COVID Relief Bill

COVID Relief Bill Passes

A new bi-partisan COVID Relief bill passed Congress this week and will impact almost every American in a positive way. This stimulus legislation creates additional income and tax benefits to offset the economic damage of Coronavirus. The $900 Billion bill includes another stimulus payment to most Americans, an extension of unemployment benefits, and seven tax breaks. As of this morning, President Trump has not yet signed the bill.

$600 Stimulus Payment

The CARES Act provided many families with stimulus checks this summer. Those checks were for up to $1,200 per person and $500 per child. There will be a second stimulus check now, for $600 per person. Parents will receive an additional $600 for each dependent child they have under 17. Adult dependents are not eligible for a check.

Like the first round of checks, eligibility is based on your income. Single tax payers making under $75,000 are eligible for the full amount. Married tax payers need to make under $150,000. There is a phaseout for income above these thresholds.

Payments will be distributed via direct deposit, if your bank information is on file with the IRS. If not, like before, you will be mailed a pre-paid debit card. This payment will not be counted as taxable income. Payments should start in a week and are expected to be delivered much faster than the two months it took this summer.

These $600 payments are again based on your 2019 income, but will be considered an advanced tax credit on your 2020 income. What if your 2019 income was above $75,000, but your 2020 income was below? If you qualify on your 2020 income, the IRS will provide the $600 credit on your tax return in April. If they send you the $600 based on your 2019 income and your 2020 income is higher, you do not have to repay the tax credit. This is a slightly different process than the first round of checks, and will benefit people whose income fell in 2020.

Unemployment Benefits

The CARES Act provided $600 a week in Federal Unemployment Benefits, on top of State Unemployment Benefits. This amount was set to run out on December 26. The new COVID Relief Bill provides an 11-week extension with a $300/week Federal payment. Now, unemployed workers will have access to up to 50 weeks of benefits, through March 14. Unfortunately, because of how late the legislation was passed, states may be unable to process the new money in time. So, there may be a gap of a few weeks before benefits resume.

Seven Other Tax Benefits

  1. Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. Under the new legislation, tax payers can choose between using their 2019 or 2020 income to select whichever provides the larger tax credit.
  2. Payroll Tax Deferral. For companies who offered a deferral in payroll taxes in Q4, the repayment of those amounts was extended from April to December 31, 2021.
  3. Charitable Donations. The CARES Act allows for a $300 above-the-line deduction for a 2020 cash charitable contribution. (Typically, you have to itemize to claim charitable deductions.) The new act extends this to 2021 and doubles the amount to $600 for married couples.
  4. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs). Usually, any unused amount in an FSA would expire at the end of the year. The stimulus package will allow you to rollover your unused 2020 FSA into 2021 and your 2021 FSA into 2022.
  5. Medical Expense Deduction. In the past, medical expenses had to exceed 10% of adjusted gross income to be deductible. Going forward, the threshold will be 7.5% of AGI. This will help people with very large medical bills.
  6. Student Loans. Under the CARES Act, an employer could repay up to $5,250 of your student loans and this would not be counted as taxable income for 2020. This benefit will be extended through 2025.
  7. Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). The LLC was increased and the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses was cancelled. This will simplify taxes for most people, rather than having to choose one.

Read more: Tax Strategies Under Biden


The new COVID Relief Bill will benefit almost everyone and will certainly help the economy continue its recovery. For many Americans, the stimulus payments and continued unemployment benefits will be a vital lifeline. Certainly 2020 has taught all of us the importance of the financial planning. Having an emergency fund, living below your means, and sticking with your investment strategy have all been incredibly helpful in 2020.

Read more: 10 Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor

If you are thinking there’s room for improvement in your finances for 2021, it might be time for us to meet. Regardless of what the government or the economy does in 2021, your choices will be the most important factor in determining your long-term success. We will inevitably have ups and downs. The question is: When we fall, are we an egg, an apple, or a rubber ball? Do we break, bruise, or bounce back? Planning creates resilience.

2020 RMDs

2020 RMDs Fixed

At the end of March, the CARES Act waived 2020 RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions) from retirement accounts. This will help people who do not need to take distributions. They can leave their IRAs alone and not be forced to take a taxable withdrawal while the market is down.

Unfortunately, this change created a couple of problems. People could have started their 2020 RMDs as early as January 1, but the waiver didn’t occur until late March. Some people set up monthly distributions from their IRA, but can only put back one, due to the rules regarding 60-Day Rollovers. Later, the IRS said that if you took a withdrawal between February 1 and May 15, you could put it back before July 31. But that left out people who took RMDs in January.

This week, the IRS corrected both of those situations with IRS Notice 2020-51. The ruling will provide relief for anyone who wants to put back their RMDs taken after January 1. You have until August 31 to roll them back into your IRA. Also, if you took multiple withdrawals, you can put them all back. That’s because this one-time rollover is not going to be considered a 60-Day Rollover. (You con only do ONE 60-day rollover in a 365 day period.)

Also, Inherited IRAs (Stretch or Beneficiary IRAs) were never allowed to do 60-day rollovers. Under this week’s ruling, if you had taken your RMD from an Inherited IRA, you can put now return the money to the account through August 31. Unprecedented!

As a reminder, the age for RMDs increased to 72, from 70 1/2, last year. It’s good that the IRS has provided relief from the quagmire Congress created with CARES Act changes in March. So, if you don’t want to take an RMD, you don’t have to. And now you can reverse your RMDs if you had already started.

Planning Opportunities

Currently, tax rates are low, but the Federal rates are supposed to sunset after 2025. So, if you have a choice between paying some taxes now at 12% or 22% that might be better than paying 15%, 25%, or more down the road. Also, if you anticipate needing to take more than your RMD next year, you might be better off spreading that amount over 2020 and 2021, if it will keep you in a lower marginal tax bracket.

Another opportunity afforded by the 2020 RMD waiver is to do a Roth Conversion. If you had planned to pay the taxes on a $50,000 RMD, you could do a $50,000 Roth Conversion instead. Once in the Roth, your $50,000 is growing tax-free with no future RMDs. You paid some taxes at today’s lower rates, and reduced your future RMDs by doing a conversion in 2020.

A Roth Conversion does not count towards your RMD amount. So for people over 72, most never want to do a conversion because they are already paying a lot in taxes on their RMD. It’s best to do conversions after you retire – and are in a low bracket – but before you start RMDs. For people who missed that window, 2020 is the year to do a Roth Conversion.

Retirement Income Expertise

Creating tax-efficient retirement income is our mission and passion. If you want professional advice on establishing your retirement income plan, we can help. Here’s how:

  • We stay informed. Rules regarding your IRAs and 401(k) accounts have actually seen significant changes in the past couple of years.
  • Tools, not guesses. We analyze the likelihood of success of your retirement income plan through MoneyGuidePro. You will create a baseline scenario, which we will monitor and adjust based on market changes.
  • Asset location. Improving tax-efficiency through placing investments which generate ordinary income into tax-deferred accounts, and keeping long-term capital gains and qualified dividends in taxable accounts. Research and select more tax-efficient investment vehicles.
  • Sequence of Withdrawals. Determine the optimal order of withdrawals by account type and asset. Evaluate when you begin Pension payments and Social Security.

I suspect that there are not a lot of my readers who need to put back RMDs from January and are impacted by Notice 2020-51. But, I do have clients in this exact situation, and this type of detailed work is how I can add value to your financial life. Whether you are already retired, soon to be retired, or it’s just a dream at this point, we can create a plan to take you through the steps you need to feel comfortable about retirement.

Stimulus Payments to Business Owners

Stimulus Payments to Business Owners

As part of the $2 Trillion CARES Act, there are three programs to provide Stimulus payments to business owners. Unlike the 2008 crisis, this time the government is not bailing out the big banks and Wall Street. Instead, Washington is sending cash to self-employed people and small business owners. They are shoveling money out the door to help you pay your bills, keep your workers paid, and still have a business when we eventually emerge from the Coronavirus shutdown. The scale of this is unprecedented and you should make sure to get your share.

We are going to look at three specific programs and give you links to find more information and apply. The three stimulus payments to business owners include: the Paycheck Protection Program, Employee Retention Tax Credit, and the SBA Disaster Grant. You may be eligible for some or all of these programs.

What if you are self-employed or an Independent Contractor, but not a corporation, LLC, or other entity? You are still a business even if you are the only employee. If you file a Schedule C, you have a business. If you have questions, here’s my contact info.

Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program is providing $349 Billion in loans to small businesses. These loans are designed to keep employees on the payroll and off unemployment. The loans are forgivable. The government doesn’t want you to pay them back, as long as you spend the money to pay employee salaries and benefits in the next eight weeks.

The PPP is available to businesses from 1 to 500 employees. The Small Business Administration (SBA) guarantees the loans, which will be provided through 1700 Banks and Credit Unions. Your bank is probably already an SBA lender. Technically, the PPP is a 2-year loan at 0.50% interest. Payments are not required for six months. If you spend the loan on allowable expenses within 8 weeks, then the loan will be forgiven. You also have to keep the same number of employees and not reduce payroll during this period. The loan forgiveness will be non-taxable. Steps:

  1. Apply for the loan at your bank using Model Application (link below).
  2. Spend the loan in the following eight weeks on payroll, benefits, and rent.
  3. Apply for loan forgiveness and document that the funds were spent as intended.

You must state on the application that your business was impacted by the Coronavirus and you need this money to meet payroll and expenses. This is easy. Most businesses are “non-essential” and were required to close in your area due to the shelter in place rules. Even if you stayed open, you may have had supply disruptions, or other negative impacts to you business.

Loan Amount and Application

The application provides instructions to calculate your loan amount. You are eligible to borrow two and one-half months of payroll, up to $10 million. Payroll includes gross pay plus taxes. Salary eligible for loan forgiveness is capped to $100,000 per person annually.

Then over the next eight weeks, you can spend the loan on payroll, payroll taxes, employee benefits, including health insurance premiums, retirement plan contributions, and sick leave or vacation. You can also spend the money on rent or mortgage interest for your business property (if you have a store or office, for example). Non-payroll expenses cannot exceed 25% of the total.

Eligible businesses includes corporations and LLCs, but also includes non-profit organizations, sole proprietors, and those who are self-employed or independent contractors. Many businesses can apply for the loan starting on April 3, 2020, and Independent Contractors can apply starting April 10. The program will close once the $349 Billion is gone. Don’t delay!

Here is the required application for the Paycheck Protection Program. Your bank should accept this paperwork for the loan. The SBA is paying all the application or service fees for the loan, so it costs you nothing. If you have a business account at Chase, apply here to get in their queue.

Employee Retention Credit

If you own a business with multiple employees, such you should also know about the Employee Retention Tax Credit. It’s another part of the CARES Act. To qualify, you must have either been temporarily closed down due to local regulations or have your gross receipts fall by 50% this quarter versus last year. For business owners with lower income or part time workers, it may be better to use the Employee Retention Credit rather than the PPP. You have to choose one or the other: if you take the PPP you are ineligible for the Employee Retention Credit.

The Employee Retention Credit is for 50% of income per employee up to $10,000 a year. So the maximum tax credit is $5,000 per employee for 2020. Now if your employees will make less than $5,000 in 2.5 months but more than $10,000 for the rest of the year, you would be better off with the ERC versus the PPP. The ERC is not available to self-employed individuals and will apply to income from March 12, 2020 to the end of the year. Full details and eligiblity here on the IRS Website.

In general, I think the PPP is the better option for most businesses, but it would not hurt to run the numbers. Calculate if the Employee Retention Credit would provide you with more funds. Of course, you won’t get the tax credit until you file your 2020 taxes next year. If you need the funds to meet payroll now, then you need the PPP. The ERC is not available to self-employed or sole proprietors.

SBA $10,000 Disaster Grant

The third of the stimulus payments to business owners from the CARES Act is the SBA Disaster Loan program. The full name is the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Application. They have expanded the eligibility to all businesses. You are technically applying for a loan. As part of the loan application, they will advance your business $10,000 of the loan. This is not called a “grant” on the SBA application, even though the CARES Act calls it a grant, so it can be confusing. They will direct deposit the funds into your business account within a week. The $10,000 Grant does not have to be repaid, but if you borrow more than the $10,000, the rest would have to be repaid. You’re not going to believe this, but even if the SBA does not approve your loan, you still get to keep the $10,000.

You can apply online at the SBA website here; it should take less than 20 minutes. On page one, they ask questions about your business eligibility for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Most will check the first line: “Applicant is a business with not more then 500 employees.” That qualifies you for the grant, even if you are the only employee.

Next, you will certify that you are not in a disqualifying business (i.e. porn). Third, you will give information about your business, including EIN, gross revenues and cost of goods sold for the 12 months to January 31, 2020. Fourth, information about the owner and the bank information for the deposit. Towards the end of the application, there is a box to check if you want to be considered for a $10,000 advance on the loan. CHECK THIS BOX. This advance is the $10,000 grant under the CARES Act. After you submit, it will give you an application number. Print this page or write it down. You do not receive an email confirmation, but you will be notified of the decision by email.

Which to Choose?

Technically, you can apply for both the SBA disaster grant and the PPP. However, they will subtract the disaster grant from your PPP forgiveness amount. The primary reason to do the disaster grant instead of the PPP is if your PPP would be under $10,000. If you need additional loans beyond the PPP’s two months of funding, do both applications. Also, you can apply for the Disaster Grant right now online whereas most banks are struggling to get ready for the PPP application.

Don’t delay in applying for stimulus payments for business owners. There are limited funds in place and some of these programs are first come, first served. I’ve spoken with some clients who are reluctant to take a bailout of their business and are prepared to tough it out. With everyone going to shelter in place, the economy is grinding to a halt. And when you have a service economy, that’s a catastrophic problem. So, please take the money and use it. Pay your employees. Keep buying stuff. Keep funding your retirement accounts. And of course, replenish your emergency fund or increase it. If you don’t need the money, make a donation to your favorite local charity, because they are also hurting from the shutdown.

CARES Act RMD Relief

CARES Act RMD Relief for 2020

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security CARES Act approved this weekend eliminates Required Minimum Distributions from retirement accounts for 2020. If you have an inherited IRA, also known as a Stretch or Beneficiary IRA, there is also no RMD for this year. We are going dive into ideas from the CARES Act RMD changes and also look at its impact on charitable giving rules.

Of course, you can still take any distribution that you want from your retirement account and pay the usual taxes. Additionally, people who take a premature distribution from their IRA this year will not have to pay a 10% penalty. And they will be able to spread that income over three years.

RMDs for 2020

Many of my clients have already begun taking their RMDs for 2020. (No one would have anticipated the RMD requirement would be waived!) Can you reverse a distribution that already occurred? Not always. However, using the 60-day rollover rule, you can put back any IRA distribution within 60 days.

If you had taxes withheld, we cannot get those back from the IRS until next year. However, you can put back the full amount of your original distribution using your cash and undo the taxable distribution. You can only do one 60-day rollover per year.

For distributions in February and March, we still have time to put those distributions back if you don’t need them. Be sure to also cancel any upcoming automatic distributions if you do not need them for 2020.

If you are in a low tax bracket this year, it may still make sense to take the distribution. Especially if you think you might be in a higher tax bracket in future years. An intriguing option this year is to do a Roth Conversion instead of the RMD. With no RMD, and stocks down in value, it seems like a ideal year to consider a Conversion. Once in the Roth, the money will grow tax-free, reducing your future RMDs from what is left in your Traditional IRA. We always prefer tax-free to tax-deferred.

Charitable Giving under the CARES Act

Congress also thought about how to help charities this year. Although RMDs are waived for 2020, you can still do Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) from your IRA. And for everyone who does not itemize in 2020: You can take up to $300 as an above-the-line deduction for a charitable contribution.

Also part of the CARES Act: the 50% limit on cash contributions is suspended for 2020. This means you could donate up to 100% of your income for the year. This is a great opportunity to establish a Donor Advised Fund, if significant charitable giving is a goal.

Above the $300 amount, most people don’t have enough itemized deductions to get a tax benefit from their donations. Do a QCD. The QCD lets you make donations with pre-tax money. Of course, you could do zero charitable donations in 2020 and then resume in 2021 when the QCD will count towards your next RMD. But I’m sure your charities have great needs for 2020 and are hoping you don’t skip this year.

The Government was willing to forgo RMDs this year to help investors who are suffering large drops in their accounts. To have to sell now and take a distribution is painful. However, if you already took a distribution, you are not required to spend it. You can invest that money right back into a taxable account. In a taxable account, the future growth could receive long-term capital gains status versus ordinary income in an IRA. I’ll be reaching out to my clients this week to explain the 2020 CARES Act RMD rules. Feel free to email me if you’d like our help.