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Biden's tax plan and what may change from current tax law

01.08.21

Read this if you are a business owner or interested in upcoming changes to current tax law.

As Joe Biden prepares to be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, and Congress is now controlled by Democrats, his tax policy takes center stage.

Although the Democrats hold the presidency and both houses of Congress for the next two years, any changes in tax law may still have to be passed through budget reconciliation, because 60 votes in the Senate generally are needed to avoid that process. Both in 2017 and 2001, passing tax legislation through reconciliation meant that most of the changes were not permanent; that is, they expired within the 10-year budget window. Here is a comparison of current tax law with Biden’s proposed tax plan.

Current Tax Law
(TCJA–present)
Biden’s stated goals
Corporate tax rates and AMT

Corporations have a flat 21% tax rate and no corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT), which were both changed by the TCJA.

These do not expire.

Biden would raise the flat rate to the pre-TCJA level of 28% and reinstate the corporate AMT, requiring corporations to pay the greater of their regular corporate income tax or the 15% minimum tax (while still allowing for net operating loss (NOL) and foreign tax credits).

Capital gains and Qualified Dividend Income

The top tax rate is 20% for income over $441,450 for individuals and $496,600 for married filing jointly. There is an additional 3.8% net investment income tax.

Biden would eliminate breaks for long-term capital gains and dividends for income above $1 million. Instead, these would be taxed at ordinary rates.

Payroll taxes

The 12.4% payroll tax is divided evenly between employers and employees and applies to the first $137,700 of an individual’s income (scheduled to go up to $142,400 in 2020). There is also a 2.9% Medicare Tax which is split equally between the employer and the employee with no income limit.

Biden would maintain the 12.4% tax split between employers and employees and keep the $142,400 cap but would institute the tax on earned income above $400,000. The gap between the two wage levels would gradually close with annual inflationary increases.

International taxes (GILTI, offshoring)

GILTI (Global Intangible Low-Tax Income): Established by the TCJA, U.S. multinationals are required to pay a foreign tax rate of between 10.5% and 13.125%.

A scheduled increase in the effective rate to 16.406% is scheduled to begin in 2026.

Offshoring taxes: The TCJA includes a tax deduction for corporations that manufacture in the U.S. and sell overseas.

GILTI: Biden would double the tax rate to 21% and assess a minimum tax on a country-by-country basis.

Offshoring taxes: Biden would establish a 10% penalty surtax on profits for goods and services manufactured offshore and a 10% advanceable “Made in America” tax credit to create U.S. manufacturing jobs. Biden would also close offshoring tax loopholes in the TCJA.

Estate taxes

The estate tax exemption for 2020 is $11,580,000. Transfers of appreciated property at death get a step-up in basis.

The exemption is scheduled to revert to pre-TCJA levels.

Biden would return the estate tax to 2009 levels, eliminate the current step-up in basis on inherited assets, and eliminate the step-up at death provision for inherited property passed along by the decedent.

Individual tax rates

The top marginal rate is 37% for income over $518,400 for individuals and $622,050 for married filing jointly. This was lowered from 39.6% pre-TCJA.

Biden would restore the 39.6% rate for taxable income above $400,000. This represents only the top rate.

Individual tax credits

Currently, individuals can claim a maximum of $2,000 Child Tax Credit (CTC) plus a $500 dependent credit.

Individuals may claim a maximum dependent care credit of $600 ($1,200 for two or more children).

The CTC is scheduled to revert to pre-TCJA levels ($1,000) after 2025.

Biden would expand the CTC to $3,000 for children age 17 and under and offer a $600 bonus for children age 6 and under. It would also be fully refundable.

He has also proposed increasing the child and dependent care tax credit to $8,000 ($16,000 for two or more children), and he has proposed a new tax credit of up to $5,000 for informal caregivers.

Separately, Biden has also proposed a $15,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

Qualified Business Income Deduction under Section 199A

As previously discussed, many businesses qualify for a 20% qualified business income tax deduction lowering the effective rate of tax for S corporation shareholders and partners in partnerships to 29.6% for qualifying businesses.

Biden would phase out the tax benefits associated with the qualified business income deduction for those making more than $400,000 annually.

Education

Forgiven student loan debt is included in taxable income.

There is no tax credit for contributions to state-authorized organizations that sponsor scholarships.

Biden would exclude forgiven student loan debt from taxable income.

Small businesses

There are current tax credits for some of the costs to start a retirement plan.

Biden would offer tax credits for businesses that adopt a retirement savings plan and offer most workers without a pension or 401(k) access to an “automatic 401(k)”.

Itemized deductions

For 2020, the standard deduction is $12,400 for single/married filing separately and $24,800 for married filing jointly.

After 2025, the standard deduction is scheduled to revert to pre-TCJA amounts, or $6,350 for single /married filing separately and $12,700 for married filing jointly.

The TCJA suspended the personal exemption and most individual deductions through 2025.

It also capped the SALT deduction at $10,000, which will remain in place until 2025, unless repealed.

Biden would enact a provision that would cap the tax benefit of itemized deductions at 28%.

SALT cap: Senate minority leader Charles Schumer has pledged to repeal the cap should Biden win in November (the House of Representatives has already passed legislation to repeal the SALT cap).

Opportunity Zones

Biden has proposed incentivizing - opportunity zone funds to partner with community organizations and have the Treasury Department review the program’s regulations of the tax incentives. He would also increase reporting and public disclosure requirements.
Alternative energy Biden would expand renewable energy tax credits and credits for residential energy efficiency and restore the Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the Electric Vehicle Tax Credit.


If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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Read this if you are a residential living facility.

At the end of last year, Congress and the IRS brought about changes to the application of the business interest expense deduction limitation rules with regard to taxpayers that wish to make a real property trade or business (RPTOB) election. This change may benefit owners and operators of qualified residential living facilities. Here’s what we know.

Background

Section 163(j) generally limits the amount of a taxpayer’s business interest expense that can be deducted each year. The term “business interest” means any interest that is properly allocable to a “trade or business,” which could include an electing RPTOB. The term “trade or business” has not been separately defined for purposes of Section 163(j), however, it has been defined for purposes of the passive activity loss rules under Section 469(c)(7)(C) as any real property development, redevelopment, construction, reconstruction, acquisition, conversion, rental, operation, management, leasing or brokerage trade or business.

In general, a taxpayer engaged in a trade or business that manages or operates a “qualified residential living facility” may elect to be treated as an RPTOB solely for the purpose of applying the interest expense rules under Section 163(j). Taxpayers that make an RPTOB election to avoid being subject to the business interest deduction limitation under Section 163(j) must use the alternative depreciation system (ADS) to compute depreciation expense for property described in Section 168(g)(8), which includes residential rental property.

In Notice 2020-59, issued on July 28, 2020, the IRS and Treasury proposed a revenue procedure providing a safe harbor for purposes of determining whether a taxpayer meets the definition of a qualified residential living facility and is therefore eligible to make the RPTOB election. Following review of comments submitted in response to Notice 2020-59, the Treasury Department and IRS published Revenue Procedure 2021-9 (Rev. Proc. 2021-9) on December 29, 2020. Rev. Proc. 2021-9 modifies the proposed safe harbor under Notice 2020-59 to make it more broadly applicable and less administratively burdensome. 

Additionally, the emergency coronavirus relief package signed into law on December 27, 2020 contains a taxpayer-favorable provision that modifies the recovery period applicable to residential rental property (including retirement care facilities) placed in service before January 1, 2018 for taxpayers making the RPTOB election.

Modifications to the RPTOB safe harbor under Rev. Proc. 2021

Under Rev. Proc. 2021-9, a residential living facility will be eligible to make the RPTOB election providing the facility:

  1. Consists of multiple rental dwelling units within one or more buildings or structures that generally serve as primary residences on a permanent or semi-permanent basis to individual customers or patients;
  2. Provides supplemental assistive, nursing, or other routine medical services; and
  3. Has an average period of customer or patient use of individual rental dwelling units of 30 days or more.

Alternatively, if the residential living facility qualifies as residential rental property under Section 168(e)(2)(A), it will be treated as an RPTOB for purposes of the revenue procedure. Thus in response to comments submitted to the Treasury Department and the IRS, Rev. Proc. 2021-9 modified the proposed safe harbor published in Notice 2020-59 in several important ways, including the following:

  • The definition of a qualified residential living facility has been modified to reduce the required average period of customer or patient use from 90 to 30 days. Further, the average period of use may be determined by reference to either the number of days paid for by Medicare or Medicaid, or the number of days under a formal contract or other written agreement.

This modification is a welcome change from the proposed safe harbor contained in Notice 2020-59. Medicare and Medicaid frequently cover patient stays of less than 90 days. Consequently, reducing the required number of days of use and allowing for determination with reference to days paid by Medicare or Medicaid should allow a greater number of facilities to qualify under the safe harbor.

  • Rev. Proc. 2021-9 provides an alternative test for purposes of determining whether a taxpayer meets certain requirements of the definition of a qualified residential living facility. Under this alternative test, if a taxpayer operates or manages residential living facilities that qualify as residential rental property for depreciation purposes, then the facility will be considered a qualified residential living facility for purposes of Section 163(j).

The administrative burden on taxpayers should be significantly reduced by allowing reliance on separate determinations made for depreciation purposes. Taxpayers will not be required to consider two distinct tests.

  • Rev. Proc. 2021-9 clarifies that the determination of whether a facility meets the definition of a qualified residential living facility must be determined on an annual basis. 

Under general rules, once a taxpayer makes the RPTOB election, the election remains in effect for subsequent years. Taxpayers relying on this safe harbor cannot depart from these rules as there is a continuing requirement to evaluate qualification on an annual basis. To the extent a taxpayer fails to meet the safe harbor requirements, it may become subject to the business interest deduction limitations under Section 163(j). Unless otherwise provided in future guidance, this would not appear to constitute an accounting method change.

Important Considerations to apply the safe harbor under Rev. Proc. 2021-9

Qualifying taxpayers may rely on the safe harbor contained in Rev. Proc. 2021-9 for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. Further, if a taxpayer relies on the safe harbor, the taxpayer must use the ADS of Section 168(g) to depreciate the property described in Section 168(g)(8), as discussed above.

The changes under Rev. Proc. 2021-9 could open the door for taxpayers who qualify in a previous year (i.e., 2018 and 2019) as a result of the new rules to amend prior returns (for example, taxpayers that now qualify for the RPTOB election using the 30-day threshold average use instead of the 90-day average).

For purposes of applying the safe harbor, for any taxable year subsequent to the taxable year in which a taxpayer relies on the safe harbor to make the RPTOB election in which a taxpayer does not satisfy the safe harbor requirements, the taxpayer is deemed to have ceased to engage in the electing RPTOB (i.e., the taxpayer will likely be subject to the business interest expense limitations of Section 163(j)). However, for any subsequent taxable year in which a taxpayer satisfies the safe harbor requirements after a deemed cessation of the electing trade or business, the taxpayer’s initial election will be automatically reinstated.

To rely on this safe harbor, a taxpayer must retain books and records to substantiate that all of the above requirements are met each year. Taxpayers are not eligible to rely on the safe harbor in this revenue procedure if a principal purpose of an arrangement or transaction is to avoid Section 163(j) and its regulations in its entirety, and in a manner that is contrary to the purpose of Rev. Proc. 2021-9.

If you have specific questions about your facility or tax situation, please contact Jason Favreau or Matthew Litz. We’re here to help.

Article
Taxpayer-friendly changes for qualified residential living facilities

Read this if you are a renewable energy company, investor, or related business.

Maine recently released a Climate Action Plan to address Maine’s climate future. Titled Maine Won’t Wait, the extensive plan tapped experts from across industries and professions to create a comprehensive blueprint for Maine’s climate future. BerryDunn is one of many Maine businesses to sign on in support of the plan, and will endeavor to help make it become a reality in the years, and decades to come. The far-reaching, ambitious plan covers many areas to address climate change, and renewable energy takes center stage. 

From the plan: In June 2019, Governor Janet Mills signed LD 1679 into law, with strong support from the Maine Legislature, to create the Maine Climate Council. The Council—an assembly of scientists, industry leaders, bipartisan local and state officials, and engaged citizens—was charged with developing this four-year Climate Action Plan to put Maine on a trajectory to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

Highlighted strategies of Maine's Climate Action Plan include:

  • Embrace the future of transportation in Maine 
  • Modernize Maine’s buildings: Energy-efficient, smart and cost-effective homes and businesses
  • Reduce carbon emissions in Maine’s energy and industrial sectors through clean energy
  • Grow Maine’s clean-energy economy and protect our natural resource industries 

Renewable energy opportunities

These strategies provide many opportunities for renewable energy companies to grow their businesses, increase the renewable workforce in Maine, and have a major impact on the success of Maine’s climate future. The plan also states that Maine will: 

  • Achieve an electricity grid where 80% of Maine’s usage comes from renewable generation by 2030
  • Launch a workforce initiative by 2022 that establishes ongoing stakeholder coordination between industry, educational, and training organizations to support current and future workforce needs
  • Establish programs and partnerships by 2022 for clean-tech innovation support to encourage the creation of clean-energy and climate solutions
  • More than double the number of Maine’s clean-energy and energy-efficiency jobs by 2030 

The plan recommends that Maine commit to increasing its current clean-energy workforce, while establishing new supply chains for Maine-based manufacturers to create sustained, good-paying skilled-labor jobs across the state.

As Maine heads toward a cleaner energy future, the plan sets up strong opportunities for renewable companies to play a large role in creating a sustainable renewable energy economy. You can read the full plan here. If you have any questions about the potential for your renewable energy business, contact the team. We’re here to help.

Article
Maine's Climate Action Plan unveiled: Renewable energy to play a big role

A common pitfall for inbound sellers is applying the same concepts used to adopt “no tax” positions made for federal income tax purposes to determinations concerning sales and use tax compliance. Although similar conceptually, separate analyses are required for each determination.

For federal income tax purposes, inbound sellers that are selling goods to customers in the U.S. and do not have a fixed place of business or dependent agent in the U.S. have, traditionally, been able to rely on their country’s income tax treaty with the U.S. for “no tax” positions. Provided that the non-U.S. entity did not have a “permanent establishment” in the U.S., it was shielded from federal income tax and would have a limited federal income tax compliance obligation.

States, however, are generally not bound by comprehensive income tax treaties made with the U.S. Thus, non-U.S. entities can find themselves unwittingly subject to state and local sales and use tax compliance obligations even though they are protected from a federal income tax perspective. With recent changes in U.S. tax law, the burden of complying with sales and use tax filing and collection requirements has increased significantly.

Does your company have a process in place to deal with these new state and local tax compliance obligations?

What has changed? Wayfair—it’s got what a state needs

As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., non-U.S. entities that have sales to customers in the U.S. may have unexpected sales and use tax filing obligations on a go-forward basis. Historically, non-U.S. entities did not have a sales and use tax compliance obligation when they did not have a physical presence in states where the sales occurred.

In Wayfair, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state is no longer bound by the physical presence standard in order for it to impose its sales and use tax regime on entities making sales within the state. The prior physical presence standard was set forth in precedent established by the Supreme Court and was used to determine if an entity had sufficient connection with a state (i.e., nexus) to necessitate a tax filing and collection requirement.

Before the Wayfair ruling, an entity had to have a physical presence (generally either through employees or property located in a state) in order to be deemed to have nexus with the state. The Wayfair ruling overturned this precedent, eliminating the physical presence requirement. Now, a state can deem an entity to have nexus with the state merely for exceeding a certain level of sales or transactions with in-state customers. This is a concept referred to as “economic nexus.”

The Court in Wayfair determined that the state law in South Dakota providing a threshold of $100,000 in sales or more than 200 sale transactions occurring within the state is sufficient for economic nexus to exist with the state. This is good news for hard-pressed states and municipalities in search of more revenue. Since this ruling, there has been a flurry of new state legislation across the country. Like South Dakota, states are actively passing tax laws with similar bright-line tests to determine when entities have economic nexus and, therefore, a sales and use tax collection and filing requirement.

How this impacts non-U.S. entities

This can be a trap for non-U.S. entities making sales to customers in the U.S. Historically, non-U.S. entities lacking a U.S. physical presence generally only needed to navigate federal income tax rules.

Inbound sellers without a physical presence in the U.S. may have very limited experience with state and local tax compliance obligations. When considering all of the state and local tax jurisdictions that exist in the U.S. (according to the Tax Foundation there are more than 10,000 sales tax jurisdictions), the number of sales and use tax filing obligations can be significant. Depending on the level of sales activity within the U.S., a non-U.S. entity can quickly become inundated with the time and cost of sales and use tax compliance.

Next steps

Going forward, non-U.S. entities selling to customers in the U.S. should be aware of those states that have economic nexus thresholds and adopt procedures so they are prepared for their sales and use tax compliance obligations in real time. These tax compliance obligations will generally require an entity to register to do business in the state, collect sales tax from customers, and file regular tax returns, usually monthly or quarterly.

It is important to note when an entity has an obligation to collect sales tax, it will be liable for any sales tax due to a state, regardless of whether the sales tax is actually collected from the customer. It is imperative to stay abreast of these complex legislative changes in order to be compliant.

At BerryDunn, our tax professionals work with a number of non-U.S. companies that face international, state, and local tax issues. If you would like to discuss your particular circumstances, contact one of the experienced professionals in our state and local tax (“SALT”) practice.

Article
Sales & use tax: A potential trap for non-U.S. entities

Read this if you are an employer with employees on COBRA. There are tax credits available to you. 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) creates a requirement that employers treat the total payment for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) continuation coverage due from certain eligible individuals as being “paid in full” for April 1 through September 30, 2021 (Subsidy Period). The eligible individuals with COBRA coverage will not receive the subsidy directly from the government; rather, they will have a premium holiday during which time the employer pays 100% of the applicable COBRA premium. The employer will be reimbursed in full through refundable payroll tax credits.

The ARP provisions do not apply to all COBRA-eligible individuals; eligibility is limited to employees who lost health care benefits due to an involuntary termination or reduction in hours. While the loss of coverage event can be linked to COVID-19, it is not required to be. A loss of coverage event could have occurred as far back as November 1, 2019, since the law requires an employer to offer a continuation of COBRA coverage for 18 months after an involuntary termination (18 months from November 1, 2019 is April 30, 2021). Eligible individuals who opted not to pay for COBRA coverage will be given another opportunity to elect the free coverage.

Employers and COBRA administrators should prepare to distribute new COBRA election and subsidy notices and to make operational changes soon after further guidance is released. Eligible individuals not already on COBRA will need to act quickly after receiving the notice to elect subsidized COBRA coverage. Failing to timely elect COBRA coverage could result in forfeiting this valuable benefit.

It is expected many people will rush to take advantage of this opportunity, which can provide up to six months of health insurance at no cost. However, employers should keep in mind that the subsidy is available only for certain limited situations.

Which employers are eligible for the new subsidy?

Employers subject to federal COBRA provisions or to a state program that provides comparable group health care continuation coverage are not allowed to charge eligible individuals for COBRA coverage during the Subsidy Period. The subsidy applies to workers in every industry, most tax-exempt employers (except churches who are exempt from COBRA) and union, governmental, and Indian tribal government workers. The federal COBRA provisions generally apply to all private-sector group health plans maintained by employers that had at least 20 employees on more than 50% of its typical business days in the previous calendar year. Both full- and part-time employees are counted to determine whether a plan is subject to federal COBRA coverage. Many states have “mini-COBRA” laws that apply to employers who have fewer than 20 employees. The subsidy is mandatory for all employer-sponsored group health plans (i.e., all employers must offer the subsidy, regardless of whether the plan is fully or partially insured, or self-insured).

During the Subsidy Period, generally, the federal government will reimburse COBRA costs to employers by allowing credits against employers' Medicare (not Social Security or income) taxes (but for union plans, the plan would receive the subsidy and for insured, state “mini-COBRA” plans, the insurer would receive the subsidy). Guidance is needed to clarify how the flow of funds for the subsidy would work. The full cost of COBRA continuation coverage (including up to a 2% administrative fee) at any coverage level (e.g., single, “single-plus-one”, or family coverage) for employees and former employees and their spouses and dependents is eligible for the subsidy via the payroll tax credit. The subsidy applies to health, prescription drug, dental and vision plans, but does not apply to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), or long-term care plans (further guidance is needed to clarify the scope of the subsidy).  

Due to the fact that most individuals who elect COBRA group health care continuation coverage usually pay 100% of those premiums (and in many cases they must also pay up to a 2% administrative fee), the new subsidy via the employment tax credit keeps the free COBRA coverage at zero cost to the employer. While the employment tax credit is taxable income, it will be offset by the employer’s deductible payment of the healthcare premiums.

Impact on eligible individuals

An eligible individual with an existing or new COBRA election will be provided tax-free health care coverage (both the premium and any administrative charge) at no charge for their remaining COBRA period that overlaps with the Subsidy Period.   

The free COBRA provided during the Subsidy Period would be “affordable” coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But it is not clear how this “affordable” coverage affects an individual who has purchased coverage on the exchange before they had an offer of affordable coverage.

A recipient of the free health care coverage must notify the employer or plan administrator when they become eligible for Medicare or another group health plan—other than coverage under an excepted benefit, an FSA or a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA). Individuals who fail to promptly give this notice could be subject to a $250 fine and other penalties.

Who is eligible?

Generally, individuals are eligible for free COBRA coverage if (1) they are involuntarily terminated or have a reduction in hours that qualifies them for federal or state COBRA coverage and (2) the Subsidy Period overlaps with their COBRA coverage period.

The new COBRA premium assistance is not available to the following individuals:

  • Employees who are terminated for gross misconduct.
  • Employees who voluntarily terminated their employment or who retired.
  • Individuals who are eligible for COBRA due to other reasons, like divorce, death, or loss of dependency status.
  • Individuals who are eligible for other group health care coverage (such as from a new employer) or Medicare.
  • Individuals who are beyond their normal COBRA coverage period connected to the original qualifying event (i.e., the employee’s involuntary termination or reduction in hours that caused a loss of group health plan coverage).
  • Domestic partners who are not federal income tax dependents of the employee.

What’s the coverage?

Generally, the COBRA coverage will be the same as the coverage elected just prior to the involuntary termination or reduction in hours. However, employers can (but are not required to) allow individuals who are eligible for premium assistance to change their coverage provided it does not result in an increased premium cost. Further guidance is needed regarding the scope of who can change to a lower cost health plan as a result of the new law.

Eligible individuals who lost health care coverage after October 31, 2019 but do not have COBRA coverage on April 1, 2021 due to nonelection or lapse of payment will have a new, 60-day opportunity to elect COBRA coverage. If timely elected, the COBRA covered period will begin on the date of the individual’s qualifying event, but it appears that no payment is due for months prior to April 2021 and no claims can be filed prior to April 1, 2021. For the months remaining in the COBRA period that coincide with April 1 through September 30, 2021, the employee makes no payment but will have claims paid in accordance with the plan’s provisions. To have continued coverage after September 30, 2021, the employee must make the payments required under the plan. If the individual finds this unaffordable, they can simply drop the coverage.

What notices are needed?

The federal government is expected to issue model required notices addressing the existence of the subsidy, the availability of the 60-day election period and advance notice of when the Subsidy Period will be ending. In the meantime, employers should prepare for the following new notice requirements.

  • Group health plans must modify their COBRA election notices for individuals who become eligible for federal or state COBRA during the Subsidy Period to notify them of the premium assistance (and, if applicable, the option to enroll in a lower priced plan).
  • By May 31, 2021, individuals who previously rejected (or terminated) COBRA coverage and to whom a new election period must be offered, must be notified of their new election period and the availability of the premium assistance. This essentially creates a special COBRA enrollment period for such individuals.
  • Between August 17 and September 15, 2021, group health plans must provide a notice to individuals receiving the premium assistance stating that the subsidy will expire on September 30, 2021, and that they may be eligible for COBRA coverage without the subsidy. But if the subsidy would end earlier for any individual, the plan must provide a notice that the subsidy is expiring no earlier than 45 days and no later than 15 days before the subsidy expiration date.

It is not clear how these required notices must be delivered (sending paper mail to former employees may be needed).

How does the subsidy work?

Individuals who are eligible for COBRA premium assistance do not receive a payment from the federal government, group health plan, employer, or insurer. Rather, their COBRA costs are waived during the Subsidy Period.

Employers that sponsor a fully insured plan would continue paying the full premium to the insurer for the assistance eligible participants. Employers that sponsor a self-insured plan would pay the claims incurred by the assistance eligible participants. In both cases, the employer would receive no payment from the eligible individual during the Subsidy Period but would instead recover its COBRA costs (102% of the COBRA premium) for the assistance-eligible individuals by claiming a refundable federal tax credit against the employer’s Medicare taxes.

The COBRA subsidy is prospective only and cannot begin before April 1, 2021.

Although the law does not require employers to pay for any COBRA coverage, some employers pay for some or all of COBRA coverage (for example, as part of a severance package). Such employers can cease those contributions during the Subsidy Period and the federal government will provide the subsidy for 6 months. And although the subsidy is tax-free to employees, employers who take the COBRA premium tax credit must increase their gross income by the amount of such credit for the taxable year which includes the last day of any calendar quarter with respect to which such credit is allowed.
 
Also, under a “no double dipping” rule, employers cannot take the COBRA premium tax credit for any amount which is taken into account as qualified wages for the employee retention credit (ERC) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) and Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA), or as qualified health plan expenses for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as amended by CAA and ARP. Likewise, amounts attributable to the COBRA premium tax credit would not be eligible payroll costs under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is needed to clarify how exactly employers would claim the tax credit, but it appears that employers would claim the credit on their quarterly IRS Form 941 or in advance on IRS Form 7200 if the actual or estimated amount of the credit exceeds the employer's Medicare taxes for any calendar quarter. Further guidance is also needed regarding the mechanics of the subsidy for employers that have insured state COBRA coverage, since under Section 9501(b) of the ARP the tax credits reimbursements would go to the insurer, not the employer.

Other considerations

For past COVID-19 relief tax credits, such as the ERC and FFCRA, IRS guidance allowed employers to dip into withheld income and Social Security taxes as a source of claiming those refundable tax credits. But the IRS has not yet authorized such actions for the ARP COBRA subsidy tax credit. Social Security taxes may not be available as a source for the new COBRA tax credits, since the ARP was enacted under budget reconciliation rules which prohibit any changes to Social Security.

Employers are not allowed to voluntarily expand the group of people who are eligible for the special COBRA premium subsidy, because the federal government is paying the full COBRA premium for the designated class of assistance-eligible individuals.

We expect the IRS to issue FAQs on the new COBRA Medicare tax credits, similar to the FAQs that the IRS issued on the ERC and FFCRA payroll tax credits.

This new COBRA subsidy may be economically more valuable than using qualified health care expenses for the ERC, because ERC nets 70% on the dollar whereas the COBRA subsidy is 102% (premium plus administrative charge).

What should employers do now?

Employers should immediately identify all employees who lost group health plan coverage after October 31, 2019 due to an involuntary termination or reduction in hours, without regard to their COBRA elections, because such event would have entitled the individual to 18 months of COBRA coverage (i.e., through April 30, 2021). Guidance is needed on whether notices must be given to individuals in this group that declined COBRA due to eligibility in another employer’s plan or Medicare. Employers will need to notify individuals who have an unexpired COBRA period that premium assistance is available, and they have a right to reconsider their original COBRA election.  

Employers will also need to review and perhaps modify any existing, automatic processes that might otherwise terminate COBRA coverage when premiums are not received during the Subsidy Period.

Year-end reporting on health benefits should also be reviewed to ensure these increased COBRA participants receive the appropriate Form 1095-B or C for 2021.

Employers should develop a procedure to identify COBRA recipients who are eligible for the premium assistance and those who do not qualify (for example, employers will need to distinguish a voluntary quit from an involuntary termination of employment and whether the employee was fired for gross misconduct). For premium-assistance eligible individuals, employers must refund within 60 days any premiums paid during the Subsidy Period. Not all COBRA participants will qualify for the subsidy, so the plan administrator will still need to handle some premium payments from non-eligible individuals.

Vendor outreach

Many employers use outside service providers for their COBRA administration, so employers should reach out to their vendors as soon as possible to coordinate their response to the ARP changes to current COBRA rules, especially the special election period for certain assistance-eligible individuals.

Keep in mind that, separate from the ARP COBRA subsidy, many employees (and their family members) may currently have extended COBRA election rights due to COVID-19 deadline extensions. For example, ERISA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-1 issued on February 26, 2021, announced an individualized one-year deadline extension for COBRA elections, which begins on the date the clock for the particular deadline would have started running (i.e., the one-year extension is applied on a rolling basis to each deadline for each affected individual). But individuals electing retroactive COBRA coverage under those extended deadlines will generally have to pay the full COBRA premiums for such periods. Guidance is needed on how the deadline extension coordinates with the new COBRA subsidy.

Employers may recall that in February 2009, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the federal government subsidized 65% of COBRA premiums for certain individuals who were terminated or laid off between September 1, 2008 and March 31, 2010 due to the financial crisis linked to the bursting of the home mortgage lending bubble. The ARRA subsidy was extended through May 31, 2010, so perhaps with Democrats currently controlling both Congress and the White House, the ARP COBRA subsidy may be extended beyond September 30, 2021. Also, the ARRA may be a model for how the flow of funds will work for the ARP premium tax credits for insured state COBRA coverage.

If you have specific questions about your situation, please contact our Employee Benefits consulting team. We’re here to help. 

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"Free" COBRA for some employees: Employers may benefit, too

Read this if you are an employer with basic knowledge of benefit plans and want to learn more. 

This article is the third in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. Our first article covers the background of ERISA, while our second article covers the definitions and rules of parties-in-interest and prohibited transactions.

Form 5500 is an informational return filed annually with the US Department of Labor (DOL). The purpose of Form 5500 is to report information concerning the operation, funding, assets, and investments of pension and other employee benefit plans to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and DOL. All pension benefit plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and, generally, health and welfare plans covering 100 or more participants are subject to filing Form 5500. Any retirement plan covering less than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year may be able to file Form 5500-SF, Short Form Annual Return/Report of Small Employee Benefit Plan. Read on for important filing requirements, as noncompliance can result in substantial penalties assessed by both the DOL and IRS. 

Who has to file, and which Form 5500 is required?

Pension plans

The most common types of pension benefit plan filers include:

  • Retirement plans qualified under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 401(a)
  • Tax sheltered annuity plans under IRC § 403(b)(1) and 403(b)(7)
  • SIMPLE 401(k) Plan under IRC § 401(k)(11)
  • Direct Filing Entity (DFE)

Which Form 5500 you should file depends on the type of plan. Small plans covering less than 100 participants as of the beginning of the plan year will normally file a Form 5500-SF. Conversely, large plans, mainly those plans covering 100 or more participants as of the beginning of the plan year, will file Form 5500 as a general rule. 

Participants include all current employees eligible for the plan, former employees still covered, and deceased employees who have one or more beneficiaries eligible for or receiving benefits under the plan.

Welfare plans

Generally, all welfare benefit plans covered by ERISA are required to file a Form 5500. Common types of welfare benefit plans include but are not limited to medical, dental, life insurance, severance pay, disability, and scholarship funds.

Similar to pension plans, the required Form 5500 to be filed typically depends on whether the plan is a small plan with less than 100 participants at the beginning of the year, or a large plan with 100 or more participants at the beginning of the plan year. However, certain welfare benefit plans are not required to file an annual Form 5500, including, but not limited to:

  • Plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year and that are unfunded, fully insured, or a combination of the two
  • Governmental plans 
  • Employee benefit plans maintained only to comply with workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, or disability insurance laws

Participants for welfare benefit plans include current employees covered by the plan, former employees still covered, and deceased employees who have one or more beneficiaries receiving or entitled to receive benefits under the plan (e.g., COBRA). 

Required financial schedules for Form 5500

Small plans that do not file Form 5500-SF require the following schedules to be filed along with the Form 5500:

  • Schedule A—Insurance information
  • Schedule D—DFE/Participating plan information
  • Schedule I—Financial information for a small plan

Large plans require the following schedules in addition to small plan schedules:

  • Plan Audit (Accountant’s Opinion)
  • Schedule C—Service provider information
  • Schedule G—Financial transaction schedules
  • Schedule H—Financial information (instead of Schedule I)

Welfare plans with 100 or more participants that are unfunded, fully insured or a combination of the two are not required to attach Schedule H or an Accountant’s Opinion. Also, pension plans will attach Schedule SB or MB reporting actuarial information, if required, along with Schedule R reporting retirement plan information.

When to File

Form 5500 must be filed electronically by the last day of the seventh calendar month after the end of the plan year. However, a two and one-half months’ extension of time to file can be requested. Penalties may be assessed by both the IRS and the DOL for failure to file an annual Form 5500-series return. For 2020, the IRS penalty for late filing is $250 per day, up to a maximum of $150,000 (applies only to retirement plans), and the DOL penalty can run up to $2,233 per day, with no maximum. Therefore, it is very important to track participant counts and ensure compliance with filing deadlines.

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact our employee benefit consulting team. We’re here to help.

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Form 5500: An overview

Read this if you are an employer that provides educational assistance to employees.

Under Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), employers are allowed to provide tax-free payments of up to $5,250 per year to eligible employees for qualified educational expenses. To be considered qualified, payments must be made in accordance with an employer’s written educational assistance plan. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act amended Section 127 to include student loan repayment assistance as a qualified educational expense. The expansion of Section 127 allows employers to make payments for student loans without the employee incurring taxable income and the payment is a deductible expense for the employer, resulting in tax advantages to both parties.  

Originally, the CARES Act was a temporary measure allowing tax-free principal or interest payments made between March 27, 2020 and December 31, 2020.  Due to the difficulties in adopting a formal education assistance plan, many employers were unable to take advantage of the temporary incentive. As a result, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law on December 27th, 2020 extended the provision for five years through December 31, 2025.  

Employer requirements

For payments to qualify as tax-free under Section 127, you (the employer) must meet the following requirements: 

  • The employer must have a written educational assistance plan
  • The plan must not offer other taxable benefits or remuneration that can be chosen instead of educational assistance (cash or noncash)
  • The plan must not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees
  • An employee may not receive more than $5,250 from all employers combined
  • Assistance to shareholders or owners must not exceed 5% of total amounts paid
  • Eligible employees must be reasonably notified of the plan

Eligible employees include current and laid-off employees, retired employees, disabled employees, and certain self-employed individuals. Spouses or dependents of employees are not eligible. Payments of principal or interest can be made directly to employees as reimbursement for amounts already paid (support for student loan payments should be provided by the employee) or payments can be made directly to the lender. Other educational expenses that qualify under Section 127 include:

  • Tuition for graduate or undergraduate level programs, which do not have to be job-related
  • Books, supplies, and necessary equipment, not including meals, lodging, transportation, or supplies that employees may keep after the course is completed

The five-year extension of this student loan repayment assistance can provide tax savings to both employers (employer portion of FICA) and employees (federal and state withholding, and FICA). Additionally, offering a qualified educational assistance program may help strengthen an employers’ recruitment and retention efforts. 

If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your situation, please call us. We’re here to help.

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CARES Act expansion of Section 127 of the IRC: Tax savings for employers

Read this if you are an employer looking for more information on the Employee Retention Credit (ERC).

As we previously wrote, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 expanded, retroactively to March 12th, 2020, the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) to include those otherwise eligible employers who also received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. For those employers, wages qualifying for the ERC include wages that were not paid for with proceeds from a forgiven PPP loan. 

IRS guidance released

Recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released guidance under Notice 2021-20 (the Notice) clarifying how eligible employers who also received a PPP loan during 2020 can retroactively claim the ERC. The Notice also formalizes and expands on prior IRS responses to FAQs and addresses changes made since the enactment of the Act; it contains 71 FAQs. The IRS has stated it will address calendar quarters in 2021 in later guidance.

Under the 2020 ERC rules, an eligible employer may receive a refundable credit equal to 50% of qualified wages and healthcare expenses (up to $10,000 of wages/health care expenses per employee in 2020) paid by a business or not-for-profit organization that experienced a full or partial suspension of their operations or a significant decline in gross receipts. For employers that received a PPP loan, Q&A 49 of the Notice outlines the IRS’ position on the interaction with the ERC for 2020. 

An eligible employer can elect which wages are used to calculate the ERC and which wages are used for PPP loan forgiveness. The Notice provides for a deemed election for any qualified wages  included in the amount reported as payroll costs on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, unless the included payroll costs exceed the amount needed for full forgiveness when considering only the entries on the application. The text of Q&A 49 appears to treat the minimum amount of payroll costs required for PPP loan forgiveness (i.e., 60%) as being the deemed election as long as there are other eligible non-payroll expenses reported on the application to account for the other 40% of loan forgiveness expenses.

Payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application: Examples

The examples make it clear the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and needed for loan forgiveness are generally excluded from the ERC calculations. The qualified wages included on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application that may be included in the ERC calculations are partially impacted by the documented non-payroll expenses included in the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application. Following are a few examples from the Notice. Each example outlines the interaction between payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and the qualified wages for the ERC.

Example #1: An employer received a PPP loan of $100,000 and has both payroll and non-payroll costs that far exceed the borrowed amount. The employer only reports payroll costs of $100,000 on the PPP Loan Forgiveness application to simplify the forgiveness process. The employer cannot use any of the $100,000 of payroll costs to claim the ERC. This is notwithstanding the fact that 100% forgiveness may have been achieved by reporting only $60,000 of payroll costs and the remaining $40,000 from non-payroll costs.   

Example #2: An employer received a PPP loan of $200,000. The employer submitted a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and reported $250,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs in support of forgiveness of the entire PPP loan. The employer is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $200,000 of the qualified wages for purposes of the ERC, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs. The employer is not treated as making a deemed election with respect to $50,000 of the qualified wages ($250,000 reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, minus the $200,000 PPP loan amount forgiven), and it may treat that amount as qualified wages for purposes of the ERC.

Example #3: An employer received a PPP loan of $200,000. The employer is an eligible employer and paid $200,000 of qualified wages that would qualify for the employee retention credit during the second and third quarters of 2020. The employer also paid other eligible expenses of $70,000. The employer submitted a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and reported the $200,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs, as well as the $70,000 of other eligible expenses, in support of forgiveness of the entire PPP loan. In this case, the employer is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $130,000 of qualified wages for purposes of the ERC, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs, together with the $70,000 of other eligible expenses reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, sufficient to support the amount of the PPP loan that was forgiven. As a result, $70,000 of the qualified wages reported as payroll costs may be treated as qualified wages for purposes of the ERC.

Key takeaway:

For purposes of PPP loan forgiveness, an employer must generally submit payroll expenses equal to at least 60% of the loan amount to maximize loan forgiveness and to maximize the available wages for the ERC. If an employer does not report non-payroll costs (or limits the amount it reports) on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application then doing so will have a direct impact on the wages available for the ERC. 

An employer must also consider the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and the payroll costs necessary to maximize the ERC. For example, if an employer does not qualify for the ERC until the third quarter of 2020, it should consider limiting the amount of wages reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application that are attributable to the third quarter in order to maximize the wages available for the ERC.

How to claim the Employee Retention Credit

An eligible employer that received a PPP loan and did not claim the ERC may file a Form 941-X, Adjusted Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return for the relevant calendar quarters in which the employer paid qualified wages, but only for qualified wages for which no deemed election was made. 

Form 941-X may also be used by eligible employers who did not receive a PPP loan for 2020, but subsequently decide to claim any ERC to which they are entitled for 2020. 

The deadline for filing Form 941-X is generally within three years of the date Form 941 was filed or two years from the date you paid the tax reported on Form 941, whichever is later.

For more information

If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your situation, please call us. We’re here to help.

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IRS guidance: Retroactively claiming the 2020 ERC

Read this if your organization has to comply with HIPAA.

We have been monitoring HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) settlements as part of the HIPAA Right of Access Initiative (16 settlements and counting) and want to dispel some myths about HIPAA enforcement. Myths can be scary. It would be pretty frightening to run into Bigfoot while taking a stroll through the woods, but sometimes myths have the opposite effect, and we become complacent, thinking Bigfoot will never sneak up behind us. He’s just a myth, right?

As we offer our top five HIPAA myths, we invite you to decide whether to address gaps in compliance now, or wait until you are in the middle of the woods, facing Bigfoot, and wondering what to do next.

Myth #1: OCR doesn’t target organizations like mine.

The prevailing wisdom has been that the Office for Civil Rights only pursues settlements with large organizations. As we review the types of organizations that have been targeted in the recent past, we find that they include social services/behavioral health organizations, more than one primary care practice, a psychiatric medical group practice, and a few hospital/health systems. With settlements ranging from $10,000 to $200,000 plus up to two years of monitoring by the OCR, can you really afford to take a chance?

Myth #2: I have privacy policies, procedures, and training protocols documented, so I’m all set if OCR comes calling.

Are you really all set? When did you last review your policies and procedures? Are you sure what your staff actually does is HIPAA compliant? If you don’t regularly review your policies and procedures and train your staff, can you really say you’re all set?

Myth #3: HIPAA gives me 30 days to respond to a patient request, so it’s ok to wait to respond.

Did you try to ship a package during the 2020 holiday season? If so, do you remember checking your tracking number daily to see if your gift was any closer to its destination? Now imagine it was your health records you were waiting for. Frustration builds, goodwill wanes, and you start looking for a higher authority to get involved. 

And beware: if proposed Privacy Rule changes to HIPAA are finalized, the period of time covered entities will have to fulfill patient requests will be reduced from 30 to 15 days.

Myth #4: If I ignore the problem, it will go away.

Right of Access settlement #10 dispels this myth: A medical group was approached by OCR to resolve a complaint in March 2019. Then again in April 2019. This issue was not resolved until October 2020. Now, in addition to a monetary settlement, the group’s Corrective Action Plan (CAP) will be monitored by the OCR for two years. That’s a lot of time, energy, and money that could have been better spent if they worked to resolve the complaint quickly.

Myth #5: OCR will give me a “get out of jail free” card during the pandemic.

As one of our co-workers said, “Just because they are looking aside does not mean they are looking away.” The most recent settlement we have seen to OCR’s Right of Access Initiative was announced February 10, 2021, showing that the initiative is still a priority despite the pandemic.

Are you ready to assess or improve your compliance with HIPAA Right of Access rules now? Contact me and I will help you keep OCR settlements at bay. 

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Debunking the myths of HIPAA: Five steps to better compliance