If you own or manage a business with employees, you may be at risk for a severe tax penalty. It’s called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty” because it applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.
Because the taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes will be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and IRS is very aggressive in enforcing the penalty.
The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.
Here are some answers to questions about the penalty so you can safely stay clear of it.
Which actions are penalized? The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.
Who is at risk? The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax as well as a partnership’s partners, or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally excepted from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under certain circumstances. In addition, in some cases, responsibility has been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.
IRS says responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this is an action he or she must take entirely on his or her own after he or she pays the penalty. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.
Here’s how broadly the net can be cast: You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and have the power to pay them but instead make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.
What’s considered “willful?” For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due the government is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to take care of the job yourself can be treated as the willful element.
Avoiding the penalty
You should never allow any failure to withhold and any “borrowing” from withheld amounts — regardless of the circumstances. All funds withheld must also be paid over to the government. Contact us for information about the penalty and making tax payments.
The sudden shutdown of the economy in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to rely more heavily on technology. Some companies fared better than others.
Many businesses that had been taking an informal approach to IT strategy discovered their systems weren’t as robust and scalable as they’d hoped. Some may have lost ground competitively as fires were put out and employees got back up to speed in an altered working environment.
To keep your approach to technology relevant, you’ve got to regularly reassess processes and assets. Doing so is even more important in the new normal. Here are six key questions to ask:
1. What are our users saying? Every successful IT strategy is built on a foundation of plentiful user feedback. Talk with (or survey) your employees about what’s happened over the last few months from a technology perspective. Find out what’s working, what isn’t and why.
2. Do we have information silos? Most companies today use multiple applications. If these solutions can’t “talk” to each other, you may suffer from information silos — when different people and teams keep data to themselves. Shifting to a more remote workforce may have worsened this problem or made it more obvious. If it’s happening, determine how to integrate critical systems.
3. Do we have a digital file-sharing policy? Businesses used to generate tremendous amounts of paperwork. Sharing documents electronically is much more common now but, without a formal approach to file sharing, things can still get lost or various versions of files can cause confusion. Implement (or improve) a digital file-sharing policy to better manage system access, network procedures and version control.
4. Has our technology become outdated? Along with being an incredible tragedy and ongoing problem, the pandemic is accelerating change. Technology that may have been at least passable before the crisis may now be falling far short of optimal functionality. Look closely at whether your business may need to upgrade hardware, software or platforms sooner than you previously anticipated.
5. Do employees need more training? You may have implemented IT changes over the past few months that employees haven’t fully understood or have adjusted to in problematic ways. Consider mandatory training and ongoing refresher sessions to ensure users are taking full advantage of available technology and following proper procedures.
6. Are your security protocols being followed? Changes made to facilitate working during the pandemic may have exposed your systems and data to threats from disgruntled employees, outside hackers and ever-present viruses. Make sure you have a closely followed policy for critical actions such as regularly changing passwords, removing inactive users and installing security updates.
Technology has played a critical role in enabling businesses to stay connected internally, communicate with customers and remain operational during the COVID-19 crisis.
The extended federal income tax deadline is coming up fast. As you know, the IRS postponed until July 15 the payment and filing deadlines that otherwise would have fallen on or after April 1, 2020, and before July 15.
Retroactive COVID-19 business relief
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed earlier in 2020, includes some retroactive tax relief for business taxpayers. The following four provisions may affect a still-unfiled tax return — or you may be able to take advantage of them on an amended return if you already filed.
Liberalized net operating losses (NOLs). The CARES Act allows a five-year carryback for a business NOL that arises in a tax year beginning in 2018 through 2020. Claiming 100% first-year bonus depreciation on an affected year’s return can potentially create or increase an NOL for that year. If so, the NOL can be carried back, and you can recover some or all of the income tax paid for the carryback year. This factor could cause you to favor claiming 100% first-year bonus depreciation on an unfiled return.
Since NOLs that arise in tax years beginning in 2018 through 2020 can be carried back five years, an NOL that’s reported on a still-unfiled return can be carried back to an earlier tax year and allow you to recover income tax paid in the carry-back year. Because federal income tax rates were generally higher in years before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) took effect, NOLs carried back to those years can be especially beneficial.
Qualified improvement property (QIP) technical corrections. QIP is generally defined as an improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that’s placed in service after the date the building was first placed in service. The CARES Act includes a retroactive correction to the TCJA. The correction allows much faster depreciation for real estate QIP that’s placed in service after the TCJA became law.
Specifically, the correction allows 100% first-year bonus depreciation for QIP that’s placed in service in 2018 through 2022. Alternatively, you can depreciate QIP placed in service in 2018 and beyond over 15 years using the straight-line method.
Suspension of excess business loss disallowance. An “excess business loss” is a loss that exceeds $250,000 or $500,000 for a married couple filing a joint tax return. An unfavorable TCJA provision disallowed current deductions for excess business losses incurred by individuals in tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025. The CARES Act suspends the excess business loss disallowance rule for losses that arise in tax years beginning in 2018 through 2020.
Liberalized business interest deductions. Another unfavorable TCJA provision generally limited a taxpayer’s deduction for business interest expense to 30% of adjusted taxable income (ATI) for tax years beginning in 2018 and later. Business interest expense that’s disallowed under this limitation is carried over to the following tax year.
In general, the CARES Act temporarily and retroactively increases the limitation from 30% to 50% of ATI for tax years beginning in 2019 and 2020. (Special rules apply to partnerships and LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes.)
Assessing the opportunities
These are just some of the possible tax opportunities that may be available if you haven’t yet filed your 2019 tax return. Other rules and limitations may apply. Contact us for help determining how to proceed in your situation.
Just last week, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that it has reopened the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance program to eligible applicants still struggling with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EIDL program offers long-term, low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits. If your company hasn’t been able to procure financing through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — or even if it has — an EIDL may provide another avenue to relief.
Applicants must be businesses with 500 or fewer employees, sole proprietors, independent contractors or certain other small entities. EIDL funds come directly from the SBA and provide working capital up to certain limits.
The loans have terms of up to 30 years and interest rates of 3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits. The first payment is deferred for one year. Plus, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has temporarily waived requirements that applicants must have been in business for one year before the crisis and be unable to obtain credit elsewhere. A borrower of $200,000 or less doesn’t need to provide a personal guarantee.
Recipients must use EIDL proceeds for working capital necessary to carry a business until resumption of normal operations and for expenditures needed to alleviate specific economic hardships related to the pandemic. These may include fixed debts (such as rent or mortgage), payroll, accounts payable and other bills that could’ve been paid had the disaster not occurred and aren’t already covered by a PPP loan.
EIDL proceeds may not be used to refinance indebtedness incurred before the COVID-19 crisis or to pay down loans owned by the SBA or other federal agencies. Loan funds also cannot be used to pay federal, state or local tax penalties, or any criminal or civil fine or penalty. (Other limitations apply.)
Under the CARES Act, EIDL applicants may request an Emergency Economic Injury Grant, also referred to as an “EIDL advance,” of up to $10,000. The grant is to be paid within three days and must be used to:
- Provide paid sick leave to employees unable to work because of COVID-19,
- Retain employees during business disruptions or substantial shutdowns,
- Meet increased costs to obtain materials unavailable because of supply chain disruptions,
- Make rent or mortgage payments, or
- Repay other obligations that cannot be met because of revenue losses.
Recipients of an emergency grant don’t have to repay it — even if the business is eventually denied an EIDL. However, in April, the SBA announced that it has implemented a $1,000 cap per employee on EIDL advances up to the $10,000 maximum. Thus, an applicant with three employees would receive an advance of only $3,000.
The EIDL program may not have received as much attention as the PPP, but it’s equally valuable to small businesses and nonprofits striving to remain operational during the ongoing public health and economic crisis.
Some companies are expected to report impairment losses in fiscal year 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis. Depending on the nature of your operations and assets, the pandemic could be considered a “triggering event” that warrants interim impairment testing.
Examples of assets that may become impaired include long-lived assets (such as equipment and real estate), acquired goodwill and other intangibles (such as customer lists and brands). Here’s what you should know if your organization’s balance sheet includes these types of assets.
What’s a triggering event?
Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), goodwill testing must be performed at least annually for public companies that report goodwill on their balance sheet, and for private companies and not-for-profit organizations that don’t elect to amortize goodwill. Goodwill also must be tested for impairment “if an event occurs or circumstances change that would more likely than not reduce the fair value of a reporting unit below its carrying amount.” This situation is referred to as a so-called “triggering event.”
There are no bright-line rules for which events trigger a goodwill impairment test. However, the accounting rules outline the following elements to consider:
- Macroeconomic conditions, such as a deterioration in general economic conditions, limitations on accessing capital and fluctuations in foreign exchange rates,
- Industry and market considerations, such as an increased competitive environment, a change in the market for an entity’s products or services, and a regulatory or political development,
- Cost factors, such as increases in raw materials or labor rates,
- Overall financial performance trends, such as negative or declining cash flows or a decline in revenue compared with prior periods, and
- Other relevant events specific to the entity or reporting unit, such as changes in management, key personnel, strategy or customers; contemplation of bankruptcy; or litigation.
For public companies, a sustained decrease in share price — considered in both absolute terms and relative to peers — may qualify as a triggering event.
Entities that follow GAAP also should consider whether to test their other intangibles and long-lived assets for impairment. Triggering events for these assets are similar to those considered for goodwill. Triggering events must be evaluated within the context of your specific organization.
To test or not to test?
Private entities and nonprofits that have elected the accounting alternative to amortize goodwill don’t get a break from impairment testing when a triggering event occurs. Given the current economic environment, some business and not-for-profit entities are unexpected to conclude that it’s necessary to perform interim impairment tests for goodwill and other assets.
However, impairment testing isn’t a foregone conclusion. During the pandemic, some organizations may experience an increase in demand and profitability for their products and services, despite the overall decline in the macroeconomic conditions of the overall economy. These entities may not be required to perform interim impairment tests.
How to report and measure losses
If an asset is impaired, the amount reported on the balance sheet for that asset is reduced to its fair value. In addition, a loss is reported under other operating income and expenses on the income statement, reducing the organization’s earnings by a proportionate amount.
Quantifying impairment can be complicated in today’s uncertain marketplace. Estimating fair value may require external market analyses and complex discounted cash flow techniques. We can help you get it right. Contact us for more information.