June 29, 2020

Remember the CARES Act as the year goes on

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law in late March 2020, it got plenty of attention. For weeks afterward, guidance was issued and business owners, contractors included, spent time learning the relevant details.


At this point, the CARES Act may seem like old news. But its tax provisions remain in effect as the year goes on and, in some cases, beyond 2020 (unless subsequent legislation changes them). Careful planning may allow construction business owners to fully benefit from the wide and varying tax relief offered.

Operating losses

A net operating loss (NOL) generally occurs when the deductible expenses of a company or trade exceed its income. Because of work stoppages and slowdowns caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, many construction businesses may report NOLs for the 2020 tax year.


Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), taxpayers could carry back NOLs two years and carry them forward 20 years to offset taxable income. The TCJA limited the NOL deduction to 80% of taxable income for the year, eliminated the carry back of NOLs and removed the time limit on carry forwards.

The CARES Act allows NOLs arising in 2018, 2019 or 2020 tax years to be carried back five years. Additionally, it removes the taxable income limitation on deductions for prior-year NOLs carried forward into tax years before 2021, so that NOLs can fully offset income.


Finally, it temporarily eliminates the limitation on excess business losses for sole proprietors and owners of pass-through entities. These taxpayers can now deduct excess business losses arising in 2018, 2019 and 2020 tax years.


If any of these rule changes affect you, filing an amended return for a previous tax year may allow you to claim a tax refund now that can boost cash flow.

QIP projects

For a while now, construction industry groups have been lobbying against the “retail glitch,” which Congress inadvertently created while drafting the TCJA. The drafting error caused any qualified improvement property (QIP) placed in service after December 31, 2017, to be ineligible for 100% bonus depreciation. This typically includes upgrades to retail, restaurant and leasehold property.


The drafting error was corrected under the CARES Act. Most businesses can now claim 100% bonus depreciation for QIP, assuming all applicable rules are followed. What’s more, the correction is retroactive to any QIP placed in service after December 31, 2017. (Improvements related to a building’s enlargement, elevator or escalator, or internal structural framework don’t qualify.)


As of this writing, it appears uncertain at best when businesses will be ready and willing to greenlight QIP projects. Nonetheless, keep an eye out for these opportunities when economic conditions improve.

Payroll credit

The CARES Act created a refundable credit against payroll tax to help employers, including contractors, retain their workforces. It’s generally available to employers whose operations have been fully or partially suspended because of a governmental shutdown order related to COVID-19. Employers whose gross receipts have dropped more than 50% compared to the same quarter in the previous year (until gross receipts exceed 80% of gross receipts in the earlier quarter) are also typically eligible.


Qualifying employers whose workforces exceed 100 employees may claim the credit for employees who’ve been furloughed or had their hours reduced because of the reasons noted. If an employer has 100 or fewer employees, it can qualify for the credit regardless of whether it has furloughed employees or reduced employee hours.


The per-employee credit equals 50% of up to $10,000 in compensation, including health care benefits, paid to an eligible employee after March 12, 2020, through December 31, 2020. (Additional rules and limits apply, particularly regarding certain Small Business Administration loans received.)


The CARES Act also enables employers to delay payment of their share (6.2% of wages) of the Social Security payroll tax. They can pay the tax over the next two years, with the first half due by December 31, 2021, and the second half due by December 31, 2022.

The road ahead

Contractors have had to deal with unprecedented challenges because of COVID-19. Your CPA can help you navigate the road ahead.

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