As the economic impact of COVID-19 lingers and an impending second wave is on everyone’s mind, Congress is already thinking of new legislation to stimulate the economy. One of the ideas on the top of the list is an expansion of the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit as part of the next COVID-19 relief bill.
Proposals for the R&D Tax Credit
There are numerous proposals for changing the R&D tax credits. It is seen as an investment in the U.S. economy, with some believing the credit is an effective tool to combat offshoring. Some of the main proposals for changes to the R&D tax credit include:
- Doubling the current credit
- Giving businesses the ability to immediately use the credit instead of having carryforward credits
- Expanding the credit for domestic manufacturing
- Increasing the refundable amount for startups
Will My Business Qualify?
The best candidates for R&D tax credit are companies that operate in the following spaces: manufacturing, architecture, engineering, construction, software, life sciences and medical devices. The key determinate is whether your company makes or improves something; this will give you the best chance to qualify.
There is a misconception that if your business is hired or contracted to perform work for other organizations that you cannot qualify for the R&D tax credit. This is not necessarily true; contractors (especially government contractors) can qualify if they have both economic risk and retain substantial rights as contractors.
The R&D tax credit is refundable in part (against employer payroll tax) for startups. The idea is to expand the refundability so that the credit can be offset against more than just payroll taxes and even perhaps to make it refundable (to some degree) in general. The idea here is that startups won’t be forced to carryforward credits for years and can then reinvest the cashflow to accelerate growth and jobs creation.
Internal Use Software
Internal use software is software that companies develop themselves. It can be stand-alone software or modifications to existing systems through substantial improvements, the development of add-ons or modules – the idea is to expand the space of what qualifies for the credit for internal use software. This would allow companies that traditionally wouldn’t have qualified (such as finance institutions, banks and retail stores) to now potentially be eligible.
This next relief package is likely to be considered prior to the summer congressional recess. Many analysts believe the bill will focus on provisions that help businesses hire back laid-off workers, retain current employees and grow over the long-term. It’s likely the R&D tax credit will play a key role in the latter objective.
According to the United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act addresses how select businesses must give their workers paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under permitted circumstances in light of COVID-19.
Effective starting April 1, 2020, the following will be in effect through Dec. 31, 2020.
1. If the worker cannot perform his duties because he is relegated to a quarantine, as mandated by a medical professional or a local, state or federal government, or if he is symptomatic with COVID-19 and seeking a diagnosis to confirm it, he is entitled to as many as 80 hours of paid sick leave at his normal rate of compensation.
2. The worker may be due no less than 80 hours of paid sick leave at two-thirds of the worker’s normal compensation if the individual can’t perform her work duties because of a justifiable reason to look after another person required to quarantine – be it because of a doctor’s diagnosis or by a local, state or federal government order. It can also apply to an employee if she needs to care for a minor child (younger than 18 years old), if her school or daycare center is shuttered or otherwise unable to permit the minor child to attend due to the coronavirus.
The Act also includes as many as 10 additional weeks for expanded family and medical leave, paid at two-thirds the worker’s normal wages. This can occur where the worker, who has been an employee of the business for no less than 30 calendar days, cannot work because of a justifiable reason to look after a child due to closure of a school or daycare center.
Employees of both select public employers and private businesses that have fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for the expanded family and medical leave and paid sick leave from the FFCRA. However, this may not apply to select businesses with 50 or fewer workers. For example, small businesses with less than 50 workers may be exempt from the requirement to give leave for school or child care unavailability if fulfilling the leave requirements would put the business’ ability to survive at risk.
When it comes to federal employees, it’s important to note how the FFCRA changed their situation. For federal employees subject to Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act, they are eligible for the aforementioned provision referring to paid sick leave. However, the COVID-19 amended family and medical leave provisions in the FFCRA are not the same for federal employees.
All workers of covered employers are eligible for two weeks of paid sick time for applicable grounds due to the coronavirus. Workers on the payroll for a minimum of 30 days may have up to 10 weeks of compensated family leave to look after minor dependents, based on the individual situation caused by the coronavirus.
When Leave May Be Permitted
Workers are qualified to receive paid sick time, according to the FFCRA, if they can’t perform their duties, including remotely, due to any of the following circumstances.
- Under a local, state or federal quarantine or isolation mandate due to the coronavirus.
- A medical professional has recommended a patient quarantine himself because of COVID-19.
- An individual is symptomatic consistent with COVID-19 and seeking a medical opinion.
- The worker is caring for another person in either category 1 or 2.
- The employee is caring for a child whose school or daycare facility is shuttered or otherwise inaccessible due to the coronavirus.
- A worker is facing an almost identical condition detailed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.
Workers, also in the FFCRA, are eligible for expanded family leave if they are looking after a child whose learning center or daycare is shuttered or otherwise inaccessible because of COVID-19.
When it comes to categories 1, 4 or 6, full-time workers are qualified to have 80 hours of leave. Part-time workers are eligible for calculated leave based upon an average of a 14-day time-frame.
For category 5, full-time workers are eligible for as many as 12 weeks of leave. This consists of two weeks of paid sick leave and an additional 10 weeks that are paid expanded family and medical leave – all 12 weeks at 40 hours per week.
When it comes to paid sick time under the FFCRA, it doesn’t carry over to the following year. Also, workers may not be compensated for untaken leave if they retire, leave voluntarily or involuntarily or otherwise are no longer with their employer.
For the first three categories, workers on leave qualify for compensation at their normal rate or the prevailing minimum wage over a 14-day period, whichever rate is more.
For categories 4 and 6, workers on leave qualify for two-thirds of their normal compensation or the prevailing minimum wage, whichever rate is more (no more than $200 a day or $2,000 per two-week period).
For the fifth category, workers taking leave similarly qualify for two-thirds of their normal compensation or the prevailing minimum wage, whichever rate is more (no more than $200 per day or $2,000 over two weeks).
While each organization must do its due diligence to see how the law applies to its employees, this law gives businesses and workers more flexibility to balance work and family responsibilities.
The New York Fed Staff Nowcast predicts a negative 14.3 percent (-14.3 percent) growth of real GDP for Q2 of 2020 and a positive 13.2 percent growth of real GDP for Q3 of 2020. Clearly, the Fed is expecting a rebound in the second half of 2020.
This forecast, presented in the July 17, 2020: New York Fed Staff Nowcast, attributes better than expected results for industrial production, capacity utilization and retail sales data categories, resulting in the upward revision.
For June 2020, the forecast for the Industrial Production Index was 2.48, but the actual figure was 5.41. As the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System defines it, this index gauges the real output in the U.S. economy’s industrial sector on a month-over-month basis as a percentage change.
For June 2020, its Capacity Utilization measure was 3.54, versus the original forecast of 1.84. Coming from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, this measures the percentage of resources consumed by businesses to create goods for all domestic production.
Also for June 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a figure of 7.50, compared to the forecast of 2.17, for the month’s retail sales data, on a month-over-month basis as a percentage change. It looks at the sales from more than 12,000 retailers with paid workers, including food.
While there’s no definitive way to determine how each community, state or region will be affected, the Brookings Institution did an analysis that provided interesting insight into how and why certain areas may be more impacted economically than others. It looked at sectors more prone to interruption by COVID-19, resulting in less business, more closures and layoffs. It found that areas reliant on energy and in the southern part of the country were more likely to be negatively impacted.
Brookings found that by looking at 2019 employment figures for these industries, there are approximately 24.2 million jobs that are ripe to be disrupted. Looking to Moody’s, Mark Zandi found that the following five industries are most vulnerable: mining/oil and gas, transportation, employment services, travel arrangements, and leisure and hospitality.
Conversely, Brookings found that more mature manufacturing locales, agricultural centers and already economically challenged areas are less prone to negative impacts. However, it’s noteworthy that because of the proliferation of technology, which has seen in an uptick in computer sales and IT/cybersecurity due to increased remote working and learning, the potential for a rebound will be easier.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has the world in its grip, it’s noteworthy to discuss how past pandemics and infectious disease outbreaks have impacted markets. Over the past 40 years of global epidemics, according to FactSet and Charles Schwab, there have been mixed results when it comes to the impact of disease outbreaks on market performance, using the MSCI World Index as a reference.
In June of 1981 during the HIV/AIDS outbreak, the index fell 0.46 percent during the first month; falling 4.64 percent over the three months after the start of the outbreak; and down 3.25 percent six months after the initial outbreak.
As for the 2006 avian flu outbreak, the index dropped 0.18 percent one month after the start; then the index was up 2.77 percent three months after the outbreak; and up 10.05 percent six months after the outbreak.
Looking at these figures, it shows that more often than not, these types of events are short to medium term pullbacks, presenting investors with buying opportunities.
According to Zacks & Nasdaq, Q2 earnings’ projections for the S&P 500 is a negative 43.7 percent, with a drop of 11 percent in revenue. While Q2 is expected to be the worse, Q3 and Q4 are expected to experience smaller, but still noticeable drops in earnings due to the coronavirus. The transportation sector is expected to decline by 152.4 percent; autos is expected to decline by 224.2 percent; and energy is projected to drop by 138.4 percent, on a year-over-year basis.
While these were some serious declines for Q2, the one bright spot was technology. The technology sector declined by only 13.2 percent year-over-year, with a drop of 1.2 percent in revenues. However, it’s noteworthy that, much like technology has seen shallow losses along with the medical sector, it’s projected that in 2021 the technology sector will earn 8.8 percent more while the medical sector is expected to grow its earnings by 12.8 percent in 2021.
The coronavirus is unique in that there’s been mass stay-at-home orders and closures. However, based on past disease outbreaks, the economy and markets generally seem to find a way to balance themselves out.
It’s been nearly half a year since Americans first became widely aware of the coronavirus contagion within the United States. While for a brief month it looked as if we had the virus in hand, since then it has spread wildly out of control in many areas.
People who did not suffer dramatic financial consequences in the early stages of the pandemic could see some hard days ahead. For this reason, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the new relaxed rules associated with withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement plans.
In late March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This bill offered provisions related to distributions from retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401(k). One of the key goals was to enable workers to make penalty-free withdrawals from a retirement plan to help sustain them while out of work due to the coronavirus.
To be eligible to make penalty-free withdrawals, plan participants must meet one of the following criteria:
- The account owner, spouse or a dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19
- The account owner experiences one of the following financial consequences due to the virus:
- Work hours reduced or place of business closed (including for self-employed)
- No access to childcare
The Act stipulates that workers can self-certify that they meet at least one of the criteria. Be aware, however, that if it is later discovered that the account owner did not meet the criteria for a coronavirus-related distribution, he might be required to pay the early withdrawal penalty.
Also note that while this penalty is waived for qualified workers, they must still pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. However, there are a few ways to mitigate the income tax burden on those withdrawals. The first is to through a regular distribution. These are the parameters:
- You have up until Dec. 30, 2020, to make a distribution
- The total aggregate limit is $100,000 from all plans and IRAs
- The distribution waives the 20 percent income tax withholding requirement
- Income taxes will be due when filing a 2020 tax return
- Retirement account owners who no longer work for an employer are free to take a distribution
- Current employees may take a distribution only if the employer plan allows for a hardship or in-service distribution (note that the CARES Act permits employers to amend plan documents to allow coronavirus-related distributions)
While a retirement plan distribution does trigger income taxes for the tax year withdrawn, you can spread the tax burden out over three years. For example, let’s say you withdraw $18,000 this year. You may report the full amount as income on your 2020 tax return; or you can claim $6,000 a year on your 2020, 2021 and 2022 returns. This strategy reduces the chances of bumping your income into a higher tax bracket.
The second way to is to pay the distributed amount back into your retirement plan. Initially, you will have to pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. However, if you pay it back within three years, you can file to get the taxes you paid refunded. One caveat with this plan is that eligible retirement plans will treat repayment of this type of distribution as a rollover event for tax purposes. Be aware that if the retirement plan does not accept rollover contributions, it is not required to change its terms for this purpose.
Your third option is to withdraw money as a loan if your employer permits loans from the retirement plan. This is another scenario in which you must repay that money within a specified time period. You do not have to pay income taxes on the loan, but you do have to pay interest on the amount borrowed. The good news is that the interest you pay also goes into your account.
Under normal circumstances, retirement account loans are limited to $50,000 or 50 percent of the account balance, whichever is less. But for a coronavirus loan, you may borrow up to 100 percent of your vested balance or $100,000, whichever is less. You will need to repay that loan within the plan’s stated repayment period, although the CARES Act gives 2020 borrowers an additional year to repay this type of loan from an eligible retirement plan. Be aware though that you’ll owe both income taxes on the outstanding balance and the penalty for withdrawals made before age 59½ if you do not repay that loan in time.
Note that these CARES Act provisions are available only for the first 180 days after the Act was passed, which was on March 27, 2020. As Congress debates new legislation to aid struggling Americans suffering from the pandemic, this provision could be extended.
The impact of COVID-19 has caused many Americans to suffer hardships, one of which is struggling to make ends meet. But take heart; there are solutions. Here are a few areas in which creditors are working with people to alleviate some of the stress.
Fortunately, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, allows for mortgage forbearance, which if you’re financially compromised because of COVID-19, you can temporarily suspend payments. Also, the Federal Housing Finance Agency is allowing mortgage servicers to permit homeowners to delay payments if the notes are backed federally or by a Government Sponsored Enterprise, which includes Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, FHA, VA or USDA. If you don’t know who services your loan, you can check Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. If your mortgage isn’t federally backed, ask your lender about your options. If you need more help, contact a Housing and Urban Development approved housing counselor or local legal aid organizations.
The good news here! The CARES Act also includes a 120-day moratorium on evictions if you rent from a landlord who has a federally backed mortgage. If your landlord doesn’t fall into this category, contact them immediately. If you have any assets to sell, that’s an option. Hop on eBay or Craig’s List. If you have a 401(k), the IRS allows you to make an early hardship withdrawal. When all else fails, contact Just Shelter, an organization that advocates for affordable housing.
More good news! The Department of Education is granting students a payment waiver for at least 60 days with zero percent interest. But you have to do some legwork; it’s not automatic. Call your loan servicers to make sure your loan is eligible. This exception doesn’t apply to private student loans. However, Sallie Mae, one large private lender, said it’s offering suspension of payment for up to three months. Get in touch as soon as possible with whoever holds your loan to start the conversation.
Some utility providers are refraining from cutting off services for nonpayment, which is a relief. Also, quite a few Internet companies like AT&T and Charter Communications have agreed not to end service for residential or small-business customers who can’t pay their bills. To find out the details and policies from your providers, check their website or call.
Major credit card issuers are offering relief to customers who’ve been affected by COVID-19. American Express, for example, is providing assistance through its financial hardship program. But beware of scammers who send out fake emails from said creditors about the virus; they’re trying to steal your personal and financial information and/or infect your computer with malware. If you have doubts about any communication you receive from your financial institution, email, or call. Don’t take any chances.
Right now, life might feel overwhelming. But know this: we’re all in this together. And the upside is that many companies are stepping up to lend a hand.