The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. Intended to facilitate the United States’ recovery from the devastating economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this economic rescue legislation is one of the most expensive in U.S. history. Below is a broad overview of some of the larger components of the package.
Direct Financial Payments
Direct stimulus payments in the amount of $1,400 will be sent to individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 or less. This amount augments the $600 payments in the second stimulus package signed by former president Trump in December of 2020 in order to hit the $2,000 mark originally requested by Trump. Married couples with AGIs of $150,000 or less will receive $2,800 ($1,400 for each), and each qualified dependent regardless of age will receive $1,400. Payments are reduced for individuals who make over $75,000 and disappear completely for individuals who make $80,000 or more ($160,000 for married couples).
Extended Unemployment Benefits
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits of $300 a week are extended through September 6, 2021. These benefits were created for workers such as independent contractors, who do not typically qualify for unemployment insurance. The total number of eligibility weeks increases as well, from 50 to 79.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits, which boost unemployment benefits by $300 per week, are also extended through September 6, 2021.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides added weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to workers who have depleted their state unemployment benefits, has been extended through September 6, 2021. The total number of eligibility weeks also increases from 24 to 53 weeks.
Additionally, the first $10,200 in 2020 benefits is tax free for families making $150,000 or less. Taxpayers who had taxes withheld from unemployment benefits in 2020 will be authorized to reclaim them when they file their 2020 taxes. If they’ve already filed taxes, they can file an amended tax return.
The Act also grants a 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums so unemployed and furloughed workers, as well as those who’ve had hours reduced, can continue their group health care plans through the end of September.
Expanded Child Tax Credit
For couples who make $150,00 or less in a year ($112,500 or less for single parents), the Act increases the Child Tax Credit maximum to $3,600 a year for each child under age 6, and $3,000 a year for each child ages 6 to 17. The law grants one year of credit payments, which will be sent by direct deposit on a monthly basis, possibly beginning this summer. The remaining amount can be claimed on 2021 tax returns.
Employer Tax Credits
The Act extends tax credits to employers who implement Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) emergency paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave to employees. In addition to previously acceptable FFCRA reasons for sick leave, from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, credits are also available for sick leave wages paid when an “employee has been exposed to COVID-19 or the employee’s employer has requested such test or diagnosis, or the employee is obtaining immunization related to COVID-19 or recovering from injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization.” Too, tax credits for emergency paid family leave are permissible for leave granted when an employee is incapable of working, either in person or remotely, due to the necessity of caring for a child whose school is closed at any point during the pandemic.
Help for Businesses
The “Restaurant Revitalization Fund” is a new program established under the American Rescue Plan Act that allocates $25 billion in pandemic assistance grants to eligible entities such as restaurants, bars, lounges, and caterers. The grants are able to administer up to $10 million per company with a limit of $5 million per physical location. The funds can be used to cover payroll, rent, utilities, and other expenses.
Two programs established under the CARES Act receive additional funding. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program receives an added $15 billion, and the Paycheck Protection Program receives an added $7.25 billion. The PPP’s current application deadline of March 31, 2021, is not extended.
The beginning of a new year has long been associated with starting from a blank slate and setting new goals for the year ahead. While 2020 taught us that plans and goals can quickly veer off course through no fault of our own, maybe 2021 can teach us the value of planning anyway—even in the face of the unknown. The financial tasks set forth below will help you pay down debts, save money, and better prepare you for whatever 2021 has in store.
File Your Tax Return ASAP
Not only does filing early help stave off refund-hungry thieves, but, generally, the sooner you file the sooner you get your refund. If you’re planning on owing the IRS, it’s better to know early and make arrangements for payment.
Given the unemployment plunge of 2020, keep in mind that unemployment checks are typically taxable, so if you received extended jobless benefits, be prepared to face a potentially greater-than-expected tax bill.
Check Your Withholding
You can use an online income tax calculator to estimate how much you’ll owe in federal taxes. Use your prepared 2020 tax return and your first pay stub from 2021 to check that you’re on track with tax withholding. If not, the calculator can help work out adjustments to your paycheck, and you can contact your employer if you need to make changes.
If you’re a business owner, you may need to make estimated quarterly payments. Tax professionals can help you work out amounts and details.
There’s no time like the present to organize your financial life. All those paper receipts and statements scattered on desktops or tossed into random drawers? Corral them into labeled file folders, baskets, or envelopes. If you want to shed the paper clutter all together, go digital with an accounting software like QuickBooks. A digital snapshot of your finances will help you gain a better grasp for where you are financially before setting new goals.
Commit to Saving in a Realistic Way
Instead of just thinking about saving, commit to establishing a habit of saving by striving for a concrete goal. Set the amount and time frame for your goal, then come up with actionable steps on how you’re going to reach it. For instance, set up an automatic draft from checking into savings, take on a side hustle, and/or comb through your budget to see where extra funds could be found. In order to set yourself up for success from the get-go, be sure to be realistic. A goal of $100,000 in five years might be realistic for some people, while beginning with a goal to save $50 a month will be more on par for others.
Create a Budget
First, look back over bank and credit card statements from last year to help identify spending patterns and areas of improvement. Next, set a budget. Think of your budget as a roadmap of how you’ll save and spend your money, starting with essentials, such as mortgage, food, utilities, and healthcare; then move to recreation and savings. Keep in mind that your budget has movable parts, meaning life circumstances can change, even month to month.
Start an Emergency Fund
An emergency fund is exactly what it sounds like—funds set aside for an unexpected cost like car or home repairs. At the minimum you should aim for $1,000 to be put into an emergency fund, and try to work your way to saving three months’ worth of income.
Spend Your Medical FSA Early Rather than Later
If you have an employer-provided flexible spending account, spending it as early in the year has possible has a few advantages, including:
- Acquiring medical expenses early in the year can help you meet insurance deductibles, so the rest of your health care can cost less.
- If you leave your job at any point during the year, you can spend the full amount you had planned to contribute—up to $2,750—and aren’t required to finish making the full FSA contribution.
- You mitigate the risk of not using the full amount by the deadline and potentially losing money.
Consult a Financial Advisor
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a millionaire to seek professional guidance from a financial advisor. Whether you’re looking for a one-time consultation or on-going advice, someone in the know can help set you on the path for long-term planning.
Legislative passages in 2020, including the SECURE Act, which made changes to beneficiary distributions, and the CARES Act, which included a waiver of required minimum distributions (RMDs), helped to expand the playing field for savers. These two factors, combined with the lowest tax rates in recent history, make for a potentially optimal time for Roth conversions, and many Americans have jumped on board. Is it the right move for you?
The Difference Between Traditional and Roth IRAs
- Traditional IRA or 401(K): enjoy a tax deduction upon contribution but pay taxes upon withdrawal
- Roth: no tax-deduction upon contribution but enjoy tax-free growth and no additional taxes upon withdrawal
The decision comes down to whether to pay taxes now or later. If only a crystal ball existed in which future tax rates could be known.
What Is a Roth Conversion?
A Roth IRA conversion is when an investor transfers money directly from a traditional IRA or 401(k) to a post-tax account such as a Roth IRA. The move is considered a distribution, and thus is taxed in that year. Due to today’s historically low tax environment, Roth conversions are having their moment in the sun.
Advantages of Converting to a Roth IRA
An essential benefit of converting to a Roth IRA is the potential for lower taxes in the future. While it’s obviously not possible to predict future tax rates, you can likely estimate if you’ll be earning more money, and thus, land in a higher tax bracket. If such is the case, odds are typically in your favor to pay less taxes in the long run than you most likely would with the same amount of money in a traditional IRA. Additionally, contribution withdrawals are tax-free (withdrawals from earnings are not tax-free). However, avoid using a Roth IRA like a bank account as any withdrawn funds today, however small, can impact your future savings.
Transferring to a Roth also means you won’t be required to take minimum distributions (RMDs) once you reach age 72. If you’re able to keep the funds in the account, you can watch it grow tax-free, and you would have the option to pass the money to your heirs.
Disadvantages of Converting to a Roth IRA
The biggest deterrent for a Roth IRA is the potentially immense tax bill. If, for example, an investor has $100,000 of pre-tax dollars in a traditional IRA and falls within the 24% tax bracket, the investor would owe $24,000 in taxes, due upon their next quarterly tax bill. Additionally, if the investor is under age 59 ½ and uses the IRA funds to pay the tax bill, they’ll also pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty on that distribution. In other words, be sure you have the liquid assets to cover the tax bill as a result of the conversion.
To Convert or Not to Convert?
If your taxes rise due to government increases, or you begin earning more money and land in a higher tax bracket, a Roth IRA conversion could save you substantial money in taxes in the long run. However, there’s a potential for a hefty tax bill that can be complicated to calculate, especially if you have other IRAs funded with pre-tax dollars, so if you think it might be a good move, it’s best to consult with a tax advisor on your specific circumstances.
Much like boredom breeds creativity, challenging times breed innovation. Though we will eventually return to normal, it will be a new normal—one where veterinarians have learned to adapt, survive, and even thrive during a global health crisis and economic downturn. Vet practices, which traditionally have been brick-and-mortar businesses, were forced almost overnight to implement online consultations, digital diagnoses, and curbside visits. These changes, it turns out, may be beneficial for business not just in the face of a pandemic, but permanently.
A critical concern for businesses during the pandemic has been maintaining incoming cash flow, and though veterinary practices have had to adapt quickly, telemedicine—including remote consultations, diagnoses, and prescriptions—has provided an avenue for concerned pet owners to continue accessing affordable, professional vet care while helping to keep vet practices profitable. Along with aiding in restoring work/life balance among staff, offering telemedicine services, including curbside visits, is especially beneficial for immunocompromised and differently abled clients.
If vet practices were doing telemedicine prior to the pandemic, it’s likely that they weren’t charging for the service, but Covid-19 has given the green light to let clients know that payment for such time and expertise will be normal practice going forward. After all, services like curbside visits are so far proving to increase duration of appointments, as new intake processes need to be developed and back-and-forth communication with clients can take time.
A strong line of communication with clients during and after the pandemic is imperative, and this is a time when veterinary practices can really boost and nurture existing client relationships as well as establish new ones. One can look to the company Chewy, which has experienced a momentum in revenue, due in large part to customer service and a new customer acquisition rate that is significantly higher than pre-pandemic. The company experienced an influx of active customers greater in the first half of 2020 than in all of 2019.
“We built Chewy by putting the customer at the center of everything that we do. In a world of uncertainty, qualities like trust, convenience, and customer service really matter, especially when it comes to caring for family or loved ones,” said Chewy CEO Sumit Singh.
Veterinary practices can use their websites and social media platforms to engage with clients and keep them informed, now and moving forward, by relaying valuable information such as:
- Alerting clients to hours of operation, policy changes, appointment availabilities, new procedures, and telemedicine capabilities
- Updating clients of the availability, including any sales and promotions, of pet supplies and food, either through the vet’s platform or a partner where the vet practice receives a percentage of the sales
Public health recommendations and state-mandated phases are still changing regularly, so keeping track of Covid-19 safety practices is still critical in keeping business running. Improve communication between staff by updating email listservs or using Google Docs and Sheets, which support immediate collaboration and multiple editors. Programs like Google Hangouts and Slack enable client service representatives to communicate efficiently with each other and with remote staff.
While you don’t want to inundate staff with an overload of Zoom meetings and new administrative and logistical strategies, managers should be regularly conversing on areas for growth and ways to improve patient care, client experiences, and team morale. Retaining valuable staff and keeping your team as connected as possible is a sure way to keep business steady, and even growing, well beyond the pandemic.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act changed the rules for employers on retirement plans, making it easier for employers to offer 401(k) plans and for employees to take part in them. Here’s how.
Multiple Employer Plans
Known as MEPs, multiple employer plans permit businesses to band together to offer employees a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA, effectively allowing workers access to the same low-cost plans offered by large employers. While MEPs existed before the SECURE Act, here’s how they are now easier to establish and maintain.
- The “one bad apple rule”, where one employer’s failure to comply jeopardized the entire plan, was done away with.
- The “common nexus” requirement, which restricted the MEP option to small business employers who operated either in the same industry or same geographic location, was eliminated, permitting an “open MEP” that can be administered by a pooled plan provider (typically a financial services firm).
- MEPs with fewer than 1,000 participants (and no more than 100 participants from a single employer) are excluded from a potentially expensive audit requirement.
- Small business employers are also eligible for new tax credits for offering retirement savings options to employees.
Changes to Safe Harbor Plans
A provision of the SECURE Act provides more flexibility for employers who offer safe harbor 401(k) plans, which are 401(k) plans with an employer match that allows for avoidance of most annual compliance tests. If a 401(k) includes a Safe Harbor provision, the employer makes annual contributions on behalf of employees, and those contributions are vested immediately. Flexibility offered by the SECURE Act includes:
- Increasing the automatic enrollment escalation cap under a qualified automatic contribution arrangement (QACA) 401(k) plan from 10 to 15%.
- Removing the notice requirement for nonelective contributions. (The notice requirement is still applicable, however, for plans that implement the safe harbor match.)
- Whereas pre-SECURE Act, switching to a safe harbor plan had to be done before the start of the plan year, employers are now allowed to switch to a safe harbor 401(k) plan with nonelective contributions anytime up to 31 days before the end of the plan year. Amendments after that time are approved if (1) a nonelective contribution of at least 4% of compensation is granted for all eligible employees for that year, and (2) the plan in amended by the close of the following plan year.
Automatic Enrollment Credit
The SECURE Act added an incentive for small businesses to feature automatic enrollment in their plans by allowing businesses with fewer than 100 employees to qualify for a $500 per year tax credit when they create a new plan that includes automatic enrollment. Business can also take advantage of this by converting an existing plan to one with an automatic enrollment. The tax credit is available for three years following the year the plan automatically begins enrolling participants.
Part-Time Employee Participation
Previously, employers could exclude employees who work fewer than 1,000 hours per year from defined contribution plans, including 401(k) plans. Starting in January of 2021, the SECURE Act requires employers to include employees who work at least 500 hours in three consecutive years. This means that in order to qualify under this rule, employees would need to meet the 500-hour requirement for three years starting in 2021 in order to become eligible in 2024.
Choosing the Right Plan for Your Business
- Research 401(k) plan options for your business, keeping in mind that retirement plans can be customized to meet the needs of you and your employees.
- Carefully read through costs and fees of each plan. Recordkeeping fees, transaction fees, and investment fees are some to be mindful of, and these fees might increase if you add more employees and the plan grows (i.e. low-cost plans upfront might not be the best plan for your business in the long term.)
- Look for a 401(k) plan that presents a variety of investment opportunities for employees in terms of stocks, bonds, broad-based international exposure, and emerging markets.
Work with a financial expert who can help you establish and oversee a 401(k) plan. These professionals can include third-party administrators, recordkeepers, and investment advisors and managers.