2021 Tax Planning for Construction Firms

Last year construction contractors saw projects suspended indefinitely (or scrapped altogether) and escalated competition in the bidding process, both of which effectively stifled profit margins. It’s safe to say that the construction industry was not spared the upheaval of 2020. After such a tumultuous year, tax planning for 2021 might seem like a daunting challenge, but it’s a critical step for construction contractors in preparation of the year ahead.

Essential Tax Provisions for 2021 Preparation

With the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic and a transfer of administrations in the White House this year, new legislation affecting tax provisions is a possibility, but there are several provisions under the current tax law, including those put in place under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, that you want to be sure not to pass over.

Bonus Depreciation

Are you eligible to use the bonus depreciation this year? Changes have been made to qualifying property under both the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and the CARES Act as follows:

  • TCJA: expanded the bonus depreciation deduction to 100% for specified property obtained and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2023.
  • CARES Act: authorized the qualified improvement property (QIP)—typically interior improvements to nonresidential property—to be depreciable over 15 years and eligible for 100% bonus depreciation.

Tax Credits and Deductions

These tax credits and deductions could aid in reducing tax liability for contractors:

  • Research and development credits: contractors who test new techniques or processes on construction jobs could be eligible.
  • Deduction for energy-efficient government buildings: contractors may be eligible for a deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot for building energy-efficient commercial buildings intended for federal, state or local governments.
  • Credit for energy-efficient residential properties: Contractors can take advantage of tax credits for certain energy-efficient residential properties.

Note that the deduction and credit for energy-efficient buildings expire at the end of 2021.

Qualified Business Income Deduction

The TCJA replaced the 9% “domestic production activities deduction” under IRC Section 199 with a 20% Qualified Business Income deduction under IRC Section 199A. It also increased eligibility to encompass more businesses. Contractors might want to start the conversation with their tax advisor on how to maximize this deduction as well as receive guidance on how to maneuver through the calculation’s somewhat complicated rules and limits.

Flexibility with Accounting Methods

Smaller construction firms (meaning those with average gross receipts of less than $26 million from the prior three years) generally enjoy more flexibility with tax accounting methods. Such firms could be eligible to use cash, accrual, completed contract or “accrual less retainage” accounting methods, all of which usually aid in managing the timing of revenue recognition. This allows companies to stimulate revenue to counterbalance current losses and recognize revenue now in expectation of higher future tax rates.

Additional Tax Planning Considerations Amid the Pandemic

To help minimize the risks of ongoing economic uncertainty, contractors should consider keeping apprised of tax changes. Given the seemingly ever-changing legislation amid the pandemic, construction firms should keep in regular contact with their tax advisors in order to avoid any tax reform surprises. However, contractors should also aim to operate without presumption of further legislation. While the economic effects of the pandemic are ongoing, don’t assume further stimulus legislation like the Paycheck Protection Program will be passed by Congress.

 

In light of a turbulent 2020, the construction industry has experienced a return to the business practices that have proven successful in the past: more attention to jobsite monitoring, legal contracts, and insurance costs. Contractors can contact an MKR advisor to incorporate 2021 tax planning into this process.

Business Tax Changes and Extenders in the New Stimulus Package

President Trump recently signed a second stimulus package—called the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Act)—into law. The legislation includes over $300 billion in aid for small businesses. Below is a breakdown of some of the business tax changes and extenders in the new COVID-19 relief bill.

Payroll Tax Credit for Paid Sick and Family Leave

The refundable payroll tax credit for paid and sick family leave, established in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, is extended until March 31, 2021. The tax credits are modified so that they now apply to practically any payments made to workers for these purposes.

Payroll Tax Repayment

The time frame for employees to repay deferred employment taxes under the President’s executive order, which was issued in August 2020, has been extended from April 2021 to December 31, 2021.

Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) under the CARES Act has extended to July 1, 2021. Further, the refundable tax credit has increased from 50% to 70%, the per-employee wages limitation has increased from $10,000 per year to $10,000 per quarter, and the determination of a large employer for purposes of the ERC has increased from 100 to 500 employees.

30-Year Depreciation of Certain Residential Rental Property

The new law determines that the recovery period relevant to residential rental property placed in service before Jan. 1, 2018, and held by an electing real property trade or business, is 30 years.

Business Meal Deduction

Rather than the current 50% business expense deduction for meals, the bill temporarily allows a 100% expense deduction for meals provided by restaurants in 2021 and 2022.

Deduction for Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings

The deduction for energy-efficient improvements to commercial buildings, such as lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water systems was made permanent. The amount will be inflation-adjusted after 2020.

Changes to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit

If employers hire workers who are members of one of more of ten targeted groups under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program, they are permitted to use an elective general business tax credit. Previously applicable to hires before 1/1/2021, the TCDTR extends the credit through 2025.

Employer Payments of Student Loans

Section 127, which permits employers to provide certain educational assistance to employees on a tax-free basis, was modified under the CARES Act to authorize the payment by an employer of principal or interest on specific employee qualified education loans through December 31, 2020. The Consolidated Appropriations Act expands this through December 30, 2025. As the pandemic subsides, employers may want to consider this valuable tax-free benefit.

Health and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Arrangements

The bill allows taxpayers to roll over unused funds in their health and dependent care flexible spending accounts from 2020 to 2021 and from 2021 to 2022. This arrangement also permits employers to grant employees a 2021 midyear prospective adjustment in contribution amounts.

How to Tackle Snowball Debt After a Year of Furloughs and Layoffs

For the greater part of 2020, millions of Americans have faced furloughs and layoffs, subsequently relying on credit cards to keep their heads above water. Here’s how to get out from under those ballooning balances.

The Coronavirus Effect on Debt

When the stimulus checks were dispersed last spring, millions of citizens used those relief funds to pay down debt. However, a number of Americans who’ve been laid off or have had hours cut this year don’t have a financial safety net, so they’ve had to fall back on credit cards. Add to this the number of Americans who lost jobs with employer-sponsored health insurance and are now dealing with unpaid medical bills because of the pandemic, and it’s no wonder why so many Americans are struggling under the weight of debt now more than ever.

Strategies to Pay Down Credit Card Debt

If you’ve had to rely on credit cards this year, steps you can take to diminish your balance include:

Communicate with Creditors

At the start of the pandemic many credit card companies began advertising COVID-related assistance programs. Some of these have since expired, but it’s still worth looking into with each credit card company. You will most likely have to prove that you’re experiencing hardship, but most companies are willing to provide at least some short-term measures of relief, such as flexible payments or a lower interest rate.

Request a Lower Interest Rate

Credit card companies are unlikely to reduce APRs by a lot, but every little bit helps. And if you’ve improved your credit score, you have a greater chance of securing a lower rate.

Transfer Balances

By transferring the balance on a high-interest credit card to one with a low or 0% introductory interest rate, you can slash the overall interest you’ll pay on your debt. Just be sure to pay down the balance during the duration of the rate decrease, or you risk landing right where you started—a high balance coupled with a high interest rate.

Pay Off High Interest Credit Cards

If you need to pay off debt on more than one credit card, there are two conventional approaches to do it effectively.

The first is called the debt snowball, which involves paying off the card with the smallest balance first. Once that card is paid off, apply that monthly payment to the monthly payment of the card with the next highest balance. Each payoff builds momentum until you work your way to paying off the card with the largest balance.

The second strategy for paying off credit cards is called the avalanche method, which aims to tackle debts on the cards with the highest interest rates first. While the debt snowball can provide bite-sized mental victories, this method helps to better curtail interest payments over the life of your credit card debt.

 

What’s Included in the Proposed Bipartisan $908 Billion Pandemic Relief Bill?

A group of centrist lawmakers recently revealed an economic relief bill totaling approximately $908 billion. The plan has gained some traction among both congressional Democrats and Senate Republicans, getting talks moving again after Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach a compromise on a second relief package for months. Here’s a summary of what’s included in the proposal.

Business Aid

The largest chunk of the $908 billion bipartisan bill—$288 billion—is reserved for U.S. businesses, with a focus on primarily assisting small firms, most likely as another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This would allow businesses that have since depleted their PPP funding to apply for another round of payments. This time, however, businesses will most likely be required to prove considerable downturns in revenue in order to qualify for assistance. Part of the $288 billion would also likely include another round of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), which provide smaller loan amounts than PPP.

Unemployment Aid

The next largest chunk of funding consists of $180 billion, which is dedicated to unemployment benefits for jobless Americans. The bipartisan plan proposes $300 per week to each American on unemployment on top of existing state unemployment benefits at least through March. This is half of the $600 per week that Congress approved in March (that expired in July), but in line with the $300 per week unemployment bonus that was approved in August (most of the funds allocated for that bonus expired in October). One question that has not been addressed is whether the unemployment benefits will be made retroactive to compensate for prior months without jobless benefits.

State and Local Funding

The relief bill offers $160 billion to state and local governments to assist them through the next several months without additional cuts to personnel or services. This has been one of the biggest sticking points in getting an additional relief bill passed as Congressional Republicans contest that that such aid is wasteful “bailouts”. As a condition for their support of the broader package, some Republican lawmakers are considering a compromise by looking to establish new boundaries on state and local funds.

Temporary Protection from Liability Lawsuits

The other big sticking point comes from Democratic opposition for the “liability shield” sought by the GOP. Senate Republicans have tried for months to give business entities immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits. This bipartisan plan offers a temporary moratorium on COVID liability lawsuits, which would allow time for individual states to draft their own laws.

What’s Not Included?

The bipartisan plan markedly excludes a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, a measure that has long been supported by congressional Democrats and President Trump. Congressional Republicans have been forthcoming on their resistance to spending more than $1 trillion on another stimulus package, and once unemployment assistance, aid to state and local governments, and small business relief is added up, it’s unfeasible to both include direct checks and keep the overall price-tag below $1 trillion. (Republican Senator Josh Hawley and Sen. Bernie Sanders have since teamed up to propose an amendment to this plan that would include direct stimulus checks to Americans.)

The plan also leaves out Republican-backed tax cuts, including Trump’s call for a payroll tax cut for firms, and Democrats’ push for bonuses to essential workers and health-care professionals. Also missing from the plan is a renewal of the federal moratorium on evictions that is set to expire at the end of the year.

What You Should Know About Recent Updates to CARES Act Reporting Requirements for Healthcare Providers

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provider Relief Fund was initially established to provide funding to healthcare service providers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the financial support has provided much-needed relief, the programs introduced some additional rules and reporting requirements for healthcare providers. On October 22, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updated its guidance on how providers should report their Provider Relief Fund (PRF) payments that have been allocated for expenses and lost revenues as a result of the pandemic. Below is an overview of what you need to know.

Key Clarifications to Instructions

Addressing some of the ambiguity present in the previous September 19 update, two key clarifications were set forth.

  • Method of accounting: The HHS has clarified that PRF payments should be reported using the provider’s normal method of accounting (cash or accrual basis).
  • Lost revenue definition: In a twist from prior instructions, which defined lost revenue as a negative change in year-over-year net patient care operating income, recipients may now apply PRF payments up to the amount of the differences between their 2019 and 2020 actual patient care revenue.

If recipients do not use PRF funds in full by the end of the 2020 calendar year, they will have a further six-month period in which to utilize leftover amounts for expenses attributable to the pandemic but not repaid by other sources, or to apply toward lost revenues in an amount not greater than the difference between 2019 and 2021 actual revenue.

PRF Reporting Requirements

The deadlines from here on out are as follows:

  • January 21, 2021: HHS portal opens for PRF reporting
  • February 15, 2021: Reporting deadline for all providers on use of funds, assuming all proceeds were accounted for in 2020
  • July 31, 2021: Final reporting deadline for providers who did not fully spend PRF funds before December 31, 2020
  • September 30, 2021: Due date for the single audit or program-specific audit reports for a December 31 year-end or the earlier of 60 days from the date of the issuance of the audit report

PRF recipients can start submitting PRF reports documenting how funds were spent or attributed beginning January 15, 2021. The level of reporting requirements differs by the amount received as follows:

  • Entities that received less than $10,000 in total from the PRF do not have to file a report
  • Entities that received more than $10,000 but less than $500,000 must submit a simplified report with only these broad expense categories: general administrative expenses and other healthcare-related expenses.
  • Entities that received more than $500,000 in PRF must submit a detailed report described below.
  • Entities that received over $750,000 in PRF may also be subject to an audit per federal regulations.

Audit Requirements

If an entity received more than $750,000 in PRF, they may be subject to an audit per federal regulations. Audits are required for entities (non-profit and commercial as it relates to PRF per HHS guidelines) that spent over $750,000 from federal grant funds in a reporting period. Note the difference between receiving $750,000 and spending $750,000. Some funds could have been received in cash but not yet spent.

Let MKR CPAs & Advisors help

Our trusted advisors are equipped with the expertise to help you unravel the complexities of these reporting requirements. If you need assistance, contact an MKR advisor today to get the conversation started.

Changes to the Veterinary Industry Caused by Covid-19 Could Institute Long-Term Better Business Practices

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.

Telemedicine

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.

Online Outreach

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

Technology

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.