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IRS unrelated business taxable income update: The good news and the missing news

04.29.20

Read this if you are a tax-exempt organization.

The IRS recently issued proposed regulations (REG-106864-18) related to Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(6), which requires tax-exempt entities to calculate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI) separately for each unrelated trade or business carried on by the organization.

For years beginning after December 31, 2017, exempt organizations with more than one unrelated trade or business are no longer permitted to aggregate income and deductions from all unrelated trades or businesses when calculating UBTI. In August 2018, the IRS issued Notice 2018-67, which discussed and solicited comments regarding various issues arising under Code Section 512(a)(6) and set forth interim guidance and transition rules relating to that section. 

The good news
The new proposed regulations expand upon Notice 2018-67 and provide for the following:

  • An exempt organization would identify each of its separate unrelated trades or businesses using the first two digits of the NAICS code that most accurately describes the trade or business. Activities in different geographic areas may be aggregated.
  • The total UBTI of an organization with more than one unrelated trade or business would be the sum of the UBTI computed with respect to each separate unrelated trade or business (subject to the limitation that UBTI with respect to any separate unrelated trade or business cannot be less than zero). 
  • An exempt organization with more than one unrelated trade or business would determine the NOL deduction allowed separately with respect to each of its unrelated trades or businesses.
  • An organization with losses arising in a tax year beginning before January 1, 2018 (pre-2018 NOLs), and with losses arising in a tax year beginning after December 31, 2017 (post-2017 NOLs), would deduct its pre-2018 NOLs from total UBTI before deducting any post-2017 NOLs with regard to a separate unrelated trade or business against the UBTI from such trade or business. 
  • An organization's investment activities would be treated collectively as a separate unrelated trade or business. In general, an organization's investment activities would be limited to its:
     
    1. Qualifying partnership interests
    2. Qualifying S corporation interests
    3. Debt-financed property or properties 

Organizations described in Code Sec. 501(c)(3) are classified as publicly supported charities if they meet certain support tests. The proposed regulations would permit an organization with more than one unrelated trade or business to aggregate its net income and net losses from all of its unrelated business activities for purposes of determining whether the organization is publicly supported. 

The missing news: Unaddressed items from the new guidance
With the changes provided by these proposed regulations we anticipate less complexity and lower compliance costs in applying Code Section 512(a)(6). While this new guidance is considered taxpayer friendly, the IRS still has more work to do. Items not yet addressed include:

  • Allocation of expenses among unrelated trade or businesses and between exempt and non-exempt activities.
  • The ordering rules for applying charitable deductions and NOLs.
  • Net operating losses as changed under the CARES Act.

The IRS is requesting comments on numerous key situations. Until the regulations are finalized, organizations can rely on either these proposed regulations, Notice 2018-67, or a reasonable good-faith interpretation of Code Sections 511-514 considering all the facts and circumstances.
We will keep you informed with the latest developments.

If you have any questions, please contact the not-for-profit consulting team

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Did you know that there was more than a 40% increase (from $4.3 billion to $6.0 billion) in civil penalties assessed by the IRS regarding employment tax, for the 2016 fiscal year?

A recent report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration calls for more cases to involve criminal investigation by the Department of Justice. This is significant because the requirements needed to prove a civil violation under Sec. 6672 are nearly identical to the requirements of a criminal violation under Sec. 7202, and a criminal violation can result, among other penalties, in imprisonment for up to five years.

The issue of employment taxes encompasses all businesses, even tax-exempt entities. For fiscal year 2016, employment tax issues were involved in over 26% of audits of exempt organizations. One main reason why employment tax is a major issue? Its role in funding our government: employment taxes make up $2.3 trillion dollars (70%) of the $3.3 trillion dollars collected by the IRS for fiscal year 2016.

And noncompliance is a major issue, with roughly $45.6 billion of unemployment taxes, interest and penalties still owed to the IRS as of December 2015. This trend of increasing noncompliance, combined with the vital role employment taxes has in funding our government helps explain why the IRS has increased focus and enforcement in this area.

Should your independent contractor truly be an employee? Did you properly report fringe benefits as taxable income to the individuals who received them? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you stay in compliance with the law. If you have any questions about your employment tax situation, or how we can help you ensure compliance on this and other tax issues, please contact your BerryDunn tax advisor.
 

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The IRS cares about employment tax—why you should too.

Many of my hospital clients have an increased incidence of providing temporary housing for locums, temps and some employees and, as a result, have questions regarding the proper tax reporting to these individuals.   

First things first: the employment status of the individual needs to be determined before anything else.

If the person is an independent contractor (for example, a locum paid through an agency), a Form 1099-Misc usually needs to be filed for payments made to the individual (or agency) of $600 or more. A 1099-Misc is not required in the following circumstances:

  • The payment is made to a corporation or a tax-exempt organization.
  • Payments for travel reimbursement are excluded as long as they are paid under an accountable plan (which itself can be another topic for a blog). For example, an independent contractor submits a timely expense report to you with their lodging receipts for reimbursement. The amounts for the expense reimbursement do not have to be included on the 1099-Misc. If you pay the travel expenses directly or provide the housing, you also do not have to include these payments on the 1099-Misc.

If the individual is an employee, you should follow the guidance in IRS Publication 15-B, which can be found on www.irs.gov.

The basic rule of thumb is that every fringe benefit provided to an employee is a taxable benefit unless there is an exclusion listed in Publication 15-B.

The lodging exclusion begins on page 15 (of the 2016 publication), and there is an example regarding a hospital listed near the bottom of that page in the left column. For lodging to meet the exclusion, it must pass three tests:

  1. The lodging must be furnished on your business premises. I’ve seen some guidance that allowed the exclusion when the lodging was in close proximity to the business premise (within a mile, etc.).
     
  2. The lodging is furnished for the employer’s convenience. The employer furnishing the lodging to the employee must have a substantial business reason for doing so other than to provide the employee with additional pay. For example, the employee is on call for emergencies 4 or 5 days a week, so must live in close proximity to the hospital.
     
  3. The employee must accept the lodging as a condition of employment. The employer must require the employee to accept the lodging because they need to live on your business premises to be able to properly perform their duties. We recommend including this condition of employment directly in the employee’s written employment contract.

If lodging does not meet all three of these tests, then it must be treated as a taxable fringe benefit with the appropriate payroll taxes withheld from the employee’s pay.

If you are also providing meals, the discussion on employer-provided meals also begins on page 15 of Publication 15-B, with the discussion for meals provided on your business premises starting on page 16.

A discussion related to transportation benefits begins on page 18. We have also had some questions from clients regarding transportation. For example, one client had an employee who dropped down to part-time status and moved from Maine to Florida. The employee agreed to continue working at the hospital one week a month, and the hospital agreed to pay for the flight back and forth. The individual continued to be treated as an employee. The flight is the employee’s commuting expense, and there is no exclusion for reimbursement of commuting expenses. Therefore, the flights had to be included in the employee’s compensation and reported on his W-2.

Many of these taxable benefits are being paid through an accounts payable system rather than payroll, and so can be easily missed. Withholding for these benefits at each pay period is much easier to accomplish rather than all at once at year end. It’s important for your HR department to communicate with the payroll office whenever unusual employment terms and benefits are being offered to employees to ensure proper tax treatment.

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When it comes to temporary housing for hospital employees, IRS publication 15-B can be your friend

Read this if your senior living facility is receiving Medicare payments.

A year ago the senior living industry was challenged with the transition to the Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM). In the months leading up the implementation of PDPM providers prepared for new regulations, conducted employee training, and forecasted financial performance. By all accounts the implementation of PDPM went off with very few glitches. 

That all changed in the beginning of 2020 when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic upended the industry and Medicare occupancy levels diminished. COVID-19 overturned the way providers were providing care at their facilities. Providers have seen a decrease in utilization of therapy services and an increase in medical management cases. Providers anticipated delivering more concurrent physical therapy, which has become impossible with COVID-19. We understand how demanding COVID-19 related change management has been for skilled nursing facilities, and want to help you re-focus your attention on the critical tasks and procedures driving your Medicare reimbursement.

New federal fiscal year, new rates

The Medicare Final Rule for fiscal year 2021 did not contain any major policy changes to PDPM but did contain routine updates to coding and Medicare billing rates effective October 1, 2020. After changing Medicare billing rates, you should test your system by carefully reviewing a remittance advice and the accounts receivable report for October service dates. Look for any balances, big or small, to help ensure billing rates and contractuals are correct for all payers following Medicare rules. Note:

  • Small balances may indicate errors in system configuration, such as PDPM rates, sequestration, or value-based purchasing adjustment.
  • Larger balances may indicate a claim missed in triple-check meeting and billed at an incorrect PDPM rate. View the FFY2021 Medicare Rate Calculator.
  • Providers should review ICD-10 mappings on an annual basis for new and discontinued ICD-10 codes. 

Medicare Advantage plan enrollment is growing. What does it mean for your facility?

With the continuing growth of Medicare Managed Care/Advantage plans, it is important to review your facility’s contracts. 

  • Most Medicare Advantage programs have adopted PDPM, but have differing requirements for pre-authorizations and payment rates, so be sure you understand how each of these contracts reimburses your facility
  • If there new Medicare Advantage plans in your area, evaluate the need to negotiate a contract to admit patients covered by the new plan. 
  • Update the list of plans your facility contracts with:
     
    • Carefully review contract rates and request rate changes if the payor does not follow the Medicare fee schedule. 
    • To avoid denied claims, update contact information and understand preauthorization requirements and any patient status updates. Distribute the updated list to your admissions and case management teams.

Check on your MDS coordinator

  • With the COVID-related shift in responsibilities, we see an increase in MDS position turnover. We recommend reviewing or developing a backup for your MDS coordinator, as completion of MDS is critical for billing and regulatory compliance. 
  • If your facility has limited resources for backup, evaluate sub-contracting options or reach out to your state’s Health Care Association for available resources. 

Update your consolidated billing resources

Consolidated billing errors could result in significant reductions of your bottom line. CMS updates guidance on consolidated billing regularly. We recommend checking the CMS listing and ensuring your admissions, clinical, and medical records team uses up-to-date information for admission decisions and coordination of care with external health care providers. Get more information.

COVID-19 impact

  • CMS provided a number of flexibilities to help facilities with COVID-related care. Please note, a number of these provisions are temporary, and are only effective during the state of emergency. We recommend at least a monthly review of regulatory guidance to help ensure compliance. Get more information.
  • While COVID-19 diagnosis and codes were not specifically incorporated into PDPM in the 2021 final rule, be sure to appropriately code isolation stays in the nursing component, document additional costs of testing, PPE, and labor and documentation of skilled need to protect against audit risk.

Have questions? Our Senior Living revenue cycle team is here to help. 

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Patient Driven Payment Model―A year later

Read this if you are a director or manager at a Health and Human Services agency in charge of modernizing your state's Health and Human Services systems. 

When states start to look at outdated Health and Human Services systems like Eligibility Systems or Medicaid Enterprise Systems, they spend a lot of time on strategic planning efforts and addressing technology deficiencies that set the direction for their agencies. While they pay a lot of attention to the technology aspects of the work, they often overlook others. Here are three to pay attention to: 

  1. Business process improvement
  2. Organization development
  3. Organizational change management

Including these important steps in strategic planning often improves the likelihood of an implementation of Health and Human Service systems that provide the fully intended value or benefit to the citizen they help serve. When planning major system improvements, agencies need to have the courage to ask other critical questions that, when answered, will help guarantee greater success upon implementation of modernized system.

Don’t forget, it’s not only about new technology—it’s about gaining efficiencies in your business processes, structuring your organization in a manner that supports business process improvements, and helping the people in your organization and external stakeholders accept change.  

Business process improvement 

When thinking about improving business processes, a major consideration is to identify what processes can be improved to save time and money, and deliver services to those in need faster. When organizations experience inefficiencies in their business processes, more often than not the underlying processes and systems are at fault, not the people. Determining which processes require improvement can be challenging. However, analyzing your business processes is a key factor in strategic planning, understanding the challenges in existing processes and their underlying causes, and developing solutions to eliminate or mitigate those causes are essential to business process improvement.

Once you pinpoint areas of process improvement, you can move forward with reviewing your organization, classifying needs for potential organization development, and begin developing requirements for the change your organization needs.

Organization development

An ideal organizational structure fully aligns with the mission, vision, values, goals, and strategy of an organization. One question to ask when considering the need for organization development is, “What does your organization need to look like to support your state’s to-be vision?” Answering this question can provide a roadmap that helps you achieve:

  1. Improved outcomes for vulnerable populations, such as those receiving Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, or other Health and Human Services benefits 
  2. Positive impacts on social determinants of health in the state
  3. Significant cost savings through a more leveraged workforce and consolidated offices with related fixed expenses—and turning focus to organizational change management

Organization development does not stop at reviewing an organization’s structure. It should include reviewing job design, cultural changes, training systems, team design, and human resource systems. Organizational change is inherent in organization development, which involves integration of a change management strategy. When working through organization development, consideration of the need for organizational change should be included in both resource development and as part of the cultural shift.

Organizational change management

Diverging from the norm can be an intimidating prospect for many people. Within your organization, you likely have diverse team members who have different perspectives about change. Some team members will be willing to accept change easily, some will see the positive outcomes from change, but have reservations about learning a new way of approaching their jobs, and there will be others who are completely resistant to change. 

Successful organizational change management happens by allowing team members to understand why the organization needs to change. Leaders can help staff gain this understanding by explaining the urgency for change that might include:

  • Aging technology: Outdated systems sometimes have difficulty transmitting data or completing simple automated tasks.
  • Outdated processes: “Because we’ve always done it this way” is a red flag, and a good reason to examine processes and possibly help alleviate stressors created by day-to-day tasks. It might also allow your organization to take care of some vital projects that had been neglected because before there wasn’t time to address them as a result of outdated processes taking longer than necessary.
  • Barriers to efficiency: Duplicative processes caused by lack of communication between departments within the organization, refusal to change, or lack of training can all lead to less efficiency.

To help remove stakeholder resistance to change and increase excitement (and adoption) around new initiatives, you must make constant communication and training an integral component of your strategic plan. 

Investing in business process improvement, organization development, and organizational change management will help your state obtain the intended value and benefits from technology investments and most importantly, better serve citizens in need. 

Does your organization have interest in learning more about how to help obtain the fully intended value and benefits from your technology investments? Contact our Health and Human Services consulting team to talk about how you can incorporate business process improvement, organization development, and organizational change management activities into your strategic planning efforts.

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People and processes: Planning health and human services IT systems modernization to improve outcomes

If you received PPP funds, read on.

The Treasury has released new information regarding Paycheck Program Protection forgiveness. 

Based on IRS guidance, if you intend to apply for forgiveness and have a reasonable expectation it will be granted, the expenses used to support forgiveness will not be permitted as a deduction in 2020. It is unclear whether this guidance would apply if a taxpayer is undecided with regard to their forgiveness application at year end. Here is what we know so far.

The CARES Act included provisions that stated PPP loan forgiveness would not be considered taxable income under the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”). The CARES Act specifically provides the forgiveness is not taxable income under IRC Section 61.

However, the IRS has issued the following guidance on this matter, which relates to the expenses paid with the PPP loan funds.

Notice 2020-32, states IRC Section 265(a)(1) applies to disallow expenses that were included on and supported a taxpayer’s successful PPP loan forgiveness application. 

In general, this section states NO deductions are permitted for expenses that are directly attributable to tax exempt income. 

The IRS seems to have concluded, in this Notice, the PPP loan forgiveness is tax exempt income. Therefore, the salary and occupancy costs used to support forgiveness, under current IRS guidance, will not be tax deductible.

Unanswered questions

This notice, while somewhat informative, raises many unanswered questions. For example, what are the tax consequences if a PPP loan is forgiven in 2021 and the expenses supporting the forgiveness were incurred in 2020? Could the forgiveness be construed as something other than tax exempt income?

Revenue Ruling 2020-27 attempts to answer some of these questions and provides additional guidance with regard to IRS expectations. The Ruling seems to indicate there are two possible tax positions relative to expenses that qualify PPP loans for forgiveness:

  • First, the loan forgiveness could be construed as tax exempt income and, pursuant to IRC Section 265 expenses directly attributable to the exempt income are not deductible.
  • Second, loan forgiveness could be construed as the reimbursement of certain expenses, and not as tax exempt income. Under the reimbursement approach the IRS has stated if you intend to apply for forgiveness and reasonably expect to receive forgiveness the reimbursed expenses are not deductible, even if forgiveness is obtained in the following tax year. This position seems to be supported by several tax controversies which were litigated in favor of the IRS. 

Some taxpayers had anticipated using a rule known as the tax benefit rule to deduct expense in 2020 and report a recovery (income) in 2021 when the loan is forgiven. It appears the IRS is not willing to accept this filing position.

We are hoping Congress will revisit this issue and consider statutory changes which allow for the deduction of expenses. Some taxpayers are planning to extend their income tax returns, taking a wait and see approach, with the hopes Congress will amend the statutes and allow for a deduction.

Under current law, it appears the salary, interest, rent used to support a forgiveness application will not be permitted as a tax deduction on your 2020 tax returns. This could result in a significant change in your 2020 taxable income.

Final considerations

For estimated tax payment purposes, we believe it would be reasonable to attribute the lost deductions to the quarter in which you made your final determination to file for forgiveness. This could mitigate any underpayment of estimated income tax penalties. 

If you are making safe harbor quarter estimates and/or have sufficient withholdings any incremental tax would be due with your return on April 15, 2021. Generally, the IRS safe harbor is to pay 110% of prior year tax during the current year to be penalty proof.

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

COVID-19 business support

We will continue to post updates as we uncover them. Let us know if you have questions. For more information regarding the Paycheck Protection Program, the CARES Act, or other COVID-19 resources, see our COVID-19 Resource Center.

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Update: Treasury issues a revenue ruling and revenue procedure regarding PPP forgiveness

CYSHCN programs have new care coordination standards―how does your agency measure up?

On October 15, 2020, the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) released new care coordination standards for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN) programs. The National Care Coordination Standards supplement the National Standards for Systems of Care, helping to ensure that children and youth with special health care needs receive the high-quality care coordination needed to address their specific health conditions.

The standards also set requirements for screening, identification, and assessment, a comprehensive shared plan of care, coordinated team-based communication, development of child and family empowerment skills, a well-trained care coordination workforce, and smooth care transitions. 

What do the standards mean for CYSHCN programs

The National Care Coordination Standards are more than guidelines for CYSHCN programs; aligning with the standards can lead to operational efficiencies, greater program capacity, and improved health outcomes. The standards can serve as a lens for continuous improvement, highlighting where programs can make changes that reduce the burden on care coordinators and program administrators.

However, striving to meet the standards can be challenging for many programs—as the standards develop and evolve over time, many programs struggle to keep up with the work required to update processes and retrain staff. Assessing a CYSHCN program’s processes and procedures takes time and resources that many state agencies do not have available. Despite the challenge, when state agencies are the most strapped is often when making change is the most needed. A shrinking public health workforce and growing population of CYSHCN means smooth processes are essential. To take steps towards National Care Coordination Standards alignment, BerryDunn recommends the following approach: 

A proven methodology for national standards alignment

There are many ways you can align with the standards. Here are three areas to focus on that can help you guide your agency to successful alignment. 

  1. Know your program
    It can be easy for processes to deteriorate over time. Process mapping is an effective way to shed light on current work flows and begin to determine holes in the processes. Conducting fact-finding sessions to map out exactly how your program functions can help pinpoint areas of strength―and areas where there is room for improvement.
  2. Compare to the national standards
    Identify the gaps with a cross-walk of your program’s current procedures with the National Care Coordination Standards. We assess your alignment through a gap analysis of the process, highlighting how your program lines up with the new standards.
  3. Adopt the changes and reap the benefits
    Process redesign can help implement the standards, and even small adjustments to processes can lead to better outcomes. Additionally, you can deploy proven change management methodologies programs that ease staff into new processes to produce real results.

Meeting national standards doesn’t have to be complicated. Our team partners with state public health agencies, helping to meet best practices without adding additional burden to program staff. We can help you take the moving pieces and complex tasks and funnel them into a streamlined process that gives your state’s children and youth the best care coordination. 

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Using process redesign to align with new CYSHCN standards

The American Public Health Association annual conference’s thematic focus on preventing violence provided an illustration of the extent of the overwhelming demands on state public health agencies right now. Not only do you need to face the daily challenges of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, you also need to address ongoing, complex issues like violence prevention.

The sheer breadth of sessions available at APHA shows the broad scope of public health’s reach and the need for multi-level, multi-sector interventions, all with a shrinking public health workforce. The conference’s sessions painted clear pictures of the critical public health issues our country currently faces, but did not showcase many solutions, perhaps leaving state health agency leaders wondering how to tackle these taxing demands coming from every direction with no end in sight.

BerryDunn has a suggestion: practice organizational self-care! It might seem antithetical to focus maxed-out resources on strengthening systems and infrastructure right now, but state public health agencies have little choice. You have to be healthy yourself in order to effectively protect the public’s health. Organizational health is driven by high-functioning systems, from disease surveillance and case investigation to performance management, and quality improvement to data-informed decision-making.  

State health agencies can use COVID-19 funding to support organizational self-care, prioritizing three areas: workforce, technology, and processes. Leveraging this funding to build organizational capacity can increase human resources, replace legacy data systems, and purchase equipment and supplies. 

  1. Funding new positions with COVID sources can create upward paths for existing staff as well as expanding the workforce
  2. Assessing the current functioning of public health data systems identifies and clarifies gaps that can be addressed by adopting new technology platforms, which can also be done with COVID funding.
  3. Examining the processes used for major functions like surveillance or case investigation can eliminate unproductive steps and introduce efficiencies. 

So what now? Where to start? BerryDunn brings expertise in process analysis and redesign, an accreditation readiness tool, and an approach to data systems planning and procurement―all of which are paths forward toward organizational self-care. 

  1. Process analysis and redesign can be applied to data systems or other areas of focus to prioritize incremental changes. Conduct process redesign on a broad or narrow scale to improve efficiency and effectiveness of your projects. 

  2. Accreditation readiness provides a lens to examine state health agency operations against best practices to focus development in areas with the most significant gaps. Evaluate gaps in your agency’s readiness for Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) review and track every piece of documentation needed to meet PHAB standards.
  3. Data system planning and procurement assistance incorporates process analysis to assess your current system functioning, define your desired future state, and address the gaps, and then find, source, and implement faster, more effective systems. 

Pursuing any of these three paths allows state health agency leaders to engage in organizational self-care in a realistic, productive manner so that the agency can meet the seemingly unceasing demands for public health action now and into the future.

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Three paths to organizational self-care for state public health agency survival

Read this if you are a business owner.

Here is some end-of-year tax information we would like to share. While it may vary in your specific situation, we are providing this general information for your review. Please contact us with any questions about your year-end preparations. 

As the world continues to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, businesses are doing all they can to mitigate risks and plan for a recovery that’s anything but certain. Here are some tax relief tactics that can help take your business from reacting to the day-to-day challenges to taking advantage of those incentives that are available to help move your business forward.

Tax strategies to generate immediate cash flow

While not exhaustive, here are several tax strategies to consider:

Debt and losses optimization

  • File net operating loss (NOL) carryback refund claims
  • File claim to relieve 2019 tax payments due with the 2019 returns for corporations expecting a 2020 loss 
  • Analyze the tax impact of income resulting from the cancellation of debt in the course of a debt restructuring
  • Consider claiming losses related to worthless, damaged, or abandoned property to generate losses 
  • Decrease estimated tax payments based on lower 2020 income projections, if overpayments are anticipated
  • Consider filing accounting method changes to accelerate deductions and defer income recognition with the goal of increasing a loss in 2020 for expanded loss carryback rules

Making the most of legislation and understand how the CARES Act can provide relief to employers: Defer payment of the employer’s share of Social Security taxes until the earlier of (1) Dec. 31, 2020, or (2) the date the employer’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan is forgiven

Take advantage of any remaining corporate AMT credit

Consider the Employee Retention Credit

Regardless of which tax strategies you leverage, keeping the focus on generating and retaining cash will help ensure your business can weather an extended period of disruption.

Optimizing operations: Uncover tax relief opportunities

The initial tumult of the pandemic and economic fallout has passed, but significant challenges remain. Although companies that have managed to survive up to this point may have overcome immediate safety and cash flow problems, we still face an uncertain future. No one can predict how long the downturn will last, whether the world will revert into crisis mode or the path towards long-term recovery has begun. 

Despite the uncertainty, savvy companies can position themselves to outperform their competitors by capitalizing on market shifts and strengthening their core business models. To do so, liquidity will continue to be at a premium, but many companies at this stage should be able to spend a bit in order to reap considerable returns. Tax planning is important to do just that. Consider which tax strategies can help you find a competitive edge, including: 

Uncovering missed opportunities for savings: 

  • R&D tax credit studies: The money companies spend on technology and innovation can offset payroll and income taxes via R&D tax credits.
  • Property tax assessment appeals: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some jurisdictions are reevaluating their property tax processes.
  • Cost segregation studies: Cost segregation studies can help owners of commercial or residential buildings increase cash flow by accelerating federal tax depreciation of certain assets.
  • State and local credits and incentives projects: By taking advantage of existing programs, as well as those implemented as a result of COVID-19, companies can qualify for state tax credits and business incentives. 
  • Opportunity zone program: This federal program is structured to encourage investors to shift capital from existing assets to distressed, low-income areas, and in doing so, deferring and even reducing taxes.

Maintaining compliance: If your business secured any federal funding in the early stages of the pandemic, those funds likely came with certain tax and financial reporting compliance measures attached. 

Continue to grow liquidity: Cash is still key to navigating an uncertain road ahead. Continue to leverage liquidity-generating tactics, such as:

  • Evaluating existing accounting methods and changing to optimal methods for accelerating deductions and deferring income recognition, thereby reducing taxable income and increasing cash flow.
  • Reviewing transfer pricing strategies to identify opportunities to optimize cash flow.
  • Pursuing a tax deduction through charitable donations.
  • Maximizing state NOLs through elections, structural changes, intercompany transactions, and triggering unrealized gains.

Moving forward: Adopt new business strategies to reimagine the future

In the recovery phase, demand for goods and services has returned to pre-pandemic-recession levels. The wisest companies won’t spend this time resting on their laurels but will instead use it to reimagine their futures. 

Plans made prior to spring 2020 may no longer make sense in a post-COVID world. Companies need to not only recover from COVID-19, but also integrate the lasting forces of change brought on by the pandemic to emerge more resilient and more agile than before it began. It’s time to reset vision and strategy—and tax needs to be an integral part of that process. Here are some tax considerations that can align with new business strategies: 

Workforce

During recovery, businesses have likely confirmed near-term strategies around where employees will work. While these plans need to balance employee safety and operational efficiency, they also come with important tax impacts. Tax considerations: 

  • Assess the tax implications of your mid- to long-term workforce strategy, whether you take an on-site, fully remote, or a hybrid approach
  • Ensure tax compliance with state or local tax withholding for employees working remotely 
  • Consider the tax implications of outsourcing any business functions

Finances

As demand for products and services increases, it’s likely profits will also grow, meaning many companies that may have been incurring losses may find themselves with taxable income again. At this point, tax strategies should focus on lowering the organization’s total tax liability. Tax considerations: 

  • Optimize the use of any available credits, incentives, deductions, exemptions, or other tax breaks 
  • Maximize the benefit of changes to the net operating loss rules included in the CARES Act 
  • Consider the foreign-derived intangible income (FDII) deduction, if applicable (i.e., companies that earn income from export activities)

Transactions

Many businesses may be considering strategic transactions, such as acquiring another company, merging with a peer, selling certain assets, or purchasing new resources. Each of these actions can have multiple tax consequences. Tax considerations: 

  • Assess potential tax benefits or liabilities of strategic transactions before they take place as a part of the due diligence process
  • Identify loss companies and plan around utilizing losses and credits
  • Structure acquisitions and divestitures in a tax-efficient manner to increase after-tax cash flow

Innovation

As companies reconfigure their businesses to adapt to COVID-19 changes—from greater shifts to e-commerce to outsourced back office functions to partially remote work arrangements—they should determine how to use tax strategies to offset the costs of these investments. Tax considerations:  

  • Consider using federal, state, or even other countries’ R&D tax credits to offset costs of new products, processes, software, and other innovations
  • Explore whether previously undertaken activities may also qualify for these credits 

Regulations and legislation

As the economy improves, regulatory oversight likely will also increase. Noncompliance can be costly and can reverse much of the progress a business has made in its recovery. At the same time, additional tax law changes are likely on the horizon, and companies will need to be able to act quickly when they appear. Tax considerations

  • Ensure compliance with rules around federal funding received during the pandemic
  • Monitor tax regulatory and legislative developments at all levels, especially in the area of digital taxation, post-election tax reform, and federal, state, and local policy changes 
  • Scenario plan to outline the potential impact of future tax legislation on the company’s overall tax liabilities

Transformation

Staying ahead in the “new normal” means accelerating efforts around digital transformation to build a business with agility and resilience at its core. This should always include evolving the tax function. Businesses must strive to fully integrate processes, people, technology, and data to understand total tax liability and forecast how decisions and changes will impact their tax standing. Tax considerations

  • Collaborate with leadership and other areas of the business on a company-wide approach to digital transformation efforts
  • Establish a clear, shared vision of the future state of the tax department
  • Develop the business case for transformation efforts

Whatever pivots your business takes once the worst has passed, tax strategy needs to be an integral part of the plan to move forward. Evolving your tax strategy alongside business strategy will help prevent unforeseen costs and maximize potential savings.
 

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Tax relief strategies for resilience