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

11.19.20

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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It’s that time of year. Kids have gone back to school, the leaves are changing color, the air is getting crisp and… year-end tax planning strategies are front of mind! It’s time to revisit or start tax planning for the coming year-end, and year-end purchase of capital equipment and the associated depreciation expense are often an integral part of that planning.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) expanded two prevailing types of accelerated expensing of capital improvements: bonus depreciation and section 179 depreciation. They each have different applications and require planning to determine which is most advantageous for each business situation.

100% expensing of selected capital improvementsbonus depreciation

Originating in 2001, bonus depreciation rules allowed for immediate expensing at varying percentages in addition to the “regular” accelerated depreciation expensed over the useful life of a capital improvement. The TCJA allows for 100% expensing of certain capital improvements during 2018. Starting in 2023, the percentage drops to 80% and continues to decrease after 2023. In addition to the increased percentage, used property now qualifies for bonus depreciation. Most new and used construction equipment, office and warehouse equipment, fixtures, and vehicles qualify for 100% bonus depreciation along with certain other longer lived capital improvement assets. Now is the time to take advantage of immediate write-offs on crucial business assets. 

TCJA did not change the no dollar limitations or thresholds, so there isn’t a dollar limitation or threshold on taking bonus depreciation. Additionally, you can use bonus depreciation to create taxable losses. Bonus depreciation is automatic, and a taxpayer may elect out of the bonus depreciation rules.

However, a taxpayer can’t pick and choose bonus depreciation on an asset-by-asset basis because the election out is made by useful life. Another potential drawback is that many states do not allow bonus depreciation. This will generally result in higher state taxable income in the early years that reverses in subsequent years.

Section 179 expensing

Similar to bonus depreciation, section 179 depreciation allows for immediate expensing of certain capital improvements. The TCJA doubled the allowable section 179 deduction from $500,000 to $1,000,000. The overall capital improvement limits also increased from $2,000,000 to $2,500,000. These higher thresholds allow for even higher tax deductions for business that tend to put a lot of money in a given year on capital improvements.

In addition to these limits, section 179 cannot create a loss. Because of these constraints, section 179 is not as flexible as bonus depreciation but can be very useful if the timing purchases are planned to maximize the deduction. Many states allow section 179 expense, which may be an advantage over bonus depreciation.

Bonus Depreciation Section 179
Deduction maximum N/A $1,000,000 for 2018
Total addition phase out N/A $2,500,000 for 2018


Both section 179 and bonus depreciation are crucial tools for all businesses. They can reduce taxable income and defer tax expense by accelerating depreciation deductions. Please contact your tax advisor to determine if your business qualifies for bonus depreciation or section 179 and how to maximize each deduction for 2018.

Section 179 and bonus depreciation: where to go from here

Both section 179 and bonus depreciation are crucial tools for all businesses. They can reduce taxable income and defer tax expense by accelerating depreciation deductions. Please contact your tax advisor to determine if your business qualifies for bonus depreciation or section 179 and how to maximize each deduction for 2018.

Article
Tax planning strategies for year-end

What the C-Suite should know about CECL and change management

Read this if you are at a financial institution. 

Some institutions are managing CECL implementation as a significant enterprise project, while others have assigned it to just one or two people. While these approaches may yield technical compliance, leadership may find they fail to realize any strategic benefits. In this article, Dan Vogt, Principal in BerryDunn’s Management and IT Consulting Practice, and Susan Weber, Senior Manager and CECL expert in BerryDunn’s Financial Services Practice, outline key actions leaders can take now to ensure CECL adoption success.  

Call it empathy, or just the need to take a break from the tactical and check in on the human experience, but on a recent call, I paused the typical readiness questions to ask, “How’s the mood around CECL adoption – what’s it been like getting others in the organization involved?” The three-word reply was simple, but powerful: “Kicking and screaming.”  

Earlier this year, by a vote of 5-2, the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) closed the door to any further delays to CECL adoption, citing an overarching need to unify the industry under one standard. FASB’s decision also mercifully ended the on-again off-again cycle that has characterized CECL preparation efforts since early 2020. One might think the decision would have resulted in relief. But with so much change in the world over the past few years, is it any wonder institutions are instead feeling change-saturated?  

Organizational change

CECL has been heralded as the most significant change to bank accounting ever, replacing 40+ years of accounting and regulatory oversight practices. But the new standard does much more than that. Implementing CECL has an effect on everything from executive and board strategic discussions to interdepartmental workflows, systems, and controls. The introduction of new methods, data elements, and financial assets has helped usher in new software, processes, and responsibilities that directly affect the work of many people in the organization. CECL isn’t just accounting—it’s organizational change. 

Change management

Change management best practices often focus on leading from optimism—typically leadership and an executive sponsor talk about opportunities and the business reasons for change. Some examples of what this might sound like as it relates to CECL might include, by converting to lifetime loss expectations, the institution will be better prepared to weather economic downturns; or, by evolving data and modeling precision, an institution’s understanding and measure of credit risk is enhanced, resulting in more strategic growth, pricing, and risk management. 

But leading from optimism is sometimes hard to do because it isn’t always motivating—especially when the change is mandated rather than chosen.  

Perhaps a more judiciously used tactic is to focus on the risk, or potential penalty, of not changing. In the case of CECL, examples might include, your external auditor not being able to sign-off on your financials (or significant delays in doing so), regulatory criticism, inefficient/ineffective processes, control issues, tired and frustrated staff. These examples expose the institution to all kinds of key risks: compliance, operational, strategic, and reputational, among them.

CECL success and change management

With so much riding on CECL implementation and adoption going well, some organizations may be at heightened risk simply because the effort is being compartmentalized—isolated within a department, or assigned to only one or two people. How effectively leadership connects CECL implementation with tenets of change management, how quickly they understand, then together embrace, promote, and facilitate the related changes affecting people and their work, may prove to be the key factor in achieving success beyond compliance.  

One important step leaders can take is to perform an impact assessment to understand who in the organization is being affected by the transition to CECL, and how. An example of this is below. Identifying the departments and functions that will need to be changed or updated with CECL adoption might expose critical overlaps and reveal important new or enhanced collaborations. Adding in the number of people represented by each group gives leaders insight into the extent of the impact across the institution. By better understanding how these different groups are affected, leaders can work together to more effectively prioritize, identify and remove roadblocks, and support peoples’ efforts longer term.           

 
No matter where your institution is currently in its CECL implementation journey, it is not too late to course-correct. Leadership—unified in priority, message, and understanding—can achieve the type of success that produces efficient sustainable practices, and increases employee resilience and engagement.

For more information, visit the CECL page on our website. If you would like specific answers to questions about your CECL implementation, please visit our Ask the Advisor page to submit your questions. For more tips on documenting your CECL adoption, stay tuned for our next article in the series, revisit past articles, or tune in to our CECL Radio podcast. You can also follow Susan Weber on LinkedIn.

Article
Implementing CECL: Kicking and screaming

Read this if your organization offers health insurance through a health insurance exchange.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, it contained a known gap which made healthcare premiums unaffordable for some families covered under Medicare or employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The gap in the law, commonly referred to as the family glitch, was formalized in 2013 as the result of a Final Rule issued by the IRS. 

The “family glitch” calculates the affordability of an employer-sponsored health insurance plan based on the cost for the employee, not additional family members. An article published in April 2022 on healthinsurance.org estimated that the cost of health insurance for a family covered by an employer-sponsored plan could end up being 25% or more of the household’s income, even if the plan was considered affordable (less than 9.61% of the household’s income) for the employee alone. Almost half of the people impacted by the family glitch are children.

The family glitch was allowed to stand in 2013 partly because of concerns that resolving the issue could push more people off employer-sponsored plans and onto marketplace qualified health plans, ultimately raising the cost of subsidies. Since then, several attempts have been made to fix the issue, which affects around five million Americans. The most recent attempt was an executive order issued by President Biden soon after taking office in January 2021. The Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing regulatory changes proposed by the Treasury Department and IRS, details of which were published in April 2022. 

These regulatory changes would alter the way health insurance exchanges calculate a family’s eligibility for subsidies when the family has access to an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. If the changes go into effect in 2023 as proposed, audits of the 2023 fiscal year will need to account for the new regulations and potentially conduct different testing protocols for different parts of the year. 

Our team is closely following these proposed changes to help ensure our clients are prepared to follow the new regulations. Earlier this week, we attended a public hearing held by the Treasury Department, where representatives of various groups spoke in support of, or in opposition to the proposed regulatory change. Supporters noted that families with plans that offer expensive coverage for dependents would benefit from this change through reduced costs and more coverage options, including provider networks that may more closely align with the family members’ needs. Those in favor of the change anticipate that families with children would see the most benefit. 

Those opposed to the change expressed that due to the way the law is currently written, they do not see the regulatory flexibility for the administration to make this change through administrative action. Additionally, concerns were raised that families covered by multiple health insurance plans could be faced with higher out-of-pocket-costs due to having separate deductibles that must be met on an annual basis. Lastly, not all families that have unaffordable insurance would see financial relief under this proposal. 

The Treasury Department is expected to announce its decision in time for open enrollment for plan year 2023 which is scheduled to begin on November 1, 2022. Our team will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates on how the changes may impact our clients. 

For more information

If you have more questions or have a specific question about your situation, please reach out to us. There is more information to consider when evaluating the effects these changes will have on the landscape of healthcare access and affordability, and we’re here to help.

Article
Fixing the "family glitch": How a proposed change to the ACA will affect healthcare subsidies 

Read this if you have offices in more than one state or are a SaaS company.

For many software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, sales tax compliance remains a challenge. Approximately 20 states currently subject SaaS to tax, and taxability varies from state to state, which impacts many SaaS companies that scale rapidly and unknowingly expand their nexus footprint into these states.

In South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., the Supreme Court held that states may assert nexus on an out-of-state business that exceeds a reasonable economic threshold, whether or not the business has physical presence in the state. The 2018 ruling is particularly impactful to SaaS companies because:

  • Cloud-based offerings are delivered electronically without the need for in-state presence.
  • Following the decision, all states have enacted some form of legislation that adopts an economic nexus threshold (typically, this threshold is $100,000 in sales or 200 transactions).
  • With Wayfair standards now in place for over three years, historical noncompliance is becoming more material, and states are expected to increase enforcement.

The issue of sales tax compliance has become more pressing now for two key reasons:

First, liabilities and exposures are cumulative, and material exposures may continue to mount for companies that are noncompliant. This is especially relevant for companies that have failed to adhere to the Wayfair nexus standards. In addition, the increasing presence of remote employees will expand the nexus footprints of many technology companies that offer flexible work arrangements.

Second, while tech M&A activity is expected to slow for the remainder of 2022, some SaaS firms may still be looking to sell or raise capital. Sales tax exposure will remain a priority consideration during the due diligence process for any strategic deals taking place. Due to the short lifecycle of most technology companies, tax due diligence is key in preparing for an exit or capital raise.

The impact of evolving tax policy

An increasing number of states are amending the statutory definition of taxable services to include SaaS or are categorizing SaaS as taxable “tangible personal property.” For example, Maryland recently enacted legislation that imposes sales tax on certain digital products, including SaaS.

Adding to the complexity, states often construe certain technology-based services as taxable SaaS. For example, state administrative guidance and case law may interpret online advertising and data analytics services as taxable SaaS if software is the predominant component of the offering. Also, as noted above, the state-by-state treatment varies widely. For instance, New York aggressively subjects cloud-based offerings to sales tax, whereas California does not subject SaaS or electronically downloaded offerings to sales tax.

Remote work

The recent adoption of remote-work models further complicates the determination of nexus and sales tax obligations, as companies hire employees in states where they have not previously had a physical presence. The vast majority (84%) of all technology businesses surveyed in BDO’s 2022 Technology CFO Outlook Survey expect to see some impact on their total tax liability as a result of onboarding out-of-state remote workers.

The presence of in-state employees is a nexus-creating activity irrespective of whether the company’s sales exceed economic nexus thresholds. Therefore, if a SaaS company has employees working in a different state than its headquarters, it is critical to track employee start dates by state and consider the potential sales tax obligations.

Understanding your risk exposure

In an exit scenario, CFOs don’t want surprises, and buyers don’t want to absorb liabilities. SaaS companies must carefully analyze their sales and use tax posture in the deal context to understand risks and proactively address any shortcomings. Failure to adopt appropriate tax compliance procedures at the onset of nexus-creating activities can lead to a material exposure.

Given the complex nature of SaaS sales tax, technology companies must address compliance in a step-by-step phased approach:

  • Nexus study
    An initial nexus study consists of an examination of a company’s state specific activities in determining whether it has a filing obligation in various states. This includes an analysis of both physical presence (e.g., property, payroll, in-state services, etc.) and state-by-state economic nexus standards.
  • Taxability analysis
    Once the company’s nexus profile is established, a comprehensive taxability analysis is required to determine whether the states identified in the nexus study subject SaaS and other ancillary services to sales tax. Depending on the nature of the company’s offerings, this may involve in-depth research on a state-by-state basis. For instance, if the company is providing a technology-based service that is potentially classified as a nontaxable service rather than SaaS, research in the material states is required to develop a supportable position. In addition, the taxability process will include an assessment of potential mitigating factors, such as tax-exempt customers, sale-for-resale exemptions and use tax remittance, on a customer-by-customer basis.
  • Potential exposure quantification/remediation
    If the company has nexus in states that subject its offerings to tax, the exposure should be quantified to determine the magnitude of exposure in those states. This will help to determine whether to proactively remediate the exposure through participation in state voluntary disclosure programs. Voluntary disclosure participation allows a company that is historically noncompliant to pay the applicable back taxes in exchange for a limited lookback period (typically three to four years) with the waiver of penalties. 
  • Sales tax compliance automation
    Once the company has addressed its potential exposure in the applicable states, it will have a subsequent filing obligation. Depending on the complexity, an automated sales-tax solution is often recommended to assist with the nexus, taxability and filing compliance going forward. An automated solution often increases efficiencies, saves time and helps mitigate tax compliance risk. 

Developing a plan to address sales tax prior to undergoing a diligence process is key to better understanding and controlling the compliance process. Failure to do so may lead to material escrow or purchase price allocation to remediate a sales tax issue that could have otherwise been prevented. 

Way forward

Understanding state and local taxes (SALT) can make a big difference for technology companies, especially SaaS businesses. Non-compliance with tax standards could lead to financial risks and even affect customer relationships.

There is ample M&A opportunity to consider in 2022, with valuations leveling off and cash reserves ready to be spent. Nearly two-thirds of tech firms (65%) plan to buy, sell, or partner this year, according to BDO data. Tech companies should prepare for deal making by being proactive about sales and tax compliance. Not doing so can block deals in the pipeline, as buyers and investors are keenly aware of tax compliance obligations.

Consulting a third party on SALT compliance, especially regarding economic nexus standards and taxability, may help SaaS firms receive the full value of their companies, mitigate exposure and liability, and empower company leaders to feel prepared when it comes time to sell.

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact our Consulting and Compliance team. We're here to help.

Written by Angela Acosta, Thomas Leonardo, and Matthew Dyment. Copyright © 2022 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved. www.bdo.com

Article
Breaking down sales and use tax compliance for SaaS companies

Editor's note: read this if you are a CFO, controller, accountant, or business manager.

We auditors can be annoying, especially when we send multiple follow-up emails after being in the field for consecutive days. Over the years, we have worked with our clients to create best practices you can use to prepare for our arrival on site for year-end work. Time and time again these have proven to reduce follow-up requests and can help you and your organization get back to your day-to-day operations quickly. 

  1. Reconcile early and often to save time.
    Performing reconciliations to the general ledger for an entire year's worth of activity is a very time consuming process. Reconciling accounts on a monthly or quarterly basis will help identify potential variances or issues that need to be investigated; these potential variances and issues could be an underlying problem within the general ledger or control system that, if not addressed early, will require more time and resources at year-end. Accounts with significant activity (cash, accounts receivable, investments, fixed assets, accounts payable and accrued expenses and debt), should be reconciled on a monthly basis. Accounts with less activity (prepaids, other assets, accrued expenses, other liabilities and equity) can be reconciled on a different schedule.
  2. Scan the trial balance to avoid surprises.
    As auditors, one of the first procedures we perform is to scan the trial balance for year-over-year anomalies. This allows us to identify any significant irregularities that require immediate follow up. Does the year-over-year change make sense? Should this account be a debit balance or a credit balance? Are there any accounts with exactly the same balance as the prior year and should they have the same balance? By performing this task and answering these questions prior to year-end fieldwork, you will be able to reduce our follow up by providing explanations ahead of time or by making correcting entries in advance, if necessary. 
  3. Provide support to be proactive.
    On an annual basis, your organization may go through changes that will require you to provide us documented contractual support.  Such events may include new or a refinancing of debt, large fixed asset additions, new construction, renovations, or changes in ownership structure.  Gathering and providing the documentation for these events prior to fieldwork will help reduce auditor inquiries and will allow us to gain an understanding of the details of the transaction in advance of performing substantive audit procedures. 
  4. Utilize the schedule request to stay organized.
    Each member of your team should have a clear understanding of their role in preparing for year-end. Creating columns on the schedule request for responsibility, completion date and reviewer assigned will help maintain organization and help ensure all items are addressed and available prior to arrival of the audit team. 
  5. Be available to maximize efficiency. 
    It is important for key members of the team to be available during the scheduled time of the engagement.  Minimizing commitments outside of the audit engagement during on site fieldwork and having all year-end schedules prepared prior to our arrival will allow us to work more efficiently and effectively and help reduce follow up after fieldwork has been completed. 

Careful consideration and performance of these tasks will help your organization better prepare for the year-end audit engagement, reduce lingering auditor inquiries, and ultimately reduce the time your internal resources spend on the annual audit process. See you soon. 

Article
Save time and effort—our list of tips to prepare for year-end reporting

Read this if you are a community bank.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) recently issued its first quarter 2022 Quarterly Banking Profile. The report provides financial information based on Call Reports filed by 4,796 FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions. The report also contains a section specific to community bank performance. In first quarter 2022, this section included the financial information of 4,353 FDIC-insured community banks. BerryDunn’s key takeaways from the report are as follows:

Community banks continue to feel the impact of shrinking net interest margins and inflation.

Community bank quarterly net income dropped to $7 billion in first quarter 2022, down $1.1 billion from a year ago. Lower net gains on loan sales and higher noninterest expenses offset growth in net interest income and lower provisions. Net income declined $581.3 million, or 7.7 percent from fourth quarter 2021 primarily because of lower noninterest income and higher noninterest expense.

Loan and lease balances continue to grow in first quarter 2022

Community banks saw a $21.5 billion increase in loan and lease balances from fourth quarter 2021. All major loan categories except commercial & industrial and agricultural production grew year over year, and 55.3 percent of community banks recorded annual loan growth. Total loan and lease balances increased $35.1 billion, or 2.1 percent, from one year ago. Excluding Paycheck Protection Program loans, annual total loan growth would have been 10.2 percent.

Community bank net interest margin (NIM) dropped to 3.11 percent due to strong earning asset growth.

Community bank NIM fell 15 basis points from the year-ago quarter and 10 basis points from fourth quarter 2021. Net interest income growth trailed the pace of earning asset growth. The yield on earning assets fell 28 basis points while the cost of funding earning assets fell 13 basis points from the year-ago quarter. The 0.24 percent average cost of funds was the lowest level on record since Quarterly Banking Profile data collection began in first quarter 1984. 

Community bank allowance for credit losses (ACL) to total loans remained higher than the pre-pandemic level at 1.28 percent, despite declining 4 basis points from the year-ago quarter.


NOTE: The above graph is for all FDIC-Insured Institutions, not just community banks.

The ACL as a percentage of loans 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status (coverage ratio) increased to a record high of 236.7 percent. The decline in noncurrent loan balances outpaced the decline in ACL, with the coverage ratio for community banks emerging 57.9 percentage points above the coverage ratio for noncommunity banks. 

The banking landscape continues to be one that is ever-evolving. With interest rates on the rise, banks will find their margins in flux once again. During this transition, banks should look for opportunities to increase loan growth and protect and enhance customer relationships. Inflation has also caused concern not only for banks but also for their customers. This is an opportune time for banks to work with their customers to navigate the current economic environment. Community banks, with their in-depth knowledge of their customers’ financial situations and the local economies served, are in a perfect position to build upon the trust that has already been developed with customers.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to BerryDunn’s Financial Services team if you have any questions.

Article
FDIC issues its First Quarter 2022 Quarterly Banking Profile

Read this if you are a solar energy investor, developer, or installer. 

Solar energy is a popular choice for businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint through alternative energy sources. In addition to supporting a company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, converting to solar energy can potentially lock-in lower energy rates. Further, Section 48 of the Internal Revenue Code provides businesses that invest in solar energy a 26% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) on qualifying solar property placed in service before January 1, 2026—but only if construction begins on the property before January 1, 2023. Otherwise, the credit is phased down to as low as 10%.

The IRS has provided special rules to determine when construction begins on solar energy property for ITC purposes. Businesses seeking to maximize the available tax credits should consider beginning solar projects before the end of 2022 to be able to take advantage of the 26% ITC rate.

Phasedown of ITC for solar energy property

Under current rules, the ITC percentage for qualifying solar energy property is determined based on when construction begins, and the credit is taken in the year the qualifying property is placed in service.

For property placed in service prior to January 1, 2026, the credit is as follows: 

  • 26%, if construction begins after December 31, 2019, and prior to January 1, 2023;
  • 22%, if construction begins after December 31, 2022, and prior to January 1, 2024; or
  • 10%, if construction begins after December 31, 2023.

For property placed in service after December 31, 2025, the credit is 10% regardless of when construction begins. Unused credits may be carried back one year and carried forward 20 years.

Legislative developments

The Biden Administration has indicated its support of clean energy incentives. While the Build Back Better proposals approved by the US House of Representatives in 2021 would have modified the ITC and extended the credit to qualifying solar projects for which construction begins before 2027, the legislation was not passed by the Senate. Therefore, the above phasedown of the credit remains in force. Solar energy developers and businesses planning to invest in solar energy projects should continue to monitor potential legislative developments in this area.

Determining when construction begins

The IRS issued Notice 2018-59 to provide specific guidance on when construction begins for purposes of determining the solar ITC percentage. The notice provides two methods a taxpayer can use to establish when construction begins: (i) the physical work test, or (ii) the five percent safe harbor. Both methods include a continuity requirement.

Physical work test

Construction begins under the physical work test when the taxpayer begins physical work of a significant nature on the project. The analysis is based on the nature of the work performed—not the amount or cost of the work—with no minimum requirements. Physical work can occur on-site or off-site and includes, for example, manufacturing components, inverters, transformers, or other power conditioning equipment. The notice clarifies that physical work does not include preliminary activities (as defined) or work to produce components of energy property that are included in existing inventory or that are typically held in inventory by a vendor.  

Five percent safe harbor 

Under the five percent safe harbor, construction begins when the taxpayer pays or incurs five percent or more of the total cost of the solar energy property. Whether a cost has been incurred for this purpose is based on the taxpayer’s method of accounting. The notice provides special rules for solar energy projects consisting of multiple qualifying properties.

Continuity requirement

Both the physical work test and the five percent safe harbor include a continuity requirement, under which the taxpayer must show continuous progress toward completing the project. This means maintaining a continuous program of construction under the physical work test and satisfying a continuous efforts test under the five percent safe harbor. Whether the continuity requirement is satisfied under either method is determined based on the relevant facts and circumstances.

Notice 2018-59 also provides a continuity safe harbor, which allows solar projects to satisfy the continuity requirement if the project is placed in service by the end of the calendar year that is no more than four calendar years after the year construction began. In response to the pandemic and associated supply chain issues, the IRS issued Notice 2021-14 to extend the continuity safe harbor to six years for projects for which construction began during calendar year 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2019, and to five years for projects where construction began in 2020.

Timeline pressure

Solar energy developers and businesses investing in solar energy projects are on a tight timeline to determine whether they want to begin construction on projects in their pipeline before the end of 2022 to be able to take advantage of the 26% ITC rate.

Given the persistence of supply chain and workforce issues and the potential rush to begin construction prior to the end of the year, taxpayers should keep in mind that contractors and equipment may not be available or could be difficult to secure in time to meet the year-end beginning of construction deadline. In addition, supply chain and inventory issues may drive cost increases and thus cost overruns that must be considered when analyzing when construction begins using the five percent safe harbor.

If you have questions on this or other renewable energy tax topics, please contact our Renewable Energy team. We’re here to help.

Article
Year-end planning for the solar energy investment tax credit