Ariel Katz
Grant Thornton Israel

Tax Planning Strategies Related to Virus Relief

Tax Strategies in the US

Michael Price, who runs his family’s 100-year-old manufacturing and distribution company, primary goal is keeping the company, Price Manufacturing Inc., which makes plumbing and electrical supplies, in a position to recover when the pandemic was over.

For any entrepreneur or affluent individual, thinking through tax strategies now will reap benefits later.

This would normally after the day when most people rushed to file their taxes before April 15, but the filing deadline has been extended to July 15, giving many families some much-needed breathing room. People expecting a refund are encouraged to file now, but wealthier taxpayers, who generally owe money, have been given a reprieve on both their annual filing and their quarterly payments for the first half of the year.

For those high-net-worth individuals, government relief plans to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic have created significant opportunities to reduce personal and business tax bills for years.

Given the complexity of some of these incentives, coupled with limited time and resources in this crisis, taxpayers may find it difficult calculating which programs are going to provide the most benefits in the long run. They may not be the ones getting the most attention.
Much of the focus has been on the federal government’s $349 billion emergency effort to get money into the hands of small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, run by the Small Business Administration. The relief is structured as a loan, but if the business owner spends it according to the agency’s guidelines, it converts to a tax-free grant.
But the program got off to a rocky start. The rush to file for these loans began April 3, but some banks were unable to accept applications then, and applicants remain unsure about when the money will arrive, if at all.

Tax advisors are counselling their more affluent clients to consider other, less-heralded tax provisions that were inserted into rescue bills. These provisions would allow them to keep more cash in their businesses by being taxed at lower rates for longer.

A loan from the Paycheck Protection Program takes care of only eight weeks of payroll, but the employee retention credit and the deferral on the payroll taxes are options that are better suited to some business owners.

The employee tax credit, for example, allows business owners to take a credit of 50% against the employment taxes they pay. The credit is limited to $10,000 for each employee and differs depending on the size of the company. Those with fewer than 100 workers can take the credit for all of them, but for those with more than 100, only employees who are not working but being paid count.

If the math works out because it extends to the end of the year, and not just for eight weeks, then it might make more sense for some business owners. Businesses such as a manufacturing company where employees are hourly workers, not earning high salaries, would be an ideal fit for this program.

Business owners can take the employee retention credit or the Social Security tax deferral, which lets them delay payments until 2021 and 2022, but the downside is that the money will be taken out of the loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (is a loan is taken out).

More esoteric provisions have been loosened in the relief legislation. One removes the cap on excess business losses. It used to be limited to $500,000 a year, similar to the $3,000 limit on personal investment losses from previous years. Now, any amount of business loss can be applied this year, and the loss could effectively take a company’s tax bill down to zero.

Another change is on how a net operating loss is counted. Business owners can now look back five years for their 2018, 2019 and 2020 filings and count those losses. Because the tax rate was higher before the 2017 tax changes, losses from then are worth more today.

Personal planning opportunities around these tax incentives could benefit families for generations.

If people have the stomach for it, paying tax now, in some cases, is a shrewd move. One recommendation is to convert a traditional retirement account, where money goes in tax free but is taxed when it comes out, to a Roth I.R.A., where the money is taxed first but then grows tax free.

The conversion is a good move now because the value of the retirement account is surely lower than it was because of the decline in the stock market and much lower than it will be when the market eventually recovers. But the tax has to be paid now, at a time when cash may be tight.

For corporate executives who have incentive stock options, now is the time to exercise them and pay the tax if the stock value is depressed.

Finally, estate planning might be easier. Fear of coronavirus health risks has prompted clients to get their wills and health care proxies updated.

Beyond wills, this is a time for people to think more broadly about the tax consequences of their plan.

Many privately held companies, like their publicly traded counterparts, have seen their value plummet, even if the business remains strong. Transferring ownership stakes to heirs is a good idea, but it might be difficult for business owners to wrap their heads around.

For US tax strategies such as those outlined in this article or to speak with an US tax advisor regarding specific US tax matters, please contact our Grant Thornton Israel office directly.

About the Author
Ariel Katz CPA is an expert in United States taxation and accounting at Grant Thornton Israel. Mr. Katz focuses on individual, corporate, and non-profit companies, and advises many companies in the area of tax structuring and planning. Mr. Katz is highly involved in academic teaching and professional training. He conducts various activities, including: Senior lecturer in the accounting department in the field of corporate taxation and partnership taxation at the College of Management Academic College. His hobbies include learning Torah, chess, bicycle riding, and running.
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