacted by the pandemic and economic downturn to make payroll and cover other expenses from February 15 to June 30. Notably, small businesses may take out loans up to $10 million—limited to a formula tied to payroll costs—and can cover employees making up to $100,000 per year. Loans may be forgiven if a firm uses the loan for payroll, interest payments on mortgages, rent, and utilities and would be reduced proportionally by any reduction in employees retained compared to the prior year and a 25 percent or greater reduction in employee compensation.
  • Recovery Rebate for individual taxpayers. The bill would provide a $1,200 refundable tax credit for individuals ($2,400 for joint taxpayers).  Additionally, taxpayers with children will receive a flat $500 for each child.  The rebates would not be counted as taxable income for recipients, as the rebate is a credit against tax liability and is refundable for taxpayers with no tax liability to offset. The rebate phases out at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for joint taxpayers at 5 percent per dollar of qualified income, or $50 per $1,000 earned.  It phases out entirely at $99,000 for single taxpayers with no children and $198,000 for joint taxpayers with no children.  2019 or 2018 tax returns will be used to calculate the rebate advanced to taxpayers, but taxpayers eligible for a larger rebate based on 2020 income will receive it in the 2020 tax season.  Taxpayers with higher incomes in 2020 will see the overpayment associated with their rebate forgiven. For example, a single taxpayer with $100,000 in 2019 income would not receive an advance rebate but would receive the $1,200 credit on their 2020 return if their income for the year fell below the phaseout. On the other hand, a single taxpayer with $35,000 in income receives a $1,200 advance rebate but would not have to pay the rebate back on the 2020 return if they make $100,000 this year. This is structurally similar to the 2008 rebate design.
  • Creates a $300 partial above-the-line charitable contribution for filers taking the standard deduction and expands the limit on charitable contributions for itemizers.
  • Waives the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on retirement account distributions for taxpayers facing virus-related challenges. Withdrawn amounts are taxable over three years, but taxpayers can recontribute the withdrawn funds into their retirement accounts for three years without affecting retirement account caps. Eligible retirement accounts include individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s and other qualified trusts, certain deferred compensation plans, and qualified annuities.  The bill also waives required minimum distribution rules for certain retirement plans in calendar year 2020.
  • Certain employer payments of student loans on behalf of employees are excluded from taxable income. Employers may contribute up to $5,250 annually toward student loans, and the payments would be excluded from an employee’s income.
  • $454 billion in emergency lending to businesses, states, and cities through the U.S. Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund. Additionally, this includes $25 billion in lending for airlines, $4 billion in lending for air cargo firms, and $17 billion in lending for firms deemed critical to U.S. national security. Firms taking loans must not engage in stock buybacks for the duration of the loan plus one year and must retain at least 90 percent of its employment level as of March 24, 2020. Loans also come with terms limiting employee compensation and severance pay for firms taking loans. Emergency lending will be overseen by a Congressional Oversight Commission and a Special Inspector General.
  • Health provisions to address the coronavirus crisis, including provisions addressing supply shortages, coverage of diagnostic testing for the virus, support for health-care providers, improving telehealth service access and flexibility, encouragement for the creation of drugs to treat the virus, strengthening related Medicare and Medicaid provisions, and providing support for educational institutions.
  • $150 billion in a Coronavirus Relief Fund for state and city government expenditures incurred due to dealing with the coronavirus public health emergency. The fund would be allocated by population proportions, with a minimum of $1.25 billion for each state.

These are certainly challenging times, and sometimes it seems like things change not only week-to-week, but hour-to-hour!  But, an informed appreciation for the government’s bail out plan and how it might affect you and me is essential to making good decisions.  As always, should you have any questions, please let us know.