American Rescue Plan Act

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was passed by the Senate on Saturday, March 6 and in the House on Wednesday, March 10. The $1.9 trillion relief bill now heads to President Biden’s desk. He signed the bill into law on Thursday, March 11. Read on for details on the provisions included in the ARPA.

Individual Stimulus Checks

Estimated portion of the stimulus package: $422 billion

The ARPA includes another round of economic impact payments for people who meet certain income eligibility requirements. Single taxpayers who earn less than $75,000 will receive $1,400 and married taxpayers filing jointly who earn less than $150,000 will receive $2,800. The payments phase out at an adjusted gross income of $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers. The bill also includes a $1,400 payment per dependent. Payment amounts will be determined using 2020 tax returns if already processed by the IRS or 2019 returns.

Federal Unemployment Assistance

Estimated portion of the stimulus package: $242 billion

The bill renews federal unemployment benefits at a lower level—$300 per week—through September 6, 2021. Additionally, it makes the first $10,200 of unemployment insurance benefits for households with incomes at or below $150,000 non-taxable.

Aid to Businesses

Estimated portion of the stimulus package: $47.25 billion

The ARPA includes funding for various industries hard hit by the pandemic, as well as a financial boost for the Paycheck Protection Program. The funds are broken down as follows:

  • $15 billion for airlines and eligible contractors (must refrain from furloughing workers or cutting pay through September 2021)
  • $25 billion for restaurants and bars (includes grants of up to $10 million per entity to be used for covering payroll, rent, utilities, and other operating expenses)
  • $7.25 billion for the PPP

Child Tax Credit

The ARPA makes a number of changes to the existing child tax credit, including:

  • Making the credit fully refundable for 2021
  • Including 17-year-olds in the definition of qualifying children
  • Increasing the amount of the credit for children over seven to $3,000
  • Increasing the amount of the credit for children 0-6 to $3,600
  • Directing the IRS to estimate each taxpayers’ child tax credit and pay it in advance monthly from July through December 2021

The increased credit amounts faze out at certain income levels ($75,000 for singles, $150,000 for married couples filing jointly, and $112,500 for heads of household).

In order to distribute the monthly estimated child tax credit payments, the IRS will create an online portal where taxpayers can both opt out of advance payments and provide information that modifies the amount of their payments.

Additional Tax Credits

The ARPA includes a number of additional tax credits:

  • COBRA continuation coverage - On top of the extended unemployment benefits, the ARPA includes a 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums. This means that laid-off workers can maintain health insurance through their former employer’s plan at no cost. The subsidy covers the period from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.
  • Earned income tax credit - For 2021, the ARPA expands the EITC by making it available to taxpayers without children.
  • Child and dependent care credit - The bill makes this credit refundable for 2021 and increases the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance for 2021 to $10,500.
  • Employee retention credit - The bill extends this credit, which was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, through the end of 2021. Additionally, it allows the credit to be claimed by eligible employers for paying qualified wages to employees.
  • Family and sick leave credits - The ARPA extends these credits, which were established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), through September 30, 2021. Additionally, it increases the limit on the credit for paid family leave, increases the number of leave days a self-employed individual can take, makes leave taken due to a COVID-19 vaccination qualify, creates a reset date for counting paid sick leave (March 31, 2021), and allows 501(c)(1) governmental organizations to participate.
  • Premium tax credit - The ARPA expands the premium tax credit for both 2021 and 2022 and adjusts the definition of an applicable taxpayer to include those who received, or have been approved to receive, unemployment compensation anytime in 2021.

Aid to States and Cities

Estimated portion of the stimulus package: $350 billion

The bill allots $350 billion to assist state, local, tribal, and territory governments in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, broken down as follows:

  • $195.3 billion to states
  • $130.2 billion to cities and counties
  • $20 billion to tribal governments
  • $4.5 billion to U.S. territories

Housing Assistance

Estimated portion of the stimulus package: $45 billion

The ARPA provides aid in the form of emergency rental assistance ($30 billion), funding for preventing COVID-19 outbreaks among the homeless ($5 billion), and mortgage assistance ($10 billion).

Aid to Schools

Estimated portion of the stimulus package: $170 billion

K-12 schools will receive $130 billion. The money is to be used to reduce class sizes, modify classrooms to enhance social distancing, install ventilation systems, purchase personal protective equipment, hire nurses and counselors, and provide summer school.

Of the $170 billion, the remaining $40 billion is earmarked for colleges and universities. The institutions are instructed to use the money to defray pandemic-related expenses and to provide emergency aid to students to cover expenses (e.g., food, housing, and computer equipment).

Funding for Testing and Vaccinations

Estimated portion of the stimulus package: $60 billion

Of the $60 billion allocated in this area, $14 billion is designated for expansion of COVID-19 testing (including enhanced contact tracing, laboratory expansions, and the creation of mobile testing units), and $46 billion is set aside for vaccination distribution and administration.


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Beware: These Tax Return Red Flags Could Catch the Eye of the IRS

Tax time can be one of the most hated times of the year. Just preparing the forms is enough to be an irritant, and if you owe the government money there’s a good chance that you’re downright annoyed. But neither of those things compare to the feeling that accompanies an envelope bearing an IRS return address, alerting you to the fact that your taxes are about to be audited.

The truth is that audits are relatively rare in the United States. As much as people fear them, the IRS reports that between 2010 and 2018 only 0.6% of individual tax returns resulted in an audit. That may make you feel better, but statistically speaking that still means that more than 250,000 taxpayers had to go through the process. In many cases the audit process could have been avoided had the taxpayers simply known what we’re about to spell out for you – that there are specific triggers that send up IRS red flags and frequently lead to an audit process.

The red flags include:

Disparities Between Information on Tax Forms and Reported Income
Whether you’re a W-2 employee or self-employed, the IRS will compare the income information that you report on your tax forms with the W-2 and 1099 forms that are sent by those individuals and entities that have paid you. If the two don’t match, the IRS is going to want to know why.

Disparities Between Business Income and Business Expenses
Just as the IRS will respond when your tax form income and reported income don’t match, the same is true for businesses that report business expenses that don’t make sense. In some cases, they are looking for people who are trying to take business expense deductions for what is really a hobby rather than a business. Many times these disparities are the result of actual expenses incurred for which income went unreported. Though there is always the chance that the odd numbers are an accident, such as the result of duplication of employee and business expenses, that oversight can lead to the discomfort of an audit, so take the time to double and triple check before filing your tax forms.

Outsized Charitable Contributions
Our tax system awards charitable contributions with tax deductions, and though that has proven to be a powerful incentive for some, it has also served as a temptation. To counter this, the IRS has created an automated computer program that analyzes nearly every return to identify figures that seem outsized as compared to an individual’s income, as well as other factors that are commonly abused. The system assesses each return based on numerous factors and assigns a DIF, or Discriminate Function, score. If your return exceeds the IRS DIF score threshold, there’s a good chance you’re headed for an audit.

Disparities Between Lifestyle Expenses and Reported Income
As with other mismatches found on tax returns, the IRS is particularly sensitive to returns in which taxpayers take deductions for expenses reflective of a high income living and yet report income that is much more modest. Paying personal property taxes, real estate taxes and taking mortgage interest deductions for million-dollar lifestyles will raise a red flag if the income you’re reporting is not enough to support it.

When You Happen to Hit Right on the Income to Expense Ratio You Need to Qualify for the Earned Income Credit
To claim the Earned Income Credit — which can be as high as $6,660 for tax year 2020 — taxpayers’ income has to be below a certain level, and if you’re a business owner whose return includes a Schedule C to prove all offsetting expenses, there is a particular ratio that you need to achieve in order to qualify. In most cases a business will either be somewhere below the ratio or above the ratio: They’ll either qualify for a larger earned income credit or they won’t. If the number hits exactly at the level needed to qualify for the larger credit, the IRS is more likely to ask for a closer look to see if numbers on either side of the equation have been manipulated.

Disproportionate Itemized Deductions
If you qualify to itemize, then you’re entitled to take deductions for qualifying expenses. But in cases where itemized deductions seem disproportionately high, the IRS is likely to ask some questions. If the expenses are legitimate and you’re able to present documentation, you’ll be fine, but make sure that you hold onto all receipts, as there’s a good chance that you’ll be called in for an audit.

One important thing to remember: You may have been able to deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses in the past, but that stopped being true for federal income taxes after tax year 2017. Some states, including California, still permit those deductions on state taxes, so make sure that you maintain receipts for those returns as well.

Lapses in Reporting Cryptocurrency Transactions
Bitcoin and other virtual currency transactions have led to plenty of tax return headaches, as in the last several years approximately 10,000 taxpayers have failed to report gains or losses on this innovative currency. To address the issue, the IRS has taken to sending taxpayers letters providing a chance to take part in a voluntary disclosure program. The agency is clearly on the watch for and acting upon this particular red flag. In addition, the IRS has added a question to the 1040: “Did you receive, sell, send, exchange, or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency?” Of course, if you answer no and later it is determined you did, then you have committed perjury since you sign your return under penalty of perjury.

Rental Property Expenses that Appear to be Inflated
One of the most common reasons for tax returns to be flagged is rental expenses that appear to be inflated. Taxpayers who prepare their own returns and who report deductions for rental income on their Schedule E need to ensure that they fully understand that some deductions are allowed and some need to be capitalized over time, as not knowing which is which could lead to a return being flagged. There are also special and rather complicated rules associated with renting a vacation home, room rentals and short-term rentals.

Two People Claiming the Same Dependent
It is not at all uncommon for families that split custody of a dependent as a result of separation or divorce to alternate the years in which they claim a dependent, but if mistakes – or fraud - are detected and both are claiming the same individual, that will be sure to trigger an audit. Proving custody will require documentation, including school records and birth certificates.

Not Understanding Which Filing Status to Use
Though the head of household filing status is extremely useful, it can also be confusing and lead to mistakes when filling out status, and especially regarding how dependents are treated. Though the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was supposed to simplify the tax form process, in this particular area it made things even more complicated by introducing a new $500 credit for ‘qualifying relatives’, which is defined by certain tests that may make people not related to the taxpayer eligible as a dependent while not making the taxpayer eligible for the head of household filing status.

Failure to Report Overseas Accounts
Whether it generates taxable income or not, if you are a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident with interest in, authority over, or signature authority on foreign financial accounts that exceed $10,000 at any time during the calendar year, you are required to report them to the U.S. Treasury Department under the Bank Secrecy Act. The appropriate form to be filed is the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or FBAR. Failing to disclose these accounts can have significant repercussions and are likely to be discovered as a result of disclosure requirements placed on foreign financial institutions.

In Case of Audit
The goal of providing this information is to fend off the possibility of red flags ever being raised on your tax filing. However, if one of those envelopes with the IRS return address appears in your mailbox, contact us immediately.


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Increased Business Meal Deductions for 2021 and 2022

If you recall, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), effective beginning in 2018, eliminated the business-related deduction for entertainment, amusement or recreation expenses. However, it did retain a deduction for business meals when the expense is ordinary and necessary for carrying on the trade or business and is not lavish or extravagant, along with some other requirements noted below.

Under TCJA, the business-meal deduction continues to be 50% of the actual expense. Also remember that business meals must be documented, including the amount, business purpose, date, time, place and names of the guests as well as their business relationship with you.

Great News – For 2021 and 2022 only, the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 allows businesses to deduct 100% of business meal expenses under the following circumstances:

  • The food or beverages must be provided by a restaurant. The use of the word “by” (rather than “in”) a restaurant makes it clear that the new rule isn’t limited to meals eaten on the restaurant’s premises. Takeout and delivered meals provided by a restaurant are also fully deductible. 
  • The expense is an ordinary and necessary expense paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.* 
  • The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances.* 
  • The taxpayer or their employee is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages.* 
  • The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact.* 

IRS regulations expand on the last requirement by explaining that to be deductible, the food or beverages must be provided to a “person with whom the taxpayer could reasonably expect to engage or deal in the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business such as the taxpayer’s customer, client, supplier, employee, agent, partner, or professional adviser, whether established or prospective.”

Where food or beverages are provided at an entertainment activity, the food and beverage must be documented separately from the entertainment because entertainment is not deductible. Also, be cautious of the requirement that food or beverages be provided by a restaurant to be eligible for 100% deductibility pending IRS regulations defining what constitutes a restaurant.

*Meals and beverages not provided by a restaurant will be deductible but limited to a 50% deduction of the expense if otherwise meeting the qualifications of a business meal.

If you have questions about how this 100% meal deduction might apply to your business, please give our office a call.

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4 Questions Business Owners Should Consider During the 2020 Tax Season

As if 2020 wasn’t challenging enough, this season’s tax-filing is going to be even more complicated than usual. Though the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program were put into place to help small businesses, the old adage about “no such thing as a free lunch” is proving true once again as business owners sit down to gather their documents and realize just how big an impact the changes will make on what they can and can’t deduct, on payroll tax, and many other elements of their filing. We encourage you to speak with our office as soon as possible so that you can get some insights into the specific effect on you and your business. Start by asking these questions and go from there.

I took a Paycheck Protection Program loan. How will it impact my taxes?

The PPP loans were attractive because they were forgivable if used for the intended purposes. Normally, under tax law, when debt is forgiven it becomes taxable income. However, by law the PPP loan forgiveness is also tax exempt, which means it is not taxable income. The IRS had taken the position that the business expenses paid for with the forgiven loan proceeds would not be deductible expenses for tax purposes. The passage of the COVID-Related Tax Relief Act in December 2020 has overridden the IRS’s interpretation in Rev Ruling 2020-27. Thus, the expenses are fully deductible even though the loan is forgiven. CAUTION: This may not be true for state tax purposes.

I deferred my payroll taxes. When are they due?

As part of the CARES Act, employers struggling with making payroll were offered a life raft in the form of a deferral of the employer’s portion of their employees’ Social Security payroll taxes. The deferral applied to the 6.2% Social Security tax on wages paid for the period from March 27, 2020 to the end of the year. If you are one of the many businesses that chose to take advantage of the deferral, you will need to pay the first half of what’s owed by December 31, 2021 with the balance due one year later on December 31, 2022.

How does the CARES Act impact how net operating losses are handled?

Back in 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the net operating loss (NOL) carrybacks for most businesses, but under the CARES Act, NOL carrybacks are allowed for tax years 2018, 2019 and 2020 in the form of a five-year carryback That means that for each of the last three tax years you can carryback losses five years and any unused NOL is then carried forward until used up. You can also elect to forgo the carryback and carry the losses forward, whichever provides the best outcome for your business. The CARES Act also suspended the rule that the taxable income of the carryback or carryforward year can only be reduced by 80% as a result of the NOL. That suspension only applies to NOLs originating in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

I had employees working remotely in different states. Will that affect my taxes?

One of the biggest tax headaches introduced by the pandemic has been the effect of having employees working in different states. Though in most cases these temporary changes will not have an impact, it is important that you ask your accountant about your specific situation, as some states have introduced new tax regulations in order to recoup some of their tax losses.

Additionally, if your business is like many others and you are considering making remote work permanent, then any employees living and working in other states may put you in the position of having to pay those states’ business taxes as well as withhold state income tax on the employees’ wages.

Understanding the full impact of this past year may take a long time, but for right now, business owners need to address the challenge of preparing their taxes. Start speaking with our office as early as possible so that you have plenty of time to come up with a workable strategy.

If you have questions related to how charitable contributions might affect your tax return or how to document charitable contributions of any type, please call our office.

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Charitable Contributions Deduction Liberalized for 2021

As a means to stimulate charitable contributions during the COVID crisis, Congress made two notable changes for 2020—one allowing taxpayers that don’t itemize their deductions an above-the-line deduction for cash contributions of up to $300 and another for those itemizing their deductions to increase the maximum deduction for cash contributions to 100% of their adjusted gross income (AGI).

The recent COVID-related tax relief act, passed late in December, extends and enhances those liberalized charitable contribution deduction provisions. Here is a rundown on these charitable contribution tax benefits for 2021:

  • Charitable Contributions for Non-Itemizers – The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act allows those who don’t itemize their deductions a deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made during 2021. Married couples filing jointly are allowed a deduction of up to $600 for the cash contributions they make during 2021. This is an increase from 2020, when the contribution was limited to $300 regardless of filing status. However, contributions by non-itemizers to new or existing donor-advised funds or private foundations don’t qualify for either year.

    For 2021, the $300 or $600 amount is an add-on to a non-itemizer’s standard deduction. Claiming the deduction as part of the standard deduction for 2021 may not be quite as beneficial tax-wise for some taxpayers as was the deduction for 2020. This is because on 2020 returns the cash contributions, up to $300, are deducted in computing adjusted gross income, while on 2021 returns, the deduction will be taken after the AGI is figured. This distinction matters because many credits and other tax benefits are limited by the AGI amount.

    Apparently, Congress anticipates that non-itemizers will abuse this new deduction by taking the deduction without actually making a contribution. In a preemptive attempt to head off such behavior, Congress also increased the accuracy-related tax penalty from 20% to 50% on an underpayment of tax resulting when a non-itemizing taxpayer improperly claims the charitable contribution deduction. 

  • Cash Contributions for Itemizers – Under the CARES Act that was enacted in March 2020, the 60% deduction limit on cash contributions to most charities was suspended for 2020, thus allowing larger cash contributions during the COVID crisis—potentially up to 100% of the AGI. Under the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, the suspension of the 60% limit has been extended to 2021.

Cash contributions include those paid by cash, check, electronic funds transfer or credit card. Taxpayers cannot deduct a cash contribution, regardless of the amount, unless they can document the contribution in one of the following ways:

  1. A bank record that shows the name of the qualified organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. Bank records may include:
    a. A canceled check,
    b. A bank or credit union statement or
    c. A credit card statement. 
  2. A receipt (or a letter or other written communication) from the qualified organization showing the name of the organization and the date and amount of the contribution. 
  3. Payroll deduction records that include a pay stub showing the contribution and a pledge card showing the name of the charitable organization. If the employer withheld $250 or more from a single paycheck, the pledge card or other document must state that the organization does not provide goods or services in return for any contribution made to it by payroll deduction.

To claim a deduction for a contribution of $250 or more, the taxpayer must have a written acknowledgment of the contribution from the qualified organization that includes the following details:

  • The amount of cash contributed; 
  • Whether the qualified organization gave the taxpayer goods or services (other than certain token items and membership benefits) as a result of the contribution and a description and good-faith estimate of the value of any goods or services that were provided (other than intangible religious benefits); and 
  • A statement that the only benefit received was an intangible religious benefit, if that was the case.

Thus, for example, money dropped in a Christmas Kettle or tacked onto your purchase at a retail store would not be deductible because there is no documentation that the contribution was made.

If you have questions related to how charitable contributions might affect your tax return or how to document charitable contributions of any type, please call our office.

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