On Aug. 28, 2020, as part of COVID-19 relief, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum allowing employers to suspend withholding and paying to the IRS eligible employees’ Social Security payroll taxes from September 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. The IRS then issued guidance on the payroll tax deferral in Notice 2020-65, but some questions still remain, and additional guidance in anticipated. Here’s what we know now.
Notice 2020-65 Provides Basic Guidance
For those implementing the program, the Notice provides barebones components of the payroll tax deferral, which applies to the employee portion of Social Security Tax.
- For employees earning less than $4,000 in a bi-weekly pay period, employers would defer withholding/depositing employee share of social security tax on wages earned for payroll periods on or after September 1, 2020.
- For employees whose wages fluctuate, the deferral is applicable to wages paid in any bi-weekly pay period during the dates specified in which the employee earns less than $4,000, regardless of wages or compensation paid to the employee for any other pay period. Therefore, the employer may defer to collect the tax in a pay period where the employee earns less than $4,000 but be required to collect it for another pay period where the employee earns more than $4,000.
Though Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced previously that the deferral program would be optional, the Notice does not specifically address whether it is mandatory or optional.
One main reason that employers may not be eager to offer the benefit to employees is due to the absence of guidance regarding the situation of an employee’s termination or otherwise leaving employment ahead of paying the deferred amount. The employer and employee can come up with an arrangement (i.e. deducting the amount owed from the final paycheck), but should an employer fail to collect from the employee, the IRS could go after the employer.
To Defer or Not to Defer?
Given that the motive behind the tax deferral program is to get more money into the pockets of employees now in order to make ends meet due to reduced wages and/or hours, employers may think it worthwhile to extend this option to their employees. An average worker who completely defers Social Security taxes until December 31, 2020 would save just under $800, or about $60 per week. Employees must keep in mind that it is a temporary relief in the form of a deferral, not a tax forgiveness, though the President’s Executive Order does encourage Treasury to look into possible avenues for forgiveness. At best the tax deferral is an opportunity for workers to funnel those funds into an emergency savings account, ensuring that the savings will be on hand should Treasury fail to put forth a path for forgiveness and the taxes are consequently deducted from paychecks next year.
As Congress begins working on a new coronavirus relief bill, the White House looks to target aid more specifically and cap the overall expense of the package at $1 trillion. Here’s what else we know about a second stimulus package.
Direct Stimulus Payment
Another round of stimulus checks could be coming to American households, but the amount is yet to be determined. While early talks of a second stimulus package were largely jobs focused, recent nationwide spikes of confirmed coronavirus cases have some states rolling back their reopening plans. The effect could be further layoffs for American workers and economic hardship for families, which increase the urgency for additional cash payments. However, the amounts and income thresholds could differ from the first round of stimulus checks, which were approved for individuals whose income was no greater than $75,000 and for married couples whose combined income was no greater than $150,000. Payments were phased out for incomes above those thresholds. It remains unclear at this point how Congress will move forward with this.
Changes to Unemployment Benefits
The CARES Act approved a weekly $600 bonus unemployment benefit to workers who’ve been laid off or furloughed as a result of COVID-19. This is in addition to state-provided unemployment benefits. However, this $600 weekly bonus is set to expire at the end of the month. Some lawmakers would like to see it extended while others would like unemployment benefits to be capped at no more than 100% of a worker’s compensation when employed. Though the additional unemployment benefit has proven to be a financial lifeline to workers who were suddenly laid off or furloughed, the risk is that it potentially incentivizes citizens to stay unemployed.
Back to Work Bonuses
Some lawmakers have put forth proposals for return-to-work bonuses. Such legislation could be an alternative to extending the enhanced unemployment bonus. So far talks of this bonus indicate a weekly $450 bonus for a limited time targeted at unemployed workers who return to work.
More Relief for Businesses
The CARES Act introduced the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 with forgivable loans. The second stimulus package could include an extension of the PPP, but some lawmakers would like to repurpose its unused funds for other kinds of assistance, which would be more clearly targeted at businesses that need the help. The White House also continues to advocate for tax breaks to promote new hires.
Liability Protection for Employers
The second stimulus package could see liability protections for employers who could possibly face lawsuits related to COVID-19, but any bill that permits sweeping immunity for employers will likely receive pushback from some lawmakers.
State and local aid, infrastructure spending, payroll tax cuts, and a tax credit for domestic travel are further probable points of discussion when Congress returns from recess.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress at the end of March provides direct economic assistance to Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the bill, certain provisions allow people to withdraw from their retirement accounts, including their 401(k)s and IRAs, without the usual early withdrawal penalty. Individuals must have been directly affected by coronavirus – through personal, spousal, or dependent diagnosis or furloughed, laid off, or reduced hours from their job to be eligible for the fee-free withdrawals.
While pulling from retirement funds seems like a simple and fast fix, it may not be the best option based on an individual’s circumstances. Those who stand to suffer the most amid the pandemic are those who are nearing retirement and those already in retirement. The unexpected ups and downs, current unemployment, and new potential health costs in this unprecedented time leave many Americans wondering how they’ll be able to retire comfortably in the current economic climate.
Consider these Options to Counteract the Effects of COVID-19 on Retirement Funds
Keep Current Costs Low
Take a look at current expenses and determine if anything can be eliminated or reduced. Any unused subscriptions? Are you paying for the right amount of insurance? Consider shopping around for lower rates. Can you negotiate any current bills – cell phone, credit cards, internet, anything with an interest rate, even your cable? Hold off on any major home or equipment upgrades and work with what you already have before adding on another expense.
Use Your Home
Assess your risks for taking out a second mortgage or a reverse mortgage. If your mortgage is already paid off, look into home equity loan options. A cash-out refinance may also be available if you’re still paying the mortgage. Over one-third of Americans have their wealth tied up in their homes, so it may be worth it to see if downsizing your home is an option. If so, it might be possible to pay for your smaller home in cash and use the remaining proceeds from the sale of your old for any outstanding debts or liabilities as you near retirement. The location of your home should also be considered – the cost of living can vary significantly from state to state, so moving to a new state or country may bring you more bang for your buck.
Plan for the Long-Term
Health care and long-term care can be an extreme cost for senior citizens. Assisted living and nursing home facilities usually top $60k+ for just one year. Long-term care insurance is costly but can help prepare you and your loved ones to pay the necessary costs. With Americans living longer each year, it’s worth it to plan on trying to stretch your retirement savings to last until age 90. Calculate how much you (and/or a spouse) would need with the assumption you’ll live to be 90. It’s also worth looking at final expense insurance, which could help cover final expenses at the end of your life. Planning for the event in advance can take the financial stress off family members left behind, whether it’s through final expense insurance or setting up a savings account with the express purpose of paying for any final expenses.
While we’re in a global pandemic, everything isn’t all doom and gloom. COVID-19 has hit the country, and our bank accounts hard, but people will bounce back after this economic crisis – much like investors after other recessions in our nation’s history.
Entrepreneurs are tasked with not only managing their business finances, but their personal finances as well, and when needs, circumstances, and priorities don’t align with the two, managing it all can feel overwhelming. To keep personal finances from getting pushed to the side, below are some tips to help you handle your own money while overseeing your business’s.
Plan for Rainy Days
Building an emergency fund for rainy days is not novel advice, but business owners might want to stash away even more than the recommended three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Are you prepared for circumstances like irregular fluctuations in cash flow, loss of a major client, or a national pandemic? Keep in mind that the purpose of an emergency fund is not to earn a big yield on this money but to be sure it’s there and accessible, so keep it in an FDIC-insured cash bank account.
Separate Business and Personal Finances
When you first start a business, open a business bank account and apply for a business credit card for business expenses. In addition to helping you build business credit, this will streamline your tax prep during tax season, lend more credibility to your business as an actual business, remove personal liability in case of adversity, and eliminate the burden of your business’s financials from your personal accounts.
Automate Bill Payment Schedules
A common personal financial tip is to automate your bill payment schedule, so consider carrying this practice over to your business finances as well. This will hep to prevent you from getting overwhelmed with both personal and business bills, thereby avoiding late payment fees and knocks to your credit score.
Manage Your Personal Credit
You know how crucial good credit is for your business, so it makes sense to keep your personal credit in check as well. Be sure to pay bills on time even if there are months when you can only make the minimum payment. Also be aware of your credit utilization (the percentage of credit that you’re actually using versus your total available credit limit). Keeping your credit utilization below 30% will keep your credit in good standing for loan approval.
Save for Retirement
Although it’s typical for business owners to invest profits back into their business, you still need to prepare for retirement, and investing and diversifying your savings may help you save more money for retirement than you could as an employee. SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, Solo 401(k)s, and SIMPLE 401(k)s are all retirement plan options available to small businesses. Research each one to determine which would be the best fit for you and your business. As for diversifying investments, look into options like stocks, bonds, ETFs, and money market mutual funds. Allocating your assets into different funnels will give you some breathing room should your business experience a struggle period.
Look to Tax Professionals
It’s no secret that U.S. tax laws are complex, and different business entities have different taxation rules. An accountant or tax professional can help you determine what your obligations are. To streamline the process, be sure to keep clear and organized records all year long.
Even those of us who have the best intentions with our money can fall victim to bad financial habits, which can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Some of the most common bad habits we fall into include:
- Impulse spending
- Not budgeting (or not sticking to a budget)
- Spending more than you earn
- Relying on credit cards
- Falling into the trap of convenience
Breaking bad financial habits takes time, intention, and effort. Below are some ideas for starting better habits to get your money to work for you.
Start an Emergency Savings Account
This isn’t anything you haven’t been told before, but if you want to quit the cycle of credit card debt, you’re going to need a savings account to fall back on in times of financial hardship or unforeseen costs. Start with a goal of saving $1,000 specifically for emergencies, so next time your car needs work, for example, you’ll have the funds to pay for it rather than sinking farther into credit card debt.
Nothing says “taking control of my money” like creating a budget that works for you. When you assign a purpose to every dollar, not only are you actively monitoring your income and spending habits, but you’re avoiding debt and reaching your financial goals more quickly. The trick is sticking to it. It’s important to track your spending monthly, and revisit your budget at the beginning of each month, adjusting as needed with the goal of spending less than you bring in. If you know you have a bigger expense coming up later that month, or even in a few months, you’ll have a big picture of your finances and you can begin to make a plan for saving. You can also decide what your priorities will be for that month, and start saving toward your goals.
Make a Plan to Get Out of Debt
Credit cards, student loans, and car payments eat into your budget, and limit the amount of money you can put toward retirement and other financial goals. In short, debt limits your choices.
One popular and time-tested method of getting out of debt is often referred to as the snowball method. You start by paying off the smallest debt, then once that’s paid off, you add that monthly payment toward the next smallest debt until that one’s paid off. For example, if your smallest debt is a doctor bill for $200 and you make arrangements to pay $50 per month until it’s paid off, for the next four months you’ll pay that $50 to your doctor’s office while paying the minimum on every other debt. Once the doctor bill is paid in full, you add that $50 to the monthly payment of your next smallest debt while continuing to pay the minimum on your other larger debts. As each debt is paid off, you’re adding more to the next debt and building momentum until even your largest debt is paid off.
Save for the Future and Start Investing
Once you set up an emergency savings account and pay off your debt, you can begin to save more aggressively. The first step is to bulk up your emergency savings fund to the equivalent of six months of living expenses so you’ll have something to fall back on in case of a major unexpected life event, such as a job loss. Once this is accomplished, you can grow your wealth by investing your money. You’ll need to work with a financial planner to help advise you in investments and diversify your portfolio.
It’s easy to get off track and lose focus when paying off debt, keeping on track with your budget, and saving for the future, so it helps to have some goals in mind. Whether your goals include a vacation home on a tropical island, paying for you child’s college education, or achieving early retirement (or maybe all three), keep these goals at the forefront of your mind whenever you lose steam. You can even create a vision board and put it someplace where you’ll see it every day, reminding you that good financial habits will pay off in the end.
If you have questions on setting healthy financial goals or would like to discuss your 2019 tax return, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 317.549.3091.