Face mask laying on calendar

COVID-Related Deadline Extensions for Health Care Benefits

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, which is of interest to employers. It clarifies the duration of certain COVID-19-related deadline extensions that apply to health care benefits plans.

Extensions to continue

The DOL and IRS issued guidance last year specifying that the COVID-19 outbreak period — defined as beginning March 1, 2020, and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 national emergency — should be disregarded when calculating various deadlines under COBRA, ERISA and HIPAA’s special enrollment provisions.

The original emergency declaration would have expired on March 1, 2021, but it was recently extended. Although the agencies defined the outbreak period solely by reference to the COVID-19 national emergency, they relied on statutes allowing them to specify disregarded periods for a maximum of one year. Therefore, questions arose as to whether the outbreak period was required to end on February 28, 2021, one year after it began.

Notice 2021-01answers those questions by providing that the extensions have continued past February 28 and will be measured on a case-by-case basis. Specifically, applicable deadlines for individuals and plans that fall within the outbreak period will be extended (that is, the disregarded period will last) until the earlier of:

  • One year from the date the plan or individual was first eligible for outbreak period relief, or
  • The end of the outbreak period.

Once the disregarded period has ended, the timeframes that were previously disregarded will resume. Thus, the outbreak period will continue until 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency, but the maximum disregarded period for calculating relevant deadlines for any individual or plan cannot exceed one year.

Communication is necessary

The DOL advises plan sponsors to consider sending notices to participants regarding the end of the relief period, which may include reissuing or amending previous disclosures that are no longer accurate. Sponsors are also advised to notify participants who are losing coverage of other coverage options, such as through the recently announced COVID-19 special enrollment period in Health Insurance Marketplaces (commonly known as “Exchanges”).

Notice 2021-01 acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic and other circumstances may disrupt normal plan operations. The DOL reassures fiduciaries acting in good faith and with reasonable diligence that enforcement will emphasize compliance assistance and other relief. The notice further states that the IRS and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concur with the guidance and its application to laws under their jurisdiction.

Challenges ahead

Plan sponsors and administrators will likely welcome this clarification but may be disappointed in its timing and in how it interprets the one-year limitation. Determinations of the disregarded period that depend on individual circumstances could create significant administrative challenges.

In addition to making case-by-case determinations, plan sponsors and administrators must quickly develop a strategy for communicating these complex rules to participants. Contact David Mills CPA, LLC for further information and updates.

magnifying glass looking at three golden eggs representing Roth 401(k)

Should Your Business Add Roth Contributions To Its 401(k)?

If your business sponsors a 401(k) plan, you might someday consider adding designated Roth contributions. Here are some factors to explore when deciding whether such a feature would make sense for your company and its employees.

Key differences

Roth contributions differ from other elective deferrals in two key tax respects. First, they’re irrevocably designated to be made on an after-tax basis, rather than pretax. Second, if all applicable requirements are met and the distribution constitutes a “qualified distribution,” the earnings won’t be subject to federal income tax when distributed.

To be qualified, a distribution generally must occur after a five-year waiting period, as well as after the participant reaches age 59½, becomes disabled or dies. Because of the different tax treatment, plans must maintain separate accounts for designated Roth contributions.

Pluses and minuses

The Roth option gives participants an opportunity to hedge against the possibility that their income tax rates will be higher in retirement. However, if tax rates fall or participants are in lower tax brackets during retirement, Roth contributions may provide less after-tax retirement income than comparable pretax contributions. The result could also be worse than that of ordinary elective deferrals if Roth amounts aren’t held long enough to make distributions tax-free.

Nonetheless, if your business employs a substantial number of relatively highly paid employees, a Roth 401(k) component may be well-appreciated. This is because participants can make much larger designated Roth 401(k) contributions than they can for a Roth IRA — in 2020 and 2021, $19,500 for designated Roth 401(k) versus $6,000 for Roth IRA.

Catch-up contributions for individuals 50 or older are also considerably higher for designated Roth 401(k) contributions — in 2020 and 2021, $6,500 for designated Roth 401(k)s versus $1,000 for Roth IRAs. And higher-paid participants who are ineligible to make Roth IRA contributions because of the income cap on eligibility could make designated Roth contributions to your plan.

Yet participants will need to know what they’re getting into. They’ll have to consider:

  • Current and future tax rates,
  • Various investment alternatives,
  • The risk of needing a distribution before they qualify for tax-free treatment of earnings (which would trigger taxation of those earnings), and
  • Loss of some rollover options.

For plan sponsors, the separate accounting required for Roth contributions may raise plan costs and increase the risk of error. (One common mistake: treating elected contributions as pretax when the participant elected Roth contributions, or vice versa.)

And because Roth contributions are treated as elective deferrals for other purposes — including nondiscrimination requirements, vesting rules and distribution restrictions — plan administration and communication will be more complex.

Not for everyone

Before adding Roth contributions to your 401(k), be sure participants are adequately engaged and savvy, and will derive enough benefit, to make it worth the risks and burdens.

At David Mills CPA, LLC, we can assist you in deciding whether this would be an appropriate move for your business. Contact us today.

Paycheck Protection Program Loan written on paper

PPP Adjusted To Prioritize Very Small Businesses

When the Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) last year, the program’s stated objective was “to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.”

However, according to federal officials, the recently issued second round of funding has distributed only a small percentage of the $15 billion set aside for small businesses and low- to moderate-income “first-draw” borrowers.

In late February, the SBA, in cooperation with the Biden Administration, announced adjustments to the PPP aimed at “increasing access and much-needed aid to Main Street businesses that anchor our neighborhoods and help families build wealth,” according to SBA Senior Advisor Michael Roth.

5 primary objectives

The adjustments address five primary objectives:

1. Move the smallest businesses to the front of the line.

The SBA has established a two-week exclusive application period for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. It began on February 24. The agency has reassured larger eligible companies that they’ll still have time to apply for and receive support before the program is set to expire on March 31.

2. Change the math.

The loan calculation formula has been revised to focus on gross profits rather than net profits. The previous formula inadvertently excluded many sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed individuals.

3. Eliminate the non-fraud felony exclusion.

Under the original PPP rules, a business was disqualified from funding if it was at least 20% owned by someone with either 1) an arrest or conviction for a felony related to financial assistance fraud in the previous five years, or 2) any other felony in the previous year. The new rules eliminate the one-year lookback for any kind of felony unless the applicant or owner is incarcerated at the time of application.

4. Eventually remove the student loan exclusion.

Current rules prohibit PPP loans to any business that’s at least 20% owned by an individual who’s delinquent or has defaulted on a federal debt, which includes federal student loans, within the previous seven years. The SBA intends to collaborate with the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Education to remove the student loan delinquency restriction to broaden PPP access.

5. Clarify loan eligibility for noncitizen small business.

The CARES Act stipulates that any lawful U.S. resident can apply for a PPP loan. However, holders of Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), such as Green Card holders and those in the United States on a visa, have been unable to consistently access the program. The SBA has committed to issuing new guidance to address this issue, which, in part, will state that otherwise eligible applicants can’t be denied PPP loans solely because they use ITINs when paying their taxes.

What’s ahead

The PPP could evolve further as the year goes along, potentially as an indirect result of the COVID-19 relief bill currently making its way through Congress. The experts at David Mills CPA, LLC can keep you updated on all aspects of the program, including the tax impact of loan proceeds.

Graphic detailing SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities & Threats)

Does Your Business Need a SWOT Analysis?

Using a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to frame an important business decision is a long-standing recommended practice. But don’t overlook other, broader uses that could serve your company well.

Performance factors

A SWOT analysis starts by spotlighting internal strengths and weaknesses that affect business performance. Strengths are competitive advantages or core competencies that generate value (and revenue), such as a strong sales force or exceptional quality.

Conversely, weaknesses are factors that limit a company’s performance. These are often revealed in a comparison with competitors. Examples might include a negative brand image because of a recent controversy or an inferior reputation for customer service.

Generally, the strengths and weaknesses of a business relate directly to customers’ needs and expectations. Each identified characteristic affects cash flow — and, therefore, business success — if customers perceive it as either a strength or weakness. A characteristic doesn’t really affect the company if customers don’t care about it.

External conditions

The next SWOT step is identifying opportunities and threats. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could generate a worthwhile return if the business acts on them. Threats are external factors that could inhibit business performance.

When differentiating strengths from opportunities, or weaknesses from threats, the question is whether the issue would exist without the business. If the answer is yes, the issue is external to the company and, therefore, an opportunity or a threat. Examples include changes in demographics or government regulations.

Various applications

As mentioned, business owners can use SWOT to do more than just make an important decision. Other applications include:

Valuation. A SWOT analysis is a logical way to frame a discussion of business operations in a written valuation report. The analysis can serve as a powerful appendix to the report or a courtroom exhibit, providing tangible support for seemingly ambiguous, subjective assessments regarding risk and return.

In a valuation context, strengths and opportunities generate returns, which translate into increased cash flow projections. Strengths and opportunities can lower risk via higher pricing multiples or reduced cost of capital. Threats and weaknesses have the opposite effect.

Strategic planning. Businesses can repurpose the SWOT analysis section of a valuation report to spearhead strategic planning. They can build value by identifying ways to capitalize on opportunities with strengths or brainstorming ways to convert weaknesses into strengths or threats into opportunities. You can also conduct a SWOT analysis outside of a valuation context to accomplish these objectives.

Legal defense. Should you find yourself embroiled in a legal dispute, an attorney may want to frame trial or deposition questions in terms of a SWOT analysis. Attorneys sometimes use this approach to demonstrate that an expert witness truly understands the business — or, conversely, that the opposing expert doesn’t understand the subject company.

Tried and true

A SWOT analysis remains a useful way to break down and organize the many complexities surrounding a business. At David Mills, CPA, LLC, we can help you with the tax, accounting, and financial aspects of this approach. Contact us today.

hand writing 2021 on a chalkboard

Ring In The New Year With A Renewed Focus On Profitability

Some might say the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another is a formality. The linear nature of time doesn’t change, merely the numbers we use to mark it.

Others, however, would say that a fresh 12 months — particularly after the arduous, anxiety-inducing nature of 2020 — creates the perfect opportunity for business owners to gather their strength and push ahead with greater vigor. One way to do so is to ring in the new year with a systematic approach to renewing everyone’s focus on profitability.

Create an idea-generating system Without a system to discover ideas that originate from the day-in, day-out activities of your business, you’ll likely miss opportunities to truly maximize the bottom line. What you want to do is act in ways that inspire and allow you to gather profit-generating concepts. Then you can pick out the most actionable ones and turn them into bottom-line-boosting results. Here are some ways to create such a system:

Share responsibility for profitability with your management team. All too often, managers become trapped in their own information silos and areas of focus. Consider asking everyone in a leadership position to submit ideas for growing the bottom line.

Instruct supervisors to challenge their employees to come up with profit-building ideas. Leaving your employees out of the conversation is a mistake. Ask workers on the front lines how they think your business could make more money.

Target the proposed ideas that will most likely increase sales, cut costs or expand profit margins. As suggestions come in, use robust discussions and careful calculations to determine which ones are truly worth pursuing.

Tie each chosen idea to measurable financial goals. When you’ve picked one or more concepts to pursue in real life, identify which metrics will accurately inform you that you’re on the right track. Track these metrics regularly from start to finish.

Name those accountable for executing each idea. Every business needs its champions! Be sure each profit-building initiative has a defined leader and team members.

Follow a clear, patient and well-monitored implementation process. Ideas that ultimately do build the bottom line in a meaningful way generally take time to identify, implement and execute. Don’t look for quick-fix measures; seek out business transformations that will lead to long-term success.

Many benefits

A carefully constructed and strong-performing profitability idea system can not only grow the bottom line, but also upskill employees and improve morale as strategies come to fruition. Our firm can help you identify profit-building opportunities, choose the right metrics to evaluate and measure them, and track the pertinent data over time.

Contact David Mills, CPA, LLC for more information.

sales force team members standing on blue lines grid

Rightsizing Your Sales Force

With a difficult year almost over, and another one on the horizon, now may be a good time to assess the size of your sales force. Maybe the economic changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic led you to downsize earlier in the year. Or perhaps you’ve added to your sales team to seize opportunities. In either case, every business owner should know whether his or her sales team is the right size.

Various KPIs

To determine your optimal sales staffing level, there are several steps you can take. A good place to start is with various key performance indicators (KPIs) that enable you to quantify performance in dollars and cents.

The KPIs you choose to calculate and evaluate need to be specific to your industry and appropriate to the size of your company and the state of the market in which you operate. If you’re comparing your sales numbers to those of other businesses, make sure it’s an apples-to-apples comparison.

In addition, you’ll need to pick KPIs that are appropriate to whether you’re assessing the performance of a sales manager or that of a sales representative. For a sales manager, you could look at average annual sales volume to determine whether his or her team is contributing adequately to your target revenue goals. Ideal KPIs for sales reps are generally more granular; examples include sales by rep and lead-to-sale percentage.

More than math

Rightsizing your sales staff, however, isn’t only a mathematical equation. To customize your approach, think about the specific needs of your company.

Consider, for example, how you handle staffing when sales employees take vacations or call in sick. If you frequently find yourself coming up short on revenue projections because of a lack of boots on the ground, you may want to expand your sales staff to cover territories and serve customers more consistently.

Then again, financial problems that arise from carrying too many sales employees can creep up on you. Be careful not to hire at a rate faster than your sales and gross profits are increasing. If you’re looking to make aggressive moves in your market, be sure you’ve done the due diligence to ensure that the hiring and training costs will likely pay off.

Last, but not least, think about your customers. Are they largely satisfied? If so, the size of your sales force might be just fine. However, salespeople saying that they’re overworked or customers complaining about a lack of responsiveness could mean your staff is too small. Conversely, if you have market segments that just aren’t yielding revenue or salespeople who are continually underperforming, it might be time to downsize.

Reasonable objectives

By regularly monitoring the headcount of your sales staff with an eye on fulfilling reasonable revenue goals, you’ll stand a better chance of maximizing profitability during good times and maintaining it during more challenging periods. Contact David Mills, CPA, LLC, for help choosing the right KPIs and cost-effectively managing your business.

IT Tech staff member at computer looking out window at city landscape

Should You Add A Technology Executive To Your Staff?

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic impact have hurt many companies, especially small businesses. However, for others, the jarring challenges this year have created opportunities and accelerated changes that were probably going to occur all along.

One particular area of speedy transformation is technology. It’s never been more important for businesses to wield their internal IT effectively, enable customers and vendors to easily interact with those systems, and make the most of artificial intelligence and “big data” to spot trends.

Accomplishing all this is a tall order for even the most energetic business owner or CEO. That’s why many companies end up creating one or more tech-specific executive positions. Assuming you don’t already employ such an individual, should you consider adding an IT exec? Perhaps so.

3 common positions

There are three widely used position titles for technology executives:

1. Chief Information Officer (CIO). This person is typically responsible for managing a company’s internal IT infrastructure and operations. In fact, an easy way to remember the purpose of this position is to replace the word “Information” with “Internal.” A CIO’s job is to oversee the purchase, implementation and proper use of technological systems and products that will maximize the efficiency and productivity of the business.

2. Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In contrast to a CIO, a CTO focuses on external processes — specifically, with customers and vendors. This person usually oversees the development and eventual production of technological products or services that will meet customer needs and increase revenue. The position demands the ability to live on the cutting edge by doing constant research into tech trends while also being highly collaborative with employees and vendors.

3. Chief Digital Officer (CDO). For some companies, the CIO and/or CTO are so busy with their respective job duties that they’re unable to look very far ahead. This is where a CDO typically comes into play. His or her primary objective is to spot new markets, channels or even business models that the company can target, explore and perhaps eventually profit from. So, while a CIO looks internally and a CTO looks externally, a CDO’s gaze is set on a more distant horizon.

Costs vs. benefits

As mentioned, these are three of the most common IT executive positions. Their specific objectives and job duties may vary depending on the business in question. And they are by no means the only examples of such positions. There are many variations, including Chief Marketing Technologist and Chief Information Security Officer.

So, getting back to our original question: is this a good time to add one or more of these execs to your staff? The answer very much depends on the financial strength and projected direction of your company. These positions will call for major expenditures in hiring, payroll and benefits. Our firm can help you weigh the costs vs. benefits.

For more business advice, contact the small business experts at David Mills, CPA, LLC.

Q4 Tax Calendar for 2020

2020 Q4 Tax Calendar: Key Deadlines for Businesses

Here are some of the key Q4 tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2020.

Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.

Contact the experts at David Mills, CPA, LLC to ensure you’re meeting all applicable Q4 tax deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

Thursday, October 15

If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension: File a 2019 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due. Make contributions for 2019 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

Monday, November 2

Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2020 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below under “November 10.”)

Tuesday, November 10

Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2020 (Form 941), if you deposited on time (and in full) all of the associated taxes due.

Tuesday, December 15

If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2020 estimated income taxes.

Thursday, December 31

Establish a retirement plan for 2020 (generally other than a SIMPLE, a Safe-Harbor 401(k) or a SEP).

Piles of cash represented by $100 US bills

File Cash Transaction Reports For Your Business

Does your business receive large amounts of cash or cash equivalents? You may be required to submit forms to the IRS to report these transactions.

Cash Filing Requirements

Each person engaged in a trade or business who, in the course of operating, receives more than $10,000 in cash in one transaction, or in two or more related transactions, must file Form 8300.

Any transactions conducted in a 24-hour period are considered related transactions. Transactions are also considered related even if they occur over a period of more than 24 hours if the recipient knows, or has reason to know, that each transaction is one of a series of connected transactions.

To complete a Form 8300, you will need personal information about the person making the cash payment, including a Social Security or taxpayer identification number.

You should keep a copy of each Form 8300 for five years from the date you file it, according to the IRS.

Reasons For The Reporting

Although many of the transactions are legitimate, the IRS explains that “information reported on (Form 8300) can help stop those who evade taxes, profit from the drug trade, engage in terrorist financing and conduct other criminal activities. The government can often trace money from these illegal activities through the payments reported on Form 8300 and other cash reporting forms.”

What’s Considered “Cash?”

For Form 8300 reporting, cash includes U.S. currency and coins, as well as foreign money. It also includes cash equivalents such as cashier’s checks (sometimes called bank checks), bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders.

Money orders and cashier’s checks under $10,000, when used in combination with other forms of cash for a single transaction that exceeds $10,000, are defined as cash for Form 8300 reporting purposes.

Note: Under a separate reporting requirement, banks and other financial institutions report cash purchases of cashier’s checks, treasurer’s checks and/or bank checks, bank drafts, traveler’s checks and money orders with a face value of more than $10,000 by filing currency transaction reports.

E-filing And Batch Filing

Businesses required to file reports of large cash transactions on Form 8300 should know that in addition to filing on paper, e-filing is an option.

The form is due 15 days after a transaction and there’s no charge for the e-file option. Businesses that file electronically get an automatic acknowledgment of receipt when they file.

The IRS also reminds businesses that they can “batch file” their reports, which is especially helpful to those required to file many forms.

Setting Up An Account

To file Form 8300 electronically, a business must set up an account with FinCEN’s BSA E-Filing System. For more information, interested businesses can also call the BSA E-Filing Help Desk at 866-346-9478 (Monday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm EST) or email them at BSAEFilingHelp@fincen.gov.

At David Mills, CPA, LLC, we’re small business tax experts. Contact us with any questions or for assistance.

Independent Contractor wearing mask

Make Sure Independent Contractors Are Properly Classified

As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, your business may be using independent contractors to keep costs low. But you should be careful that these workers are properly classified for federal tax purposes. If the IRS reclassifies them as employees, it can be an expensive mistake.

The question of whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee for federal income and employment tax purposes is a complex one.

If a worker is an employee, your company must withhold federal income and payroll taxes, pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes on the wages, plus FUTA tax.

Often, a business must also provide the worker with the fringe benefits that it makes available to other employees. And there may be state tax obligations as well. These obligations don’t apply if a worker is an independent contractor.

In that case, the business simply sends the contractor a Form 1099-MISC for the year showing the amount paid (if the amount is $600 or more).

No Uniform Employee Definition

Who is an “employee?” Unfortunately, there’s no uniform definition of the term. The IRS and courts have generally ruled that individuals are employees if the organization they work for has the right to control and direct them in the jobs they’re performing.

Otherwise, the individuals are generally independent contractors. But other factors are also taken into account. Some employers that have misclassified workers as independent contractors may get some relief from employment tax liabilities under Section 530.

In general, this protection applies only if an employer:

  • Filed all federal returns consistent with its treatment of a worker as a contractor
  • Treated all similarly situated workers as contractors
  • Had a “reasonable basis” for not treating the worker as an employee. For example, a “reasonable basis” exists if a significant segment of the employer’s industry traditionally treats similar workers as contractors.

Note: Section 530 doesn’t apply to certain types of technical services workers. And some categories of individuals are subject to special rules because of their occupations or identities.

Asking For A Determination

Under certain circumstances, you may want to ask the IRS (on Form SS-8) to rule on whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee.

However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Businesses should consult with the staff at David Mills, CPA, LLC before filing Form SS-8 because it may alert the IRS that your business has worker classification issues — and inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.

It may be better to properly treat a worker as an independent contractor so that the relationship complies with the tax rules. Be aware that workers who want an official determination of their status can also file Form SS-8.

Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities. If a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS will send a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8.

The business is asked to complete and return the form to the IRS, which will render a classification decision.

Contact the small business experts at David Mills, CPA, LLC if you’d like to discuss how these complex rules apply to your business.