Hello everyone! We took a little break from writing blogs last week. Things continue to change so quickly that at times it almost feels like we are doing you a disservice by telling you one thing and then following it up a few days later with contrary information.
However, with the SBA releasing the Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Application last Friday, we know many of you are itching for an update, however incomplete it may be at this time. Let me start with this. We want you to know that we are here for you as we all continue to maneuver through these unprecedented times. Applying for loan forgiveness, as well as recovering in general, will be a slow, methodical process, but we are here to help you through it. Always feel free to reach out to us with any questions or concerns.
I’m going to warn you…this is going to be a longer read than normal. Grab a cup a of coffee (or an alcoholic beverage of your choice) and make yourself comfortable before you continue on.
The first step in recovery was Governor Hogan relaxing the stay-at-home order in Maryland last Friday and allowing businesses to slowly reopen. He left the final decision in the county officials’ hands, and some jurisdictions decided they weren’t ready. Although Baltimore City’s stay-at-home order was extended indefinitely, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced some restrictions will be lifted on retail stores, barber shops, and hair salons beginning tomorrow morning. Although this is only a partial reopening, we feel this is great news for many of our clients, as we begin to move forward.
The next VERY IMPORTANT concern, for small business, is handling your PPP funds or other grant monies properly. Many small businesses will have a slow road to a full recovery. We are here to help you take all the necessary steps to ensure that the relief funds do not become loans, with monthly loan payments that could impede the recovery process. If the funds are used for the proper purposes; employees are rehired to the same levels as prior to the pandemic; and all records are intact; these PPP funds should be forgiven. Unfortunately, there will be circumstances where the entire PPP amount will not be forgiven. We want to help you minimize or avoid those circumstances all together, if possible.
As we have mentioned before, the process you will go through will ultimately be determined by your bank. Some banks may utilize an online application, while others may require you to upload applications filled out by hand. But, with the release of the loan forgiveness application, which by the way is an 11-page nightmare (much like this newsletter), we have at least gotten clarification on a few key issues. I will start with those, and then get into what we still don’t know.
- The application allows for a slightly more flexible eight-week covered period than we thought. We were originally told that the eight-week period began on the day the funds were deposited in your account. Now, for “administrative convenience,” the SBA says borrowers can now elect an “alternative payroll covered period,” which would be timed with the first day of the next pay period following their PPP loan disbursement date. For example, if you received your PPP loan proceeds on April 20th, but your next payroll period began April 27th, the 27th would be the first day of your alternative payroll covered period. This allows you to get a full eight weeks of payroll expenses in. However, this only applies to payroll, not non-payroll costs such as rent and utilities.
- Costs: paid vs incurred? Prior to the release of the application, we weren’t sure if costs had to be paid, incurred, or both. We now know that costs must be incurred during the eight-week period, but they do not need to be paid during the eight weeks as long as they are paid on or before the next regular billing date, even if that billing date is after the covered period.
- We were also unsure what would happen if businesses were unable to spend the entire PPP amount within the covered period. We were led to believe that if that were to happen, none of the loan would be eligible for forgiveness, or that the unspent amount would need to be immediately repaid. Luckily, that is not the case. While only the amount used in the eight weeks will be eligible for forgiveness, at least we know now that it is not an all or nothing situation.
- There was also a fear of widespread audits to determine whether a PPP recipient had other sources of potential liquidity. While we all knew this was originally directed at large publicly owned corporations, we were afraid the backlash would hit small businesses. Luckily, the SBA responded to this concern with FAQ 46. The safe harbor rule states “Any borrower that, together with its affiliates, received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.”
- Finally, it has been confirmed that any Economic Injury Disaster Loan(EIDL) Advance Amounts received will reduce the amount of PPP forgiveness. This means that you will either have to repay this amount at the time of forgiveness, or it will become a loan.
Now onto what we don’t know.
- The application has us segregate owner-employee and partners wages. Why? There is no additional guidance on this. It is being speculated that forgiveness will not be allowed on owner wages that exceed their wages in 2019. But we have no idea how this is to be determined. The same question goes for reduction of wages for salaried employees. What if an employee has a base salary of let’s say $50,000? In December, they receive a year-end bonus of $30,000. Do we look back at their annual salary divided by 52 times 8? Or do we look at their actual pay during the look back period? Or, what if they had a bonus during the lookback period? These salaried employees are isolated on the application just as owner-employees, and the same thing applies – we have no guidance on determining the amount to compare for salary reduction or increase.
- As mentioned in number 1 above, the reduction in wage calculation, as well as the calculations for full time equivalent employees (FTE) is beyond complicated. For any business that has part-time employees, salaried employees, owner-employees or partners, we would love to see a detailed worksheet released in addition to the application. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) has created a forgiveness calculator that they have shared with the Treasury Department and the SBA. We hope this will be included in later guidance.
- We have come to realize that it may be difficult for many businesses to reach full forgiveness based on payroll costs alone. That leads us to looking at the non-payroll costs a little closer. I would like clarification on two key points here – what expenses are considered utilities and what in the world are “transportation” costs? Do we count internet and trash removal as utilities? Your guess is as good as mine.
Our last question is – will Congress fix the PPP? The House passed the HEROES Act, which includes provisions that modify and expand the Paycheck Protection Program. However, it is clear that the Senate will not pass the Act, at least not in its current form. There may be another solution: The Payroll Protection Flexibility Act.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) announced the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act on May 11. According to their jointly issued press release, the legislation seeks to achieve the following (the text below is quoted from release):
1. Allow forgiveness for expenses beyond the 8-week covered period. The 8-week timeline does not work for local businesses that are prohibited from opening their doors, or those that will only be allowed to open with restrictions. Businesses need the flexibility to spread the loan proceeds over the full course of the crisis until demand returns. Otherwise, employees will simply be furloughed at the expiration of the 8 weeks. We want employers to be able to keep their employees on the payroll, not furlough them without pay or terminate them entirely.
2. Eliminate restrictions limiting non-payroll expenses to 25% of loan proceeds. In order to survive, businesses must pay fixed costs. The PPP loans require that 75% of the loan go to payroll. For many businesses, payroll simply does not represent 75% of their monthly expenses and 25% does not leave enough to cover mortgage, rent, and utilities. Retaining employees is not possible if a business cannot retain their physical location.
3. Eliminate restrictions that limit loan terms to 2 years. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, full recovery for that industry following both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008 recession took more than two full years. This is the same for many other industries. If the past is any indication of the future, it will take many businesses more than two years to achieve sufficient revenue to pay back the loan.
4. Ensure full access to payroll tax deferment for businesses that take PPP loans. The purpose of PPP and the payroll tax deferment was to provide businesses with capital to weather the crisis. Receiving both should not be considered double-dipping. Businesses need access to both sources of cash flow to survive.
5. Extend the rehiring deadline to offset the effect of enhanced Unemployment Insurance. To receive loan forgiveness under PPP, a business must rehire employees by a deadline of June 30, 2020. However, the enhanced Unemployment Insurance created through the CARES Act is higher than the median wage in 44 states. Many businesses have reported an inability to rehire employees because they are making more on Unemployment than they made working. To mitigate this unintended consequence, the deadline to rehire employees under PPP should be extended to align with the expiration of enhanced Unemployment Insurance.
Despite the potential fixes, our biggest concern is that they will be too late for many of our clients. Many of you have received funding two to four weeks ago. You needed to know that you would have these extensions weeks ago…certainly not weeks from now.
Our second concern is the complexity of the loan forgiveness applications and the time that will be involved in completing them. We do not think that most small business owners will able to apply for forgiveness on their own. It would be nice if everyone could just go to ADP, Paychex, etc. to pull payroll reports and submit them with their forgiveness application. However, upon review, these reports are just a starting point. We have discovered several situations that will require additional adjustments to be made.
Unfortunately, Ken and I are only two people, so we are anticipating the need to establish a schedule in which you will be able to sign up for a date for us to work on your application. Obviously, we will not be able to handle everyone’s application at once. By implementing a schedule, it will not only allow us a time to focus on your application, it will allow you assurance of when it will be complete.
We are very proud to say that we did not charge one penny to any regular client, payroll only client or tax client for our assistance in the PPP and any other grant/loan application processes. However, based on the anticipated process that is going to become necessary to prepare and start applying for loan forgiveness, we are going to have to implement several things. In addition to scheduling a time, we are also going to have to establish a fee as well. If you plan on utilizing our services, please call or email us as soon as possible to get on our schedule and to discuss an estimated fee. Some businesses will require less time than others based on number of employees, part-time vs. full-time, monies spent on other expenses, etc.
Please understand, there is no obligation to use our services. If you think you are able to work with your bank to get the application filed, then that is truly an option you have. At this point, no one knows for sure how good or bad this process is going to be and how/if banks can or cannot help.
We don’t anticipate any of our clients being able to apply for forgiveness prior to 6/15. We plan to use this time to continue to plan and organize. Ken and I spend every morning (sometimes afternoon and evening as well) reading everything new we can get our hands on concerning the issues we are faced with. Each week we participate in webinars as they become available and continue to research any questions that are brought to us.
We have been in touch with our most trusted tax educator, and he will not even begin to offer any additional seminars or training on PPP loans or forgiveness until mid-June. He believes with the continuous changes that it would be a waste of everyone’s time. We anxiously await these, as he has rarely steered us wrong.
We encourage you to use this time to gather documentation as well. At a minimum, you will need cancelled checks, bills, and/or other documentation to verify payments for mortgage interest, rent, lease, and utility payments. You will also need similar documentation for health insurance, HSA, and retirement expense payments made.
That about sums up where we stand today. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I know this one was a “little” longer than normal!
I’m going to end with a link to the SBA application for you to review: https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/3245-0407-SBA-Form-3508-PPP-Forgiveness-Application.pdf
And for your continued reading pleasure, this article from Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonynitti/2020/05/16/sba-releases-paycheck-protection-program-loan-forgiveness-application-a-deep-dive/#1f01aa9f1b2f, walks you through the application step-by-step. It makes my head hurt, how about you?
As always, we are here to assist you,
Ken and Tracey