How Construction Firms Can Make the Payroll Process More Accurate and Efficient

Payroll is often one of the most complex administrative tasks for a construction firm. At any given time, you may have employees at differing pay rates working across a range of job sites. By streamlining your payroll process, you will save time and ensure that employees are getting paid accurately and on time.

Implement Digital Time Tracking

Payroll processes done by hand, such as moving data from timecards to payroll software, are time consuming and allow for error. Try implementing digital time tracking in place of handwritten timecards and spreadsheets. This will help to slash time, cut down on manual error, and eliminate the task of interpreting handwriting. Catching and fixing errors, like missing hours or break time, is also easier with digital time tracking.

Many time systems have progressed in modern offerings such as geofencing, which improves labor cost data and employee accountability. Construction firms that do government work can log work classifications, verify wage decisions, and manage reporting more efficiently.

Establish a Reliable Payroll Checklist

Make a step-by-step checklist that includes each task in the payroll process. These tasks typically cover:

  • compiling hours
  • double-checking data
  • pay and withholdings
  • distributing funds.

Firms that do prevailing wage work must also manage:

  • verifying wage agreements
  • work classifications
  • handling fringe benefits.

Cross off each task as it is completed and make a note of any problems that cropped up, then you can review your process and make changes for improvement.

Streamline Technology

If your company uses multiple platforms for various administrative tasks, you are likely creating more work and more room for error. For instance, be sure you are using a digital time and attendance system that exports out to a payroll and reporting system. This eliminates the extra work it takes to transfer the data. There are also platforms designed to handle the specific tasks associated with prevailing wage work.

Limit Preventable Mistakes

With a lot of variables to keep track of in the payroll process, your goal should be to focus on limiting preventable mistakes. Try making a list of the most common payroll mistakes you’ve noticed, and double check those areas before finalizing payroll.

The payroll process is easy to overlook until something goes wrong and you waste valuable time and resources trying to correct errors. An efficient and accurate process can promote compliance, reduce risk, and lay a foundation for growth.

Beyond PPP: These Programs and Tax Provisions Can Provide Alternative Recovery Strategies for Construction Firms

While Congress appropriated a total of $669 billion in loans to small businesses under the Payment Protection Program (PPP) as part of the larger CARES Act, funding was reportedly exhausted by May 5th of this year.  However, there are a number of additional programs and tax provisions, discussed below, that business owners should be aware of to use in place of or jointly with PPP loans.

Section 2302 Delay of Payment of Employer Payroll Taxes

This provision, created under the CARES Act, permits employers and self-employed individuals to postpone payment of the 6.2% employer portion of the Social Security taxes. The first half would be due by December 31, 2021 and the second half would be due by December 31, 2022.

Credits and Incentives for Developing Businesses

States and local communities usually have programs and tax incentives accessible to growing companies. Small businesses, including construction firms, were hit hard during the Covid-19 pandemic, but preparing for the future is necessary as companies begin to recover. Look into possible tax credits, exemptions, and grants as methods that might assist in your business’s growth, either now or in the near future.

Section 2307 Bonus Depreciation of Qualified Improvement Property

Section 2307 of the CARES Act amended a technical error allowing businesses to directly write off costs correlated with improving facilities retroactive to January 1, 2018. The adjustment expands businesses’ access to cash, as it permits them to amend prior year returns to claim the 100% bonus depreciation for qualified improvement property. It also motivates businesses to invest in property improvements, thereby stimulating the economy.

Research and Development Tax Credits

Businesses can make use of both federal and state research and development tax credits that reward companies based on contribution to the development of new products and processes. These tax credits can be applied on both current and amended tax returns to produce refunds or credit carry forwards.

Cost Segregation Studies

Cost segregation is a vital tax planning tool that has the potential to shelter taxable income by depreciating various elements of a property at an accelerated rate. In real estate, commercial properties are depreciated over a period of 39 years. However, when a company obtains, renovates, restores, or builds real estate, it frequently overestimates the amount of 39-year real property and limits depreciation deductions. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), business owners can take a bonus depreciation of 100% for qualified assets in the first year (as defined by a cost segregation study) instead of depreciating the assets over a longer period of time. This 100% bonus deduction is available until 2022 when it will slowly start to phase out until 2027.


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.