You can maximize PPP forgiveness by understanding the Small Business Administration’s Interim Final Rule on forgiveness. Further, by understanding the rule, you avoid bungles that destroy the forgiveness.
Fortunately, the rule details you need to understand? Straightforward in most cases. This blog post explains what you need to know.
And a quick note as we start. The Small Business Administration published the Interim Final Rule on PPP loan forgiveness late in the day May 22nd, 2020.
Note: If you’re not up to speed on the way the PPP loans work, refer our earlier blog post: PPP Loan Formula Explained. And if you’re a little foggy about how the forgiveness works, refer to our earlier blog post: Losing PPP Loan Forgiveness.
Tip #1: Use the Covered Period for Payroll Costs
A first tip to maximize PPP forgiveness? Probably you want to use the eight week covered period that starts when you get the PPP loan. Not the alternative covered period which starts the day the next payroll period starts. (You get to choose which eight weeks you look at.)
The reason? With the regular eight week covered period, you probably get to add more “extra bonus days” to the usual eight weeks, or 56 days, of payroll used for the forgiveness formula. And those “extra bonus days” can make a big difference.
But this gets weird. So, let me explain.
The payroll costs formula combines both payroll paid during the eight weeks and payroll incurred during the last payroll period of the eight weeks and paid the next regular payroll.
For example, say you run semi-monthly payroll, pay on the last day of the “half month,” and get your PPP loan on May 26th.
In this case, the covered period that starts on May 26th ends 56 days later on July 21st.
But the first payroll period in this eight week interval? It ends May 31st. And obviously it includes ten days of payroll before May 26th (from May 16th through May 25th).
Those extra ten days from May 16th through May 25th? They bump the usual 56 days of payroll to 66 days. And the days amount to your extra bonus days of payroll costs.
And now the actionable insight in all this…
Probably, you get more extra bonus days with a regular covered period than with an alternate covered period. Partly because you can use longer payroll periods. And partly because in order to get extra bonus days for an alternate covered period, you need to have the timing work.
If you pay payroll on the last day of the payroll period and you use the alternative covered period, for example, you don’t get any extra bonus days.
A Word about Alternative Covered Periods
By the way, if you use the alternate covered period, you start your eight weeks of “payroll cost tracking” the day the next payroll period starts. The payroll period also needs to be bi-weekly or shorter.
With the alternative covered period, you still count payroll paid and then also payroll incurred and paid with the next regular payroll. And you may still get extra bonus days. But the way the formula works? You may get fewer bonus days.
A final point. Do double-check that the regular eight week covered period lets you maximize forgiveness. In situations where your payroll fluctuates—perhaps you furloughed employees early in the Covid-19 pandemic—the alternate covered period may push more payroll costs into the forgiveness formula because it starts later when you may have more people working.
Tip #2: Time any 2019 Pension Contributions
Okay, an awkward trick the interim final rules allow. If you pay an employer retirement contribution during the eight weeks, that should count as payroll.
For example, if you make your 2019 SEP-IRA contribution during the eight weeks in 2020 that you’re measuring payroll costs, that should create payroll costs for non-owner-employees and also for owner-employees of S corporations and C corporations.
Between you and me? I would not rely on this gambit as a trick for inflating your payroll costs. But if you’ve done everything else in a right and righteous way and you have the option to make the 2019 employer pension fund contribution during the eight week covered period? Well, discuss this with your tax accountant. Let’s leave it at that…
Tip #3: Verify You Have Enough Owner Payroll
The loan forgiveness formula limits owner compensation replacement to 8/52nds of what the owner earned in 2019.
You can grumble about this tweak to the statute. But you also want to make sure, after you’re done with any grumbling, that you pay the owner at least the 8/52nds of her or his 2019 compensation. So, double check this. You want to be sure to pay enough during the eight weeks.
The precise formulas vary slightly depending on the type of business:
- Schedule C Sole Proprietors: 8/52nd of the Schedule C profit. For example, if the sole proprietor filed a Schedule C for 2019 that shows $52,000 of net profit, so $1,000 a week, the maximum owner payroll cost equals $8,000 for the eight weeks.
- Partners in Partnerships: 8/52nd of the 2019 net earnings from self-employment (so after things like any Section 179 expense deduction, unreimbursed partnership expenses, and oil and gas depletion, and then multiplied by .9235.)
- Owner-employees (so S corporation and C corporation shareholder-employees): 8/52nd of the owner-employee’s W-2 box 5. Note that for S corporation owner-employees, W-2 box 5 does not include health insurance. However, that fringe benefit (shown in W-2 box 14) should be included with non-owner-employee health insurance.
Four quick notes: First, the interim final rule—or least its current language—reduces a partner’s maximum owner compensation payroll for the employer half of self-employment taxes but not a Schedule C sole proprietor’s.
Second, a partner or proprietor gets no additional forgiveness for retirement or health insurance contributions since these amounts get “paid out of their self-employment income.” (That makes total sense.) Owner-employees do, by the way.
Third, an owner’s payroll costs can’t exceed $15,385. That number limits the owner’s payroll costs to not more 8/52nd of $100,000.
Fourth, owner-employees don’t count retirement or health insurance toward the $15,385 limit. (Neither, by the way, do non-owner-employees.)
Tip #4: Use the “Incurred and Paid Later” Gambit for Non-payroll-costs
A fourth tip…
The same bookkeeping approach you use for payroll can be used for non-payroll costs.
In other words, you count non-payroll-cost paid during the eight weeks. And you also count non-payroll-costs incurred during the eight weeks if paid at the next regular due date.
For example, say your eight week covered period runs from May 26th through July 21th. Let’s say, further, that cash flow troubles meant you could not pay your May rent on time.
But suppose after you got the PPP loan proceeds on May 27th, you paid the May rent (say that’s $5,000). And then on June 1st, you paid the June rent (another $5,000 say). And then on July 1st, you paid the July rent (yet another $5,000).
All three month’s rent should count. Because you made all three payments during the eight weeks.
Caution: Your non-payroll-costs forgiveness gets limited to 25%. For example, to receive forgiveness for $15,000 of non-payroll-costs, you need at least $45,000 of payroll costs. With $60,000 of total forgiveness (so $45,000 of payroll plus $15,000 of non-payroll), the non-payroll forgiveness equals 25%, which is the maximum.
Tip #5: Get Thorough About Your Utilities Costs
So the non-payroll-costs include rent for real and personal property if you entered into the rental or lease agreement before February 15th, 2020. And the costs include interest on business loans if you borrowed the money before the same “start” date. But these costs are pretty easy to spot.
The utilities costs however? That’s more of a grab bag. So be sure to include all the costs that the rules allow if you need more non-payroll-costs.
According to the interim final rule, utilities costs include “payments for the distribution of electricity, gas, water, transportation, telephone or internet access for which service began before February 15th, 2020.”
The following items, therefore, can be counted if you need more non-payroll-costs to get full forgiveness: electric company, gas company, and water company bills (obviously), transportation costs (so gas and diesel fuel), telephone (so land lines and cell phones and also voice-over-Internet-protocol services) and then Internet access (so broadband cable Internet access and fiber optic Internet access.)
Two Final Quick Comments
If you’ve looked over the PPP loan forgiveness application or maybe read our Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Application blog post, you already know that you need to be alert to the way that reductions in full-time-equivalent employee headcounts and salaries and pay rates impact forgiveness. So, obviously, pay attention to that. (Accountants pretty much all suffer from compulsive personalities. So I can’t help but issue this caution to you.)
And then one other thing to note here because we’re talking about the interim final rule on forgiveness. If you have employees who don’t want to come back to work or who you fired for cause, you want to read through the interim final rule for its guidance on those situations. If someone doesn’t want to come back to work, the updated rules say you need to alert your state’s unemployment office. Further, the new rules say you don’t have to bring back some employee you fired for cause. Just so you know.