Skip to Main Content

insightsarticles

Tax relief strategies for resilience

By: David Erb
11.11.20

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.
 

Related Professionals

Principals

BerryDunn experts and consultants

If you received over $2 million in PPP funds, read on.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has posted a new form to collect additional information on loan necessity from businesses that received over $2 million in PPP funds. The comment period is now open and closes on November 25, 2020. As we seek more clarity, here is what we know.

What is happening: 

The SBA released PPP Loan Necessity Questionnaires (Forms 3509 and 3510) for borrowers that received PPP loans of $2 million or more on October 30, 2020. The forms are not available at the SBA or Treasury websites, but were released through the PPP Loan Forgiveness portal to lenders.  

Here is an excellent description of what we know thus far. Here are our concerns: 

  • The timing and lack of clarity. The 10-day turnaround is very tight. It could be very difficult to manage if it hits during a month or quarter close, or even worse at year-end.

  • This is counter to what was described in the FAQs at the time, so it leaves us with many unanswered questions.
  • It appears that information on the form might be subject to FOIA. There is a toggle to indicate what information you consider to be confidential. We recommend that you carefully review what information you have not flagged as confidential before submitting the form.

Other considerations and actions you can take in the meantime:

  • We know that the questionnaire is triggered by submitting an application for forgiveness. Given some of the uncertainty of other program impacts and this additional information that is requested, it may be reasonable to wait to seek loan forgiveness until we determine the impact.
  • You may wish to comment on the federal notice. See instructions for submitting comments below.

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.

Instructions for submitting comments:
Agency Clearance Officer                  
Curtis Rich
Small Business Administration
409 3rd Street SW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20416

and 

SBA Desk Officer
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
Office of Management and Budget
New Executive Office Building
Washington, DC  20503

Your comments should be titled as follows:
Title: Paycheck Protection Program
OMB Control Number: 3245-0407

Comments should include one or all of the following: 
(a) whether the collection of information is necessary, 
(b) whether the estimate of 1.6 hours to complete or review the proposed application form is accurate (42,000 applications, 67,833 annual hour burden), 
(c) whether there are ways to minimize this burden, and
(d) whether there are ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information.

Article
Paycheck Protection Program: New regulatory announcements

Focus: Disaster Loan Program and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

Background

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will provide $562 million to cover administrative expenses and program subsidy for the US Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans and small business programs. 

Additionally, the CARES Act specifically provides the authorization for $349 billion for the SBA 7(a) program through December 31, 2020. 

SBA disaster loan program (updated for CARES Act) highlights


General
The US Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the coronavirus and COVID-19.

Eligibility 
Industry may be subject to different standards, but the general rule of thumb is that the SBA defines most small businesses as having less than 500 people, both calculated on a standalone basis and together with its affiliates (see PPP below for more information). A company’s average annual sales may also be used for the small business designation. 

Historically, businesses that are not eligible for this program included casinos, charitable organizations, religious organizations, agricultural enterprises and real estate developers that are primarily involved in subdividing real property into lots and developing it for resale for themselves (other real estate entities may apply, such as landlords). 

However, the CARES Act expanded eligibility to include (i) any individual operating as a sole proprietor or independent contractor; (ii) private non-profits and (iii) Tribal businesses, cooperatives and ESOPs with fewer than 500 employees during January 31, 2020 to December 31, 2020.

If the entity has bad credit or has defaulted on a prior SBA loan, the entity is not eligible. The CARES Act removed the credit elsewhere requirement (i.e., previously if the business had credit available through another source, such as a line of credit, it was ineligible). 

Basic terms

  • Loan amount
    The lesser of $2 million or an amount determined that that borrower can repay (i.e., underwriting requirement).
  • Maximum term
    Up to 30 years and all payments on these loans will be deferred for 12 months from disbursement date. Interest will accrue.
  • Interest rate
    3.75% for for-profit business and 2.75% for a non-profit entity.
  • Collateral
    Loans for under $25,000 do not require collateral.  Any person with an interest in the company worth 20% or more must be a guarantor; however the CARES Act eliminates the guaranty requirement on advances and loans under $200,000. 
  • Use of proceeds
    Loan proceeds may be used to pay fixed debts (including short-term notes and balloon payments that are due within the next 12 months), payroll, accounts payable, and other bills the borrower would have to pay that but for the disaster would have been paid, such as mortgage payments. Landlords and other passive entities are eligible. Agriculture-related entities are eligible, but farmers are not. Borrowers must maintain proof of how the loan proceeds were used for three years from the date of disbursement. Borrowers cannot use the proceeds to expand their business, buy assets, make repairs to real estate or refinance long-term debt. 
  • Forgiveness
    No forgiveness provision.

Applying
Loan applications are available here

Length of time for funding
Upon submittal of a completed application, it can take 18-21 days to be approved and another four to five business days for funding. However, the SBA has never dealt with this much volume so expect delays.  

If funding is needed immediately, contact any SBA partnering non-profit lender and request an SBA microloan up to $50,000 or contact a commercial lending partner to see if they offer SBA express loans up to $1,000,000 (CARES Act increases this from $350,000 to $1,000,000) and/or SBA 7(a) loans up to $5 million. The 7(a) loans are typically processed within 30 days, while microloans and express loans are processed even more quickly. 

The CARES Act has also established an emergency grant to allow eligible entities who have applied for a disaster loan because of COVID-19 to request an advance of up to $10,000 on that loan. The SBA is to distribute the advance within three days. 

This advance does not need to be repaid, even if the applicant is denied a Disaster Loan. ($10,000,000,000 is appropriated for this program and funds will be distributed on a first come, first served basis). An applicant must self-certify that it is an eligible entity prior to receiving such an advance. Advances may be used for providing sick leave to employees, maintaining payroll, meeting increased costs to obtain materials, rent or mortgage payments, and payment of business obligations that cannot be paid due to loss of revenues. Applicants must apply directly with the SBA for this program.

Other considerations
Each company should review any current loan obligations and confirm that it does not include a provision forbidding that applicant from acquiring additional debt. If the document does, the applicant will want to discuss a waiver of that provision with its current lender. The lender should be amenable to this waiver and the applicant will want the waiver verified in writing. The lender should be amenable because the SBA disaster loan can be used to satisfy monthly debt obligations and any collateral taken by the SBA would be subordinate, if the same collateral secures the lender’s loan.

Under the CARES Act, Congress has also directed the SBA to use funds to make principal and interest payments, along with associated fees that may be owed on an existing SBA 7(a), 504 or micro-loan program covered loan, for a period of six months from the next payment due date. Any loan that may currently be on deferment will receive the six months of covered payments once the deferral period has ended. This provision will also cover loans that are made up to six months after the enactment of the CARES Act. If the loan maturity date conflicts with benefiting from this amendment, the lender can extend the maturity date of the loan. 

Newly enacted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)


General
This new program will be offered with a 100% SBA guaranty through December 31, 2020, to lenders, after which the guaranty percentage will return to 75% for loans above $150,000 and 85% for loans below that amount. 

Eligibility 
A business, including a qualifying nonprofit organization, that was in operation on February 15, 2020, and either had employees for whom it paid salaries and payroll taxes or paid independent contractors, is eligible for PPP loans if it (a) meets the applicable North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code-based size standard or other applicable 7(a) loan size standard, both alone and together with its affiliates; or (b) has an employee headcount that is lower than the greater of (i) 500 employees or (ii) the employee size standard, if any, under the applicable NAICS Code. 

Businesses that fall within NAICS Code 72, which applies to accommodations and food services, are also eligible if they employ no more than 500 people per physical location. Sole proprietorships, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals are also eligible. It is unclear as of what date the size test will be applied, but historically, SBA size tests have been applied on the date of application for financing. More information on the NAICS-Code-based size standards can be found here

Borrowers are required to provide a good faith certification that the loan is necessary due to economic conditions brought about because of COVID-19 and that the borrower will use the funds to retain workers, maintain payroll and pay utilities, lease and/or mortgage payments.

The credit elsewhere test is waived under this program. 

Lenders shall base their underwriting on whether a business was operational on February 15, 2020, and had employees for whom it was responsible for or paid for services from an independent contractor. The legislation has directed lenders not to base their determinations on repayment ability at the present time because of the effects of COVID-19.

Applicants for SBA loan programs, including PPP loans, typically must include their affiliates when applying size tests to determine eligibility. That means that employees of other businesses under common control would count toward the maximum number of permitted employees. A business that is controlled by a private equity sponsor would likely be deemed an affiliate of the other businesses controlled by that sponsor and could thus be ineligible for PPP loans. However, the CARES Act waives the affiliation requirement for the following applicants:  

  1. Businesses within NAICS Code 72 with no more than 500 employees
  2. Franchises with codes assigned by the SBA, as reflected on the SBA franchise registry
  3. Businesses that receive financial assistance from one or more small business investment companies (SBIC) 

Basic terms

  • Loan amount
    Lesser of $10 million or 2.5 times the applicant’s average monthly payroll costs of the business over the year prior to the making of the loan (practically, this may become the year prior to the loan application), excluding the prorated portion of any annual compensation above $100,000 for any person. Note that under the CARES Act, “payroll costs” include vacation, parental, family, medical, and sick leave; allowances for dismissal or separation; payments for group health care benefits, including insurance premiums; and retirement benefits. Calculations vary slightly for seasonal businesses and businesses that were not in operation between February 15 and June 30, 2019. To the extent that a SBA Disaster Loan was used for a purpose other than those permitted for PPP Loans, the Disaster Loans may be refinanced with proceeds of PPP loans, in which case the maximum available PPP loan amount is increased by the amount of the Disaster Loans being refinanced. 
  • Maximum term
    Payments will be deferred for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 12. SBA is directed to issue guidance on the terms of this deferral. Any portion of the PPP loan that is not forgiven (see below) on or before December 31, 2020, shall automatically be a term loan for a maximum of 10 years. For PPP loans, the SBA has waived prepayment penalties.
  • Fees
    SBA will waive the guaranty fee and annual fee applicable to other 7(a) loans. 
  • Interest rate
    Maximum rate of 4%.
  • Collateral
    The standard requirements of collateral and a personal guaranty are waived under this program. Accordingly, there will be no recourse to owners or borrowers for nonpayment, except to the extent proceeds are used for an unauthorized purpose.
  • Use of proceeds
    This loan can be used for: (i) payroll support, excluding the prorated portion of any compensation above $100,000 per year for any person; (ii) group healthcare benefits costs and insurance premiums; (iii) mortgage interest (but not prepayments or principal payments) and rent payments incurred in the ordinary course of business, and (iv) utility payments. 
  • Forgiveness
    A borrower will be eligible for loan forgiveness related to a PPP loan in an amount equal to 8 weeks of payroll costs, and the interest on mortgage payments (not principal) made in the ordinary course of business, rent payments, or utility payments so long as all payments were obligations of the borrower prior to February 15, 2020. Payroll costs are limited to compensation for a single employee to be no more than $100,000 in wages and the amount of forgiveness cannot exceed the principal loan amount. 

    The amount of loan forgiveness will be reduced proportionally by any reduction in the borrower’s workforce, based on the full-time equivalent employees versus the period from either February 15, 2019, through June 30, 2019, or January 1, 2020, through February 29, 2020, as selected by the borrower, or a reduction of more than 25% of any employee’s compensation, measured against the most recent full quarter. If a borrower has already had to lay off employees due to COVID-19, employers are encouraged to rehire them by not being penalized for having a reduced payroll at the beginning of the covered period, which means the initial 8 week period after the loan’s origination date. 

    Accordingly, reductions in the number of employees or compensation occurring between February 15, 2020, and 30 days after enactment of the CARES Act will generally be ignored to the extent reversed by June 30, 2020. Any additional wages that may be paid to tipped workers are also covered in the calculation of payroll forgiveness. Borrowers must keep accurate records and document their payments because lenders will need to verify the payments to allow for loan forgiveness. Borrowers will not have to include any forgiven indebtedness as taxable income. 

Applying
A company needs to apply on or before June 30, 2020, with a lender who is currently approved as a 7(a) lender or who is approved by the SBA and the Treasury Department to become a PPP lender. PPP lenders have delegated authority to make and approve PPP loan, with no additional SBA approval required. 

There are certain portions of the CARES Act that require SBA to provide further guidance so there may be some slight changes to the rules and procedures as best practices present themselves. 

We recommend contacting existing 7(a) lenders as soon as possible to learn what you will need to provide for underwriting and approving a PPP loan. 

We are here to help
Please contact a BerryDunn professional if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your specific situation.

Article
Impact of CARES Act on SBA loans

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides relief to taxpayers affected by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. The CARES Act is the third round of federal government aid related to COVID-19. We have summarized the top provisions in the new legislation below, with more detailed alerts on individual provisions to follow. Click here for a link to the full text of the bill.

Compensation, benefits, and payroll relief
The law temporarily increases the amount of and expands eligibility for unemployment benefits, and it provides relief for workers who are self-employed. Additionally, several provisions assist certain employers who keep employees on payroll even though the employees are not able or needed to work. 

The cornerstone of the payroll protection aid is a streamlined application process for SBA loans that can be forgiven if an eligible employer maintains its workforce at certain levels. 

Additionally, certain employers affected by the pandemic who retain their employees will receive a credit against payroll taxes for 50% of eligible employee wages paid or incurred from March 13 to December 31, 2020. This employee retention credit would be provided for as much as $10,000 of qualifying wages, including health benefits. Eligible employers may defer remitting employer payroll tax payments that remain due for 2020 (after the credits are deducted), with half being due by December 31, 2021, and the balance due by December 31, 2022. 

Employers with fewer than 500 employees are also allowed to give terminated employees access to the mandated paid federal sick and child care leave benefits for which the employer is 100% reimbursed by the government through payroll tax credits, if the employer rehires the qualifying employees.

Any benefit that is driven off the definition of “employee” raises the issue of partner versus employee. The profits interest member that is receiving a W-2 may not be eligible for inclusion in the various benefit computations.

Eligible individuals can withdraw vested amounts up to $100,000 during 2020 without a 10% early distribution penalty, and income inclusion can be spread over three years. Repayment of distributions during the next three years will be treated as tax-free rollovers of the distribution. The bill also makes it easier to borrow money from 401(k) accounts, raising the limit to $100,000 from $50,000 for the first 180 days after enactment, and the payment dates for any loans due the rest of 2020 would be extended for a year.

Individuals do not have to take their 2020 required minimum distributions from their retirement funds. This avoids lost earnings power on the taxes due on distributions and maximizes the potential gain as the market recovers.

Two long-awaited provisions allow employers to assist employees with college loan debt through tax free payments up to $5,250 and restores over-the-counter medical supplies as permissible expenses that can be reimbursed through health care flexible spending accounts and health care savings accounts.

Deferral of net business losses for three years
Section 461(l) limits non-corporate taxpayers in their use of net business losses to offset other sources of income. As enacted in 2017, this limitation was effective for taxable years beginning after 2017 and before 2026, and applied after the basis, at-risk, and passive activity loss limitations. The amount of deductible net business losses is limited to $500,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return and $250,000 for all other taxpayers. These amounts are indexed for inflation after 2018 (to $518,000 and $259,000, respectively, in 2020). Excess business losses are carried forward to the next succeeding taxable year and treated as a net operating loss in that year.

The CARES Act defers the effective date of Section 461(l) for three years, but also makes important technical corrections that will become effective when the limitation on excess business losses once again becomes applicable. Accordingly, net business losses from 2018, 2019, or 2020 may offset other sources of income, provided they are not otherwise limited by other provisions that remain in the Code. Beginning in 2021, the application of this limitation is clarified with respect to the treatment of wages and related deductions from employment, coordination with deductions under Section 172 (for net operating losses) or Section 199A (relating to qualified business income), and the treatment of business capital gains and losses.

Section 163(j) amended for taxable years beginning in 2019 and 2020
The CARES Act amends Section 163(j) solely for taxable years beginning in 2019 and 2020. With the exception of partnerships, and solely for taxable years beginning in 2019 and 2020, taxpayers may deduct business interest expense up to 50% of their adjusted taxable income (ATI), an increase from 30% of ATI under the TCJA, unless an election is made to use the lower limitation for any taxable year. Additionally, for any taxable year beginning in 2020, the taxpayer may elect to use its 2019 ATI for purposes of computing its 2020 Section 163(j) limitation. 

This will benefit taxpayers who may be facing reduced 2020 earnings as a result of the business implications of COVID-19. As such, taxpayers should be mindful of elections on their 2019 return that could impact their 2019 and 2020 business interest expense deduction. With respect to partnerships, the increased Section 163(j) limit from 30% to 50% of ATI only applies to taxable years beginning in 2020. However, in the case of any excess business interest expense allocated from a partnership for any taxable year beginning in 2019, 50% of such excess business interest expense is treated as not subject to the Section 163(j) limitation and is fully deductible by the partner in 2020. The remaining 50% of such excess business interest expense shall be subject to the limitations in the same manner as any other excess business interest expense so allocated. Each partner has the ability, under regulations to be prescribed by Treasury, to elect to have this special rule not applied. No rules are provided for application of this rule in the context of tiered partnership structures.

Net operating losses carryback allowed for taxable years beginning in 2018 and before 2021
The CARES Act provides for an elective five-year carryback of net operating losses (NOLs) generated in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2021. Taxpayers may elect to relinquish the entire five-year carryback period with respect to a particular year’s NOL, with the election being irrevocable once made. In addition, the 80% limitation on NOL deductions arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, has temporarily been pushed to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020. 

Several ambiguities in the application of Section 172 arising as a result of drafting errors in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have also been corrected. As certain benefits (i.e., charitable contributions, Section 250 “GILTI” deductions, etc.) may be impacted by an adjustment to taxable income, and therefore reduce the effective value of any NOL deduction, taxpayers will have to determine whether to elect to forego the carryback. Moreover, the bill provides for two special rules for NOL carrybacks to years in which the taxpayer included income from its foreign subsidiaries under Section 965. Please consider the impact of this interaction with your international tax advisors. 

However, given the potential offset to income taxed under a 35% federal rate, and the uncertainty regarding the long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis on future earnings, it seems likely that most companies will take advantage of the revisions. This is a technical point, but while the highest average federal rate was 35% before 2018, the highest marginal tax rate was 38.333% for taxable amounts between $15 million and $18.33 million. This was put in place as part of our progressive tax system to eliminate earlier benefits of the 34% tax rate. Companies may wish to revisit their tax accounting methodologies to defer income and accelerate deductions in order to maximize their current year losses to increase their NOL carrybacks to earlier years.

Alternative minimum tax credit refunds
The CARES Act allows the refundable alternative minimum tax credit to be completely refunded for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2018, or by election, taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the credit was refundable over a series of years with the remainder recoverable in 2021.

Technical correction to qualified improvement property
The CARES Act contains a technical correction to a drafting error in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that required qualified improvement property (QIP) to be depreciated over 39 years, rendering such property ineligible for bonus depreciation. With the technical correction applying retroactively to 2018, QIP is now 15-year property and eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. This will provide immediate current cash flow benefits and relief to taxpayers, especially those in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality industries. Taxpayers that placed QIP into service in 2019 can claim 100% bonus depreciation prospectively on their 2019 return and should consider whether they can file Form 4464 to quickly recover overpayments of 2019 estimated taxes. Taxpayers that placed QIP in service in 2018 and that filed their 2018 federal income tax return treating the assets as bonus-ineligible 39-year property should consider amending that return to treat such assets as bonus-eligible. For C corporations, in particular, claiming the bonus depreciation on an amended return can potentially generate NOLs that can be carried back five years under the new NOL provisions of the CARES Act to taxable years before 2018 when the tax rates were 35%, even though the carryback losses were generated in years when the tax rate was 21%. With the taxable income limit under Section 172(a) being removed, an NOL can fully offset income to generate the maximum cash refund for taxpayers that need immediate cash. Alternatively, in lieu of amending the 2018 return, taxpayers may file an automatic Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, with the 2019 return to take advantage of the new favorable treatment and claim the missed depreciation as a favorable Section 481(a) adjustment.

Effects of the CARES Act at the state and local levels
As with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the tax implications of the CARES Act at the state level first depends on whether a state is a “rolling” Internal Revenue Code (IRC) conformity state or follows “fixed-date” conformity. For example, with respect to the modifications to Section 163(j), rolling states will automatically conform, unless they specifically decouple (but separate state ATI calculations will still be necessary). However, fixed-date conformity states will have to update their conformity dates to conform to the Section 163(j) modifications. 

A number of states have already updated during their current legislative sessions (e.g., Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Virginia, and West Virginia). Nonetheless, even if a state has updated, the effective date of the update may not apply to changes to the IRC enacted after January 1, 2020 (e.g., Arizona). 

A number of other states have either expressly decoupled from Section 163(j) or conform to an earlier version and will not follow the CARES Act changes (e.g., California, Connecticut, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee (starting in 2020), Wisconsin). Similar considerations will apply to the NOL modifications for states that adopted the 80% limitation, and most states do not allow carrybacks. Likewise, in fixed-dated conformity states that do not update, the Section 461(l) limitation will still apply resulting in a separate state NOL for those states. 

These conformity questions add another layer of complexity to applying the tax provisions of the CARES Act at the state level. Further, once the COVID-19 crisis is past, rolling IRC conformity states must be monitored, as these states could decouple from these CARES Act provisions for purposes of state revenue.

2020 recovery refund checks for individuals
The CARES Act provides eligible individuals with a refund check equal to $1,200 ($2,400 for joint filers) plus $500 per qualifying child. The refund begins to phase out if the individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers and $112,500 for head of household filers). The credit is completely phased out for individuals with no qualifying children if their AGI exceeds $99,000 ($198,000 for joint filers and $136,500 for head of household filers).

Eligible individuals do not include nonresident aliens, individuals who may be claimed as a dependent on another person’s return, estates, or trusts. Eligible individuals and qualifying children must all have a valid social security number. For married taxpayers who filed jointly with their most recent tax filings (2018 or 2019) but will file separately in 2020, each spouse will be deemed to have received one half of the credit.

A qualifying child (i) is a child, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister, or a descendent of any of them, (ii) under age 17, (iii) who has not provided more than half of their own support, (iv) who has lived with the taxpayer for more than half of the year, and (v) who has not filed a joint return (other than only for a claim for refund) with the individual’s spouse for the taxable year beginning in the calendar year in which the taxable year of the taxpayer begins.

The refund is determined based on the taxpayer’s 2020 income tax return but is advanced to taxpayers based on their 2018 or 2019 tax return, as appropriate. If an eligible individual’s 2020 income is higher than the 2018 or 2019 income used to determine the rebate payment, the eligible individual will not be required to pay back any excess rebate. However, if the eligible individual’s 2020 income is lower than the 2018 or 2019 income used to determine the rebate payment such that the individual should have received a larger rebate, the eligible individual will be able to claim an additional credit generally equal to the difference of what was refunded and any additional eligible amount when they file their 2020 income tax return.

Individuals who have not filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 may still receive an automatic advance based on their social security benefit statements (Form SSA-1099) or social security equivalent benefit statement (Form RRB-1099). Other individuals may be required to file a return to receive any benefits.

The CARES Act provides that the IRS will make automatic payments to individuals who have previously filed their income tax returns electronically, using direct deposit banking information provided on a return any time after January 1, 2018.

Charitable contributions

  • Above-the-line deductions: Under the CARES Act, an eligible individual may take a qualified charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 against their AGI in 2020. An eligible individual is any individual taxpayer who does not elect to itemize his or her deductions. A qualified charitable contribution is a charitable contribution (i) made in cash, (ii) for which a charitable contribution deduction is otherwise allowed, and (iii) that is made to certain publicly supported charities.

    This above-the-line charitable deduction may not be used to make contributions to a non-operating private foundation or to a donor advised fund.
  • Modification of limitations on cash contributions: Currently, individuals who make cash contributions to publicly supported charities are permitted a charitable contribution deduction of up to 60% of their AGI. Any such contributions in excess of the 60% AGI limitation may be carried forward as a charitable contribution in each of the five succeeding years.

    The CARES Act temporarily suspends the AGI limitation for qualifying cash contributions, instead permitting individual taxpayers to take a charitable contribution deduction for qualifying cash contributions made in 2020 to the extent such contributions do not exceed the excess of the individual’s contribution base over the amount of all other charitable contributions allowed as a deduction for the contribution year. Any excess is carried forward as a charitable contribution in each of the succeeding five years. Taxpayers wishing to take advantage of this provision must make an affirmative election on their 2020 income tax return.

    This provision is useful to taxpayers who elect to itemize their deductions in 2020 and make cash contributions to certain public charities. As with the aforementioned above-the-line deduction, contributions to non-operating private foundations or donor advised funds are not eligible.

    For corporations, the CARES Act temporarily increases the limitation on the deductibility of cash charitable contributions during 2020 from 10% to 25% of the taxpayer’s taxable income. The CARES Act also increases the limitation on deductions for contributions of food inventory from 15% to 25%.

We are here to help
Please contact a BerryDunn professional if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your specific situation.

Article
The CARES Act: Implications for businesses

The recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act includes many sweeping tax law changes, some of which left taxpayers scrambling at the end of 2017 to maximize tax saving opportunities. While the dust settles on tax reform at the federal level, the whirlwind at the state level is just beginning, with many unanswered questions. We’ve pulled together a look at key changes in place or under consideration in a number of states.

One change in particular, the limitation on the individual itemized deduction for state and local taxes, resulted in many making a mad dash to prepay local property taxes.

Prior to the act, itemizing taxpayers could deduct certain state and local taxes, including property taxes, income or sales taxes (but not both), and other personal property taxes. The new act limits the state and local property tax deduction to $10,000. The increase in the standard deduction makes this irrelevant for many taxpayers, who will no longer itemize deductions due to the higher standard deduction. However, this limitation means more to higher-income taxpayers, especially those living in high-tax states. Many of these states are considering strategies to preserve the deduction for high-income residents.

The California approach

One strategy under consideration by states (including California, Illinois, and New Jersey), is to convert state and local tax expense, limited to $10,000, into deductible charitable contributions. Some proposals involve creating a state fund for public purposes that would allow income tax credits for taxpayers’ fund contributions. In New Jersey, the state senate voted to advance a bill that would allow local municipalities to set up charitable funds to which residents could donate their property taxes. While this may seem like a great solution, it seems unlikely taxpayers achieve the intended result.

Established case law and guidance indicate the portion of a charitable contribution for which a benefit is received is not deductible. The very intent of this strategy is to create a federal benefit to the taxpayer. The taxpayer’s state cash outflow would be neutral, and a federal benefit received in excess of any cost. It appears likely the IRS would find there is no net deductible charitable contribution, and given the revenue neutrality for the state, would see it as a tax.

The New York approach

Other states, including New York, have considered creating a new employer-side payroll tax, or otherwise shifting from an employee paid tax system to an employer paid tax system. This may be more viable than the charitable contribution strategy, but isn’t without its own hurdles. There is a risk that this just shifts tax burden, with the employer paying the employee’s income taxes (which in itself constitutes taxable income).

States with graduated tax rates would face a challenging task of addressing how to administratively apply this concept to a payroll tax. If successful, businesses would have increased employment costs, unless they can reduce salaries to offset the increase. The practical challenges present additional obstacles for success, in terms of employee morale, minimum wage issues, or other legal considerations. Even clearing the hurdles only addresses the issue as it relates to wage income, with other sources of income left behind.

This is less concerning in states with lower or no individual income taxes. These states often rely more heavily on sales taxes or entity level business taxes for revenue. While it is a much larger change for states to implement, there may now be more incentive for states to consider their own tax reform strategies.

How states address the additional burden placed on its residents, especially those in high tax jurisdictions, is only one. Many states' tax codes piggyback off of the federal rules, and states will have to consider how, or if they will conform to the federal changes, and to what degree. Until they address these issues, taxpayer uncertainty remains. If you have questions about the new law and how it affects your business, please contact me


 

Article
Going stateside: Tax reform

Read this if you are working with an auditor.

The standard report an auditor issues on an entity’s financial statements was created in 1988, and has only had minor tweaking since. Amazing when we think about how the world has changed since 1988! Back then:

  • The World Wide Web hadn’t been invented
  • The Simpsons wasn’t yet on TV, and neither was Seinfeld
  • The Berlin Wall was still standing
  • The Single Audit Act celebrated its fourth birthday

The Auditing Standards Board (ASB), an independent board of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) that establishes auditing rules for not-for-profit organizations (as well as private company and federal, state, and local governmental entities) has decided it was high time to revisit the auditor’s report, and update it to provide additional information about the audit process that stakeholders have been requesting.

In addition to serving as BerryDunn’s quality assurance principal for the past 23 years, I’ve been serving on the ASB since January 2017, and as chair since May 2020. (And thanks to the pandemic our meetings during my tenure as chair have been conducted from my dining room table.)  We thought you might be interested in a high-level overview of the coming changes to the auditor’s report, which will be effective starting with calendar 2021 audits, from an insider’s perspective.

So what’s changing?

The most significant changes you’ll be seeing, based on feedback from various users of auditor’s reports, are:

  1. Opinion first
    The opinion in an audit report is the auditor’s conclusion as to whether the financial statements are in accordance with the applicable accounting standards, in all material respects. People told us this is the most important part of the report, so we’ve moved it to the first section of the report.
  2. Auditor’s ethical responsibilities
    We’ve pointed out that an auditor is required to be independent of the organization being audited, and to meet certain other ethical responsibilities in the conduct of the audit.
  3. “Going concern” responsibilities
    We describe management’s responsibility, under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, and the auditor’s responsibility, under the auditing rules, for determining whether “substantial doubt” exists about the organization’s ability to continue in existence for at least one year following the date the financial statements are approved for issuance.
  4. Emphasis on professional judgment and professional skepticism
    We explain how an audit requires the auditor to exercise professional judgment (for example, regarding how much testing to perform), and to maintain professional skepticism, i.e., a questioning mind that is alert to the possibility the financial statements may be materially misstated, whether due to error or fraud.
  5. Communications with the board of directors
    We point out that the auditor is required to communicate certain matters to the board, such as difficulties encountered during the audit, material adjustments identified during the audit process, and which areas the auditor treated as “significant risks” in planning and performing the audit.
  6. Responsibility related to the “annual report”
    If the organization issues an “annual report” containing or referring to the audited financial statements, we explain the auditor is required to review it for consistency with the financial statements, and for any known misstatements of fact.
  7. Discussion of “key audit matters”
    While not required, your organization may request the auditor to discuss how certain “key audit matters” (those most significant to the audit) were addressed as part of the audit process. These are similar to the “critical audit matters” publicly traded company auditor’s reports are now required to include.

Yes, this means the auditor’s report will be longer; however, stakeholders told us inclusion of this information will make it more informative, and useful, for them.

Uniform Guidance standards also changing

Is your organization required to have a compliance audit under the federal Uniform Guidance standards? That report is also changing to reflect the items listed above to the extent they’re relevant.

What should you do?

Some actions to consider as you get ready for the first audit to which the new report applies (calendar 2021, or fiscal years ending in 2022) include:

  1. Ask your auditor what your organization’s auditor’s report will look like
    Your auditor can provide examples of auditor’s reports under the new rules, or even draft a pro forma auditor’s report for your organization (subject, of course, to the results of the audit).
  2. Outline and communicate your process for developing your annual report
    If your organization prepares an annual report, it will be important to coordinate its timing with that of the issuance of the auditor’s report, due to the auditor’s new reporting responsibility related to the annual report.
  3. Discuss with your board whether you would like the auditor to include a discussion of “key audit matters” in the auditor’s report
    While not required for not-for-profits, some organizations may decide to request the auditor include a discussion of such matters in the report, from the standpoint of transparency “best practices.”

If you have any questions about the new auditor’s report or your specific situation, please contact us. We’re here to help.
 

Article
A new auditor's report: Seven changes to know

Read this if your company does business in the EU.

Major changes are coming to the EU VAT laws on the online supply of goods and services. The rules, which apply as from July 1, 2021, will affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating sales to private individuals in EU member states. With just over a month remaining before the rules become effective, such businesses should begin immediately to prepare for their new VAT registration and collection responsibilities.

What are the new EU VAT rules?

The EU VAT rules applicable to cross-border B2C e-commerce activities are undergoing a major “refresh”—or modernization—as from July 1, 2021 (postponed six months from the originally planned effective date of January 1, 2021). From July, updated VAT rules will apply to online sales (including online marketplaces) to EU private consumers and to the import of low value goods. (The European Commission published explanatory notes on the rules on September 20, 2020, which include clarifications, FAQs and examples.)

The objectives of the new EU VAT rules are to: (i) simplify compliance obligations for vendors that potentially have to comply with the VAT rules in the 27 EU member states; (ii) increase VAT revenue for the individual member states by bringing more transactions within the scope of the EU VAT net; and (iii) reduce VAT fraud.

Any business making or facilitating online sales or deliveries of goods to consumers in the EU will likely be impacted in some way by the changes.

The EU VAT law changes are as follows:

Intra-EU sales to consumers

All B2C sales of goods will be taxed in the country of destination, meaning that sellers will need to collect VAT in the EU member state to which the goods are shipped.

The existing thresholds for distance sales in the EU will be abolished and replaced by an EU-wide registration threshold of €10,000 (approximately $12,000). This is an important change and potentially could create considerable EU VAT registration and reporting obligations for U.S.-based businesses selling goods from warehouses located in the EU if not proactively addressed.

To reduce the administrative burden and simplify VAT reporting, a new reporting system, called the One-Stop Shop (OSS) will be expanded to include the distance sale of goods. U.S. businesses can register for the OSS scheme in the EU member state of dispatch and can report and remit the VAT due via a pan-EU VAT return instead of having to VAT register in each EU member state.

Sales via online marketplaces

In certain circumstances, businesses that operate an online marketplace, known as an “electronic interface” in the EU) or that facilitate the sale of third-party goods through an online marketplace will be considered the “deemed supplier” of the goods sold to EU customers and will be required to collect and pay VAT on such sales. As a result, businesses that sell via online marketplaces (e.g., Amazon, eBay, etc.) will not be required to account for VAT on such sales. 
Imports of low value goods

The VAT exemption for “low-value imports,” i.e., goods coming from outside the EU that do not exceed a value of €22 (approximately $26) will be abolished. Instead, the sale of low-value goods not exceeding €150 (approximately $180) to consumers in the EU through the business’ own website will be subject to VAT at the applicable rate in the destination country. The VAT due on low value goods can either be collected at the point of sale by the seller or collected from the consumer before the goods are released by the customer broker/delivery service. Where the seller opts to collect VAT at the point of sale, it can VAT register under the new Import One-Stop Shop (IOSS) system to account for and remit the VAT due.

VAT registration under the IOSS has several benefits, including:

  • Transparency to consumers: The customer will not be faced with any unexpected VAT costs since the total amount paid for the goods is VAT-inclusive;
  • Reduced compliance burden: Sellers can use a single IOSS registration to report and pay the VAT due on all sales covered by IOSS. Otherwise, if the seller acts as the importer (e.g., sells goods under delivered duty paid terms), it may need to register for VAT in multiple EU member states;
  • Quick customs clearance: IOSS is designed to enable goods to be cleared through customs quickly as no VAT is due at the time of importation, thus facilitating the speedy delivery of goods; and
  • Flexible logistics: IOSS simplifies logistics since goods can be imported into the EU in any EU member state. If IOSS is not used, goods can only be imported and cleared for customs in the destination EU member state, which may result in delays and additional costs.

How will the changes impact nonresident sellers?

As noted above, the EU rule changes will significantly affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating the sale of goods and services online to consumers located in the EU. With just over a month left before the rules become effective, any U.S.-based business that may be impacted should take immediate steps to:

  • Understand the EU rules and how they will apply;
  • Assess the impact of the rules on supply chains;
  • Consider the impact on pricing due to different VAT rates applying in different jurisdictions;
  • Identify any adjustments that can be made (where possible) to mitigate the impact of the rules;
  • Be prepared to comply with new VAT obligations, including additional registrations, charging and collecting VAT, filing tax and/or information returns, etc.;
  • Update and adapt accounting and billing systems and master data records to identify when VAT should be applied and the appropriate rates in multiple jurisdictions; and
  • Cancel existing EU VAT registrations for distance sales that may be replaced by the OSS registration.

Failure to comply with the rules could result in the imposition of interest and penalties on the historic VAT liability. In addition to the EU VAT consequences, business selling goods that are imported into these jurisdictions must also take into account any customs implications because any compliance deficiencies could result in imported goods being delayed in customs, causing customers to be frustrated by shipping delays.

For questions about your specific situation, please contact the International Tax team. We’re here to help. 

Article
New VAT rules in the EU: What U.S. e-commerce businesses need to know 

Read this if your company does business in Canada. 

Major changes are coming to Canada’s Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Services Tax (GST/HST) on the online supply of goods and services. The rules, which apply as from July 1, 2021, will affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating sales to private individuals in Canada. With just over a month remaining before the rules become effective, such businesses should begin immediately to prepare for their new GST/HST registration and collection responsibilities.

What are the GST/HST changes in Canada?

Currently, only nonresidents that carry on business in Canada are generally required to register for and collect GST/HST (levied at the federal level in Canada) on taxable supplies of goods and services made in Canada. If the nonresident does not conduct business in Canada, it need not register for or collect GST/HST.

The impending rules aim to level the playing field between Canadian businesses (which must charge GST/HST on the supply of goods and services) and foreign suppliers by ensuring that GST/HST applies to all goods and services used in Canada, regardless of how they are supplied or whether the supplier is Canadian or nonresident. The rules will significantly impact nonresident vendors and online platform operators, in that foreign businesses will be required to register for GST/HST, collect GST/HST from customers, and report and remit tax to the Canadian tax authorities. Three types of supplies by foreign businesses will be affected:

  • Supplies of digital services
  • Supplies of accommodation made through an accommodation platform (AP)
  • Online supplies of goods through a fulfilment warehouse

Digital services

Foreign businesses and platforms that do not have a physical place of business in Canada but that supply goods and services online to Canadian consumers and/or non-GST/HST-registered businesses (i.e., B2C transactions) will be required to register for GST/HST, resulting in an obligation to collect, remit and report tax. The tax rate will be the rate applicable in the province where the consumer is resident.

Nonresident businesses will have to register for GST/HST purposes when their sales exceed CAD 30,000 (approximately USD 25,000) over a 12-month period or they may register voluntarily where the threshold is not exceeded. A simplified online registration will be available for these businesses, but it will not be possible for the nonresident business to reclaim GST/HST incurred on its own purchases. If nonresident businesses wish to recover GST/HST paid on business expenses, they may be able to register under the regular GST/HST regime.

Accommodation platforms

An AP is a digital platform that facilitates the supply of short-term rental accommodations (i.e., rentals for less than one month) to private customers for a price of at least of CAD 20 (approximately USD 16) per day (e.g., Airbnb, VRBO, etc.).

Nonresident APs will be required to register for GST/HST, and to collect, remit and report tax on the rental charges in cases where the owner of the property is not GST/HST-registered. Where the property owner is GST/HST registered, the AP will not be responsible for GST/HST; instead, the property owner will be required to collect/remit GST/HST on the rental charges. The GST/HST rate will be the rate applicable in the province where the property is located.

APs subject to these changes should register for GST/HST under the simplified online registration.

Fulfilment warehouses and websites

GST/HST registration will be required for the following types of transactions in cases where the nonresident business’ sales to consumers exceed, or are expected to exceed, CAD 30,000 over a 12-month period:

  • Direct sales of goods by a nonresident business directly (i.e., not via a distribution platform) through its website to Canadian consumers: In this case, the nonresident business will have to register, charge and account for GST/HST. 
  • Sales of goods by a nonresident business through a distribution platform to consumers in Canada: The distribution platform operator will be required to register for GST/HST and account for GST/HST in Canada. It should be noted that no GST/HST will be due on the service fee charged by the distribution platform operator to nonresident businesses.
  • Online sales of goods by a nonresident business (but not through a distribution platform) to customers, where the goods are located in a Canadian fulfilment warehouse: The nonresident business will be required to register for GST/HST and will need to keep records on its foreign vendors and submit these to the Canadian tax authorities. These information returns will give the tax authorities insight into which nonresident businesses need to be GST/HST-registered.

Nonresident businesses that carry out the above transactions will have to register under the standard GST/HST rules rather than under the new simplified regime and will generally be able to reclaim GST/HST incurred on their purchases.

Potential Provincial Sales Tax (PST) implications

In addition to having GST/HST registration and collection obligations, nonresident vendors also may be required to register for PST. Currently, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Saskatchewan impose a PST, and three of these provinces (i.e., British Colombia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan) have introduced rules requiring nonresident vendors selling to customers in these provinces to register for PST purposes. The rules vary by province and will need to be considered in addition to the new GST/HST rules.

How will the changes impact nonresident sellers?

As noted above, the Canadian rule changes will significantly affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating the sale of goods and services online to consumers located in Canada. With just over a month left before the rules become effective, any U.S.-based business that may be impacted should take immediate steps to:

  • Understand the Canadian rules and how they will apply;
  • Assess the impact of the rules on supply chains;
  • Consider the impact on pricing due to the GST/HST and the varying PST rates applied in in the aforementioned provinces;
  • Identify any adjustments that can be made (where possible) to mitigate the impact of the rules;
  • Be prepared to comply with new GST/HST obligations, including additional registrations, charging and collecting GST/HST, filing tax and/or information returns, etc.; and
  • Update and adapt accounting and billing systems and master data records to identify when GST/HST should be applied and the appropriate rates in multiple jurisdictions.

Failure to comply with the rules could result in the imposition of interest and penalties on the historic GST/HST liability. In addition to the GST/HST implications in Canada, business selling goods that are imported into these jurisdictions must also take into account any customs implications because any compliance deficiencies could result in imported goods being delayed in customs, causing customers to be frustrated by shipping delays.

For questions about your specific situation, please contact the International Tax team. We’re here to help. 

Article
New GST/HST rules in Canada: What U.S. e-commerce businesses need to know  

Read this if you are a plan sponsor of employee benefit plans.

This article is the sixth 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. You can read the previous articles here.

Plan sponsors have a fiduciary responsibility to provide oversight over the operations of employee benefit plans. This oversight involves a multitude of varying responsibilities. Failure to provide sufficient oversight can lead to non-compliance with rules and regulations. However, even if plan sponsors are providing sufficient oversight, lack of documentation of the oversight is arguably equally as severe as no oversight at all. Here are some common fiduciary responsibilities and how you should document them. 

Review of the report on service organization’s controls

Most employee benefit plans have outsourced a significant portion of the plan’s processes, and the internal controls surrounding those processes, to a service organization. Regardless of how certain plan-related processes are performed—internally or outsourced—the plan sponsor has a fiduciary responsibility to monitor the internal controls in place surrounding significant processes and to determine if these controls are suitably designed and effective. The most commonly outsourced processes of an employee benefit plan are the administration, including recordkeeping of the plan, through a third-party administrator; payroll processing; and actuarial calculations, if applicable to the plan.

When plan processes are outsourced to service organizations, generally the most efficient way to obtain an understanding of the outsourced controls is to obtain a report on controls issued by the service organization’s auditor. You should request the service organization’s latest System and Organization Controls Report (SOC 1 report). The SOC 1 report should be based on the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 18, Reporting on the Controls at a Service Organization, frequently known as SSAE 18.

Plan sponsors should perform a documented review of the SOC 1 report for each of the plan’s service organizations. The documented review should most notably include discussion of any exceptions noted within the service auditor’s testing performed, identification of subservice organizations and consideration if subservice organization SOC 1 reports need to be obtained, and assessment of the complementary user entity controls outlined in the SOC 1 report. The complementary user entity controls are internal control activities that should be in place at the plan sponsor to provide reasonable assurance that the controls tested at the service organization provide the necessary level of internal control over the plan’s financial statements. Contact a BerryDunn professional to obtain our SOC report review template to assist in documenting your review.

Documentation of the plan within minutes

To provide general plan oversight, plan sponsors should have a group charged with the governance of the plan. This group should meet on a routine basis to review various aspects of the plan’s operations. Minutes of these meetings should contain evidence that certain matters that would be of interest to the Department of Labor (DOL) were discussed.

We recommend minutes of meetings document the following:

  • Investment performance—The plan sponsor has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the investments offered by the plan are meeting certain performance expectations. Investment statements and the plan’s investment policy should be reviewed on a regular basis with documentation of this review retained in minutes of meetings. Any conclusions reached about the need to change investments or put an investment on a “watch-list” should also be documented in the minutes, including any additional steps that need to be taken.
  • SOC 1 report review—As noted above, the plan sponsor has a fiduciary duty to ensure all third-party service organizations utilized by the plan have suitably designed and effective internal controls. Plan sponsors should perform a documented review of the SOC 1 report for each of the plan’s service organizations. The results of these reviews should then be reported at plan oversight meetings with any subsequent actions or conclusions documented in the minutes to these meetings.
  • Reasonableness of fees—The DOL requires plan fiduciaries to determine if the fees charged under covered service provider agreements are reasonable in relation to the services provided. To determine the reasonableness of fees, the plan may (1) hire a consultant, (2) monitor industry trends regarding fees, (3) consult with peer companies, (4) use a benchmarking service, or (5) conduct a request for proposal. Failure to determine the reasonableness of the fees charged can result in a prohibited transaction. When doing such a review, the fiduciaries of the plan should document in the minutes the steps taken and conclusions reached.
  • Overall review of the plan—Plan sponsors have a fiduciary responsibility to review the activity of the plan as well as participant balances. We recommend plan sponsors implement and document monitoring procedures over the activities of the plan and participant balances. This review could be incorporated into documented self-testing procedures, by haphazardly selecting a sample of participants each quarter and reviewing their account activity and participant balances. The results of such self-testing should then be reported at plan oversight meetings with any subsequent actions or conclusions documented in the minutes to these meetings. Reach out to a BerryDunn professional to obtain our participant change review workbook to assist in performing this self-testing.

Retention of salary reduction agreements

During our audits of employee benefit plans, we often note that employee deferrals are not consistently supported by salary reduction agreements or other forms maintained in employees’ personnel files. Many third-party administrators allow participants to make changes to their elective deferral rates directly through the third-party administrators without the involvement of the plan sponsor.

We often recommend that you maintain all changes to employee elective deferral rates in employees’ personnel files using salary reduction agreements. We also recommend that employees’ elections to not participate in the plan be documented in their personnel file. If employees can elect to change their deferral rates directly with the third-party administrator, we typically recommend that management print support from the third-party administrator’s online portal as documentation to support the change in the employee’s deferral rate and retain this support in the employees’ personnel file. However, if the third-party administrator’s online portal provides adequate history of deferral election changes, the plan sponsor may be able to rely on this portal for documentation retention. In these instances, the plan auditor should request a deferral feedback report directly from the third-party administrator.  

Monitoring of inactive accounts

Inactive accounts should be monitored by the plan sponsor for unusual activity or excessive fees that may be posted to these accounts. To the extent that inactive accounts have not exceeded $5,000, consideration should be given to cashing out the accounts if allowed by the plan document. Plan sponsors should, on a periodic basis, review the accounts of inactive participants or those who have been separated from service to ascertain whether the changes and charges to those accounts appear reasonable.

Plan sponsors have many documentation responsibilities. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive. And, the facts and circumstances of each employee benefit plan will change the applicability of these items. However, this list should be used as a tool to help plan sponsors perform a deep dive of their current plan documentation processes. And, hopefully, a result of this deep dive will be a robust documentation process that deliberately documents all major decisions and review functions related to the plan.

Article
Plan documentation: Another key to successful oversight