Count on loan forgiveness? What do you want to know
In mid-April, the most confusing part of the Paycheck Protection Program navigated the process of obtaining a loan. Now, business owners face a potentially more complicated puzzle: getting the loan forgiven, which was one of the program’s main selling points.
“In terms of frustration, on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s a 14,” says William McDevitt, tax practice manager at accounting firm WilkinGuttenplan, which serves clients in New Jersey and New York.
loan forgiveness sounds simple: spend at least 75% of the proceeds on wages over an eight-week period, spend the rest on expenses such as mortgage interest, rent, and utilities, and the government should cancel your loan.
But what if you receive PPP money on May 10 and run your biweekly payroll on May 14? Is all this payroll eligible for the rebate? Or just four days? “Something as simple as that isn’t clear,” McDevitt says. The government said it would issue further guidance on loan forgiveness within 30 days of the passage of the Cares Act, which became law on March 27. This does not happen.
Without further indication, confusion reigns. So we asked financial and legal experts how they advise their clients on some of the most common confusion points related to loan forgiveness. Although they differ on some technical aspects, they agree on one thing: the best thing to do is to make payments the same way you made them last year, whenever possible. You don’t want to adjust your business to conform to guidelines that are still uncertain.
And talk to your banker about it. “That’s who will ultimately make the decision,” says Mark Koziel, executive vice president of business services at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
I got a PPP loan, but we’re still closed and my employees have almost nothing to do. Can I ask them to take their paid vacation now?
To qualify for loan forgiveness, says Jody Padar, CPA and vice president of strategy for accounting tech firm Botkeeper, anything you pay this year has to be generally how and when you pay it. have paid in previous years. In his company, for example, accountants work crazy hours until April 15, and then everyone takes vacation in May and June. So if everyone in your company typically takes vacations during the eight-week period, you might be okay. But you can’t make everyone use all of their paid time off just because you don’t have a job for them, and then ask for that pay to be forgiven.
If I fire someone and they get severance pay, does that payment count as payroll for the purposes of calculating my loan forgiveness?
The PPP language in the Cares Act does not specifically mention severance pay, says Susan Gross Sholinsky, a member of law firm Epstein Becker Green. But the definition of “salary costs” includes “severance or termination pay,” which would mean severance pay could be forgiven. McDevitt agrees. Erik Asgeirsson, CEO of CPA.com, the business and technology arm of the AICPA, isn’t so sure, because the intent of the law is to keep people working.
Can I pay all my pension contributions for the year during the eight-week forgiveness period and have those payments count as payroll for loan forgiveness purposes?
Again, says Padar, this goes back to what you’ve done in previous years. If you have a lot of seasonality in your business and typically make that payment within the eight-week period, that might be fine.
McDevitt says businesses may be able to count eight weeks of contributions toward the rebate, even if payment isn’t made within the eight-week period. He will know for sure when the advice will relate to the interpretation of the phrase “costs incurred and payments made” in the legislation.
If all my employees are working like crazy now, say 80 hours a week, can I count each of them as two employees for the purpose of maintaining my workforce?
No. Says Sholinsky, “It’s a little too creative. I wouldn’t go there.”
I have salespeople who are paid primarily on commission. During the eight-week period used to calculate loan forgiveness, these sellers cannot sell anything. Can I pay them a higher salary during this period, to compensate for lost commissions, and include this higher salary in the calculations that determine the discount?
Basically, yes. “Wages are wages,” says Koziel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a salary or a commission. Your eight-week pay cycle this year will be compared to your eight-week pay cycle last year.
You’ll get tripped up on that, McDevitt says, only if the pay comes with strings attached. You actually have to pay the full amount to your salespeople – this cannot be structured as a commission advance.
Can I pay all of my employees’ premiums during the eight-week period?
If the bonus reflects work done for an entire year, McDevitt recommends counting only eight weeks for forgiveness. “It’s the conservative response and the worst case scenario,” he says. In the best case: the total amount of the bonus payments will count for the cancellation. If the bonus is only paid for work done during the eight-week period – similar to hazard pay – then the full amount, so long as it is reasonable, could be forgiven.