Apply for PPP Loan Forgiveness

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On Friday, May 15, 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness application, causing most small business owners to scratch their heads when reviewing the lengthy and complicated application. Here at Mazur and Associates, we want to support small businesses like your own by explaining the PPP loan and the Loan Forgiveness Application. 

First, a brief overview of the PPP loan itself. 

The PPP loan program was created to help small business owners keep their employees on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis. The SBA will forgive PPP loans if all employees are kept on payroll for eight weeks and the loan funds are used for payroll costs, rent, mortgage interest, and/or utilities. According to the SBA, the loan will be fully forgiven if the funds have been used for the previously mentioned categories; however, 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll costs. Loan repayment will be automatically deferred for 6 months, requires no collateral or personal guarantees, has no small business fees attached and has a 2-year maturity period with an interest rate of 1%.  It is also important to understand that loan forgiveness is based upon the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees as well as keeping their pre-COVID19 salary or wage levels. Therefore, loan forgiveness will be reduced if full-time employee headcount decreases or if salaries and wages decrease.  Any small business owner can apply for a PPP loan at any SBA lender, federally insured institution, or local lender that is participating in the program. To see what qualifies as a small business for PPP loans, click here. To apply for a PPP loan, click here. We highly recommend that you consult a CPA or a financial advisor before you attempt to apply for a PPP loan to ensure that your application is completed accurately with the maximum allowable loan amount quantified.  Also, once the eight-week period has elapsed, it is critical to hire a professional to prepare the eleven (11) page Loan Forgiveness application.  The SBA’s Loan Forgiveness calculation form is quite complex and specific documentation must be attached in order to have your PPP loan completely forgiven. Mazur & Associates, CPAs and Business Advisors, PC should be your choice for this endeavor, as each of our CPAs has over thirty (30) years of experience in addressing the needs of small businesses like yours.  Before the eight-week spending window has elapsed, kindly telephone our office at (732) 936-1230 to schedule a conference during our regular business hours.  We are available Monday through Saturday to assist you. 

Second, the following is a brief overview of PPP Loan Forgiveness process.

On the surface, the application for PPP Loan Forgiveness appears to be relatively simple. Step one is to complete the application (also available electronically) and step two is to submit the application to your lender who will then assess your payroll and other expense documentation for forgiveness. However, although the SBA has provided detailed instructions with the application, it is still exceedingly difficult for a layperson to complete correctly and dot all of the “I’s” and cross all of the “T’s”. Because the application was just released, there is much room for borrower’s interpretation of the instructions.  Since tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake, a professional’s expertise in preparing and scrutinizing all attachments is highly recommended.  The CPAs at Mazur & Associates are members of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), Tax Section and have access to specialized tools to ensure the accuracy of each client’s PPP Loan Forgiveness application. In addition, since late March our CPAs have taken hours of continuing professional education webinars on all aspects of the CARES Act, FFCRA and the Payroll Protection Program.

The SBA has stated that more guidance will be forthcoming over the summer months before the Loan Forgiveness portion of the PPP expires on October 31, 2020.   Again, we cannot stress enough that you should not attempt to complete and submit this Application without first consulting an experienced CPA! 

Here at Mazur and Associates we are qualified to render the highest level of expertise to assist our fellow small businesses. Several of our clients bypassed our counsel and applied for their PPP loan before consulting with us.  Unfortunately, a few of these small businesses received a smaller PPP loan than what they were entitled to!  We are here to serve you and work to maximize the Loan Forgiveness of your business’ PPP loan.  Call us today at 732 936-1230 or email steve@mazurcpas.com to schedule a teleconference or virtual appointment.  Stay safe, all!

2019 Tax Deadline Postponed

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***Latest Update as of April 1, 2020 ***

On April 1, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has extended the state income tax filing date and the corporation business tax filing deadline from April 15th to July 15th to coincide with the federal deadline. Murphy also decided to extend the state fiscal year to September 30th to allow the Administration to focus on fighting COVID-19 and give it some time to reevaluate it’s budget for the coming year.

***Update as of March 29, 2020 ***

New York Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order authorizing the Tax Commissioner to provide relief from certain tax filing and payment deadlines.

Accordingly, the Commissioner has extended the April 15, 2020, due date to July 15, 2020, for New York State personal income tax and corporation tax returns originally due on April 15, 2020. In addition, the Commissioner is allowing taxpayers to defer all related tax payments due on April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed.

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With the recent outbreak and rapid spread of the Corona Virus (COVID-19), both employees and employers are wondering how they are going to make ends meet while complying with the quarantine mandates that have shut down all “non-essential businesses” in New Jersey as of 9 p.m. on Saturday March 21, 2020. Typically, taxpayers would be getting ready to file by April 15th. However, there is great concern about how taxpayers will be able to afford to file their tax returns on time and pay any balances due because of the debilitating imprint of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In light of these mounting concerns, the United States Dept. of Treasury through the Internal Revenue Service has postponed the 2019 federal tax filing date from April 15 to July 15, 2020. Taxpayers can defer their federal income tax payment until July 15 without facing any penalties or interest regardless of how much they may owe. This automatic extension applies to all taxpayers including but not limited to individuals, trusts, estates, corporations, non-corporations, and the self- employed. There is no need to file any form to take advantage of this automatic extension.  However, if a taxpayer requires additional time beyond July 15th to prepare or to pay their 2019 federal tax liability, they must file a Form 4868 (Individual) or a Form 7004 (business) extension of time.

In the event that a taxpayer is owed a refund on 2019 their federal tax return, it is recommended that they file immediately, electronically, and request direct deposit in order to get access to their refund money as soon as possible. As of now, the IRS is still providing refunds within 21 days of filing. The IRS is also providing updates on how COVID-19 is impacting federal tax on a special page on their website. Click here to access it.

Also, the Treasury Department, IRS, and the Division of Labor have announced a plan to help businesses provide COVID-19 related paid leave to their employees as well as tax credits for small business to help cover COVID-19 related costs. This plan is under the Families First Corona Virus Response Act signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020. This plan impacts businesses with fewer than 500 employees by providing two new payroll tax credits that immediately and fully reimburse the business for the cost of providing COVID-19 related leave for their employees. The plan includes paid sick leave, an expansion of paid child care to include parents with children who have had their school district closed or have lost their child care services due to COVID-19 mandated shut downs. The complete coverage plan reimburses employees for 100% of the COVID-19 related paid leave costs. This credit includes health insurance costs and does not subject the employer to a payroll tax liability.  An identical credit is available to self-employed individuals. For more specifics on this plan and how it may be implemented, click here.

As for New Jersey state tax return filers, a bill is up for consideration in the New Jersey Senate (A.B. 3841) that would extend the state filing date to June 30th, 2020.   It has not yet been passed in the legislature and is not year official.  We will update this bulletin as soon as any changes are signed into law.

In New York State, the following message was posted on March 16, 2020 on the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance Corona Virus Response website: “At this time, the New York State Tax Department has not extended the deadline to file personal income tax or other tax returns. We will update this page if new information becomes available.”  Mazur & Associates, CPAs shall update this bulletin if and when there are changes to the April 15, 2020 New York State individual and corporation tax filing deadline.

Here at Mazur and Associates are doing our part to fight COVID-19 and protect those in our country and community as well as prepare and review 2019 individual and business tax returns. Our office is operating with staff on premises daily.  However, Governor Murphy’s order and common-sense dictates that until further notice we cannot meet with any client at our office. As always, feel free to telephone our office or email us with any questions you may have.  And revisit our website often for updates on any changes to the 2019 or 2020 tax deadlines or available tax credits.

In closing, we wish you and your family a safe and healthy quarantine period and a trust that our citizens can return to their schools, workplaces and social activities in the very near future!

Family Business Succession Planning

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As the owner of your family business, your lifetime has been poured into making the business a success. However, there comes a time in every business owner’s life when they have to start thinking of what will become of their business once they are no longer able to run it. Though it can an emotional topic for an owner, their family, and their employees, creating a succession plan for your business is an important part of ensuring the legacy of your business continues on. Think of it like writing a will, uncomfortable but necessary to ensure that the business is adequately prepared for the future. In many cases, the family’s livelihood and retirement are at stake. According to a JP Morgan statistic, businesses with a structured and clear plan of succession are more likely to succeed in the second, third, fourth and even fifth generations than those that do not. Even if you don’t plan on retiring any time soon, it is never too early to start planning for your business’s future. Rather, it is much better to have a plan once a situation arises rather than trying to create a plan while to situation is ongoing. With that in mind, we at Mazur and Associates have created this two-part guide to help business owners start their planning as soon as possible.

The first thing to do when creating a succession plan to choose a successor(s). When choosing a successor or board of successors, be sure to have someone

  • with a formal education and understanding of business
  • who has been mentored in your specific business so that they understand its values, culture, and environment
  • with good leadership skills who also has the capability to teach those skills to the next generation

If you decide to choose an heir (a family member) as your successor, you should anticipate and prepare for tension and disagreement amongst the involved family members. The family business is likely important to multiple family members involved, all of whom may have different ideas about how to shape the business’s future. This is why it is so important to make sure your objectives and goals for the business are clear when you take steps to involve other members of your family. It may also be helpful to involve a third-party business advisor as both a source of unbiased insight and a crucial buffer for those intense or emotional topics that come with succession planning.

When creating a board of successors, as many family businesses do, please note the composition of the leaders you have chosen. Make sure that they are fit to be able to strategize both for the mid and long term with business values and growth in mind. Review your policies with your chosen board so they have a full understanding of them and how you would like the business to be continued. Changing the leadership and decision-making role from one person to multiple people on a board also calls for a review of policies. Perhaps you do not have a policy on decision making power divided among multiple people or your policy only outlines how things work with a smaller number of leaders. This calls for decisions making policies and procedures to be created, reviewed, made clear, and put in writing. This will help your business and your successors operate smoothly. Include your successor(s) in the drafting of your succession plan conversations, as it is soon to be their business as well. It Is important that the current generation and the next generation leader(s) have a shared set of common goals for the future of the business.

As we said before, it might be wise to involve a third-party business advisor to help make rational business decisions. We also recommend you bring in a CPA who can provide you, your family, and the business advisor with numerical evaluations of your business that can help you plan properly. For example, the Estate Tax rate in the U.S. is 40% and is due 9 months after the deceased has passed. Many families are burdened by such a heavy tax and this has a negative effect on their family businesses, causing them to go bankrupt or need to sell. Having a CPA will be able to help you create a financially sound succession plan so your family and business do not fall victim to economic hardship. We also recommend you have a lawyer present during your succession planning who has experience creating the proper legal structure and documents necessary to ensure that your succession plan is carried out properly. When drafting your plan, be sure to make the vision and values of the business extremely clear and in writing. The definitions, responsibilities, and structure of all roles should be clearly outlining in the wording as well. Having a lawyer present will enable you to create the legal documents necessary to ensure success.

There are quite a few ways to pass down the ownership of your business to an heir, for example:

  • Family Limited Partnership- a succession plan that transfers business interest to another family member by establishing a partnership with general and limited partner interests, and then simply transferring the business ownership to the partner. It is also possible to gift business interest over time to that partner.
  • Granter Retained Annuity Trust of Unitrust- GRATs and GRUTS are types of irrevocable trusts that a business owner can transfer their assets to while still collecting income for a set period of time. At the end of the set period or upon the owner’s death, the assets then go to the beneficiaries.
  • Private Annuities- this is a sale of property or assets in exchange for regular payments for the rest of the seller’s life time. Ownership is fully transferred to the successor who agrees to make these regular payments until the death of the seller or, in some cases, until the death of the surviving spouse. This method allows those involved to avoid gift and estate taxes.
  • Self-Canceling Installment Notes- SCINs allow owners to transfer their ownership in exchange for a promissory note that the buyer will make a series of payments. Upon the seller’s death, the remaining payments will be cancelled.

Once you have chosen your successor(s), ensured that they have the qualities needed to run your business well, decided on a type of plan, created your plan of succession with a business advisor, CPA, and lawyer, it is time for the final step! Periodically review your succession plan and revise it as needed. Things change, unexpected circumstances arise, but that does not mean your plan cannot adapt along with them. Reviewing and revising your succession plan until it comes time to put it into action is the best thing you can do for your business because it ensures its survival in the face of uncertainty.

If you decide not to choose an heir for your successor, you can use most of the options above with someone outside of your family, but there are additional options as well. You may want to consider your co-owner, a key employee, an outside party, or the company itself as your successor. Part two of this series will tell you all about these other options!

As always, we here at Mazur and Associates are here to help you. As both CPA’s and trusted business advisors, we would be more than happy to assist you in creating a financially sound plan of succession. Give us a call at (732) 936-1230 to set up an appointment and we can get started right away!

Prepare Now to File Your 2019 Tax Returns Before the Deadline

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With tax season in full swing and the filing deadline looming in less than two months, there is no room for putting off your annual tax return filing ritual.  Act today so that any tax balances due can be budgeted and paid for by April 15th.  Those that are required to pay estimated taxes may have a second federal or state remittance due on April 15th so don’t get caught flat-footed.  In 2018 there were many tax law changes which continue to apply in 2019.  If last year’s changes threw you for a loop because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) taking effect, the SECURE Act passed on December 20th 2019 may challenge you next year at this time.  But first things first.

The first step is to carefully track your deductions. By keeping track of your receipts, invoices, bills, and other records of expenses like medical bills and donations for individuals and travel expenses, mileage and other business expenses for business owners, you can ensure that you deduct everything possible and maximize the benefits you qualify for. More documentation is always better than less. If you are looking for more advise on how to keep your tax records, read our blog post on it here.

The next step to take is to brush up on changes to the tax laws. There have been some major changes for both individual and business filers. The TCJA is explained here as well as further details on how it effects those planning on getting a divorce. The 20% deduction for qualified business income granted by the TCJA and the new classification guidelines for employees and independent contractors are two other major changes to the tax law that filers should make themselves aware of. Lastly, planning around estate tax because of the increased exemption under the TCJA can help individuals take out larger exemptions without having to pay the 40% tax. By being aware and well informed, tax planning will become much easier and you can avoid making mistakes that will result in steep fines and penalties owed to the IRS. Specifically, for those filers in New Jersey, Mayor Murphy made changes to the tax law that they should keep in mind when planning for the upcoming tax season. The minimum wage increase, the new task force on employee misclassification, and the paid sick leave legislation are just a few of the major changes the state tax laws have seen.

Thirdly, contributing the maximum amount to your retirement funds is an important part of tax planning as well as future planning. For small business owners or independent contractors, setting up a SEP IRA (an alternative to a 401(k) with similar benefits) may be beneficial. This plan allows employers to contribute up to 25% of employee’s salary up to the annual maximum which was $56,000 this past year and has increased to $57,000 in 2020. By financially preparing to contribute the maximum amount, you can ensure that you are taking advantage of the benefits being offered. For independent contractors or those who are self-employed with a SEP IRA, it is a bit harder to pinpoint the exact limit, but on average the limit is around 20% after self-employment taxes. For individuals, reviewing your retirement account contributions whether it be a 401(k) or a similar retirement plan can result in tax benefits. Contributing to traditional retirement accounts is tax free and can make reaching your retirement goals much easier to reach. For more help on retirement planning, click here.

Finally, hiring a trusted accountant is the best way to ensure that you plan for the upcoming tax season. Businesses should consider reviewing their business structure, especially if they are not already incorporated. Asking an accountant to help you review your business structure can help you decide if becoming an LLC, an S, or a C corporation makes the most sense for you. Even independent contractors can benefit from this type of review and deciding to create an LLC or corporation. Different entities and classifications grant different benefits depending on the businesses needs so by picking the right structure, you can maximize your benefits for the tax year. Businesses should also plan their write-offs. The more big-ticket purchases that can be planned in advance, the more saving become available. By checking with your accountant before you make these large purchases can ensure that your expenses have a positive impact on your tax returns. Another tip for planning that you should discuss with an accountant is setting up estimated tax payments for 2020. Due to any number of situations or circumstances, your tax obligations can shift. In order to avoid a big tax bill at the end of any tax year, the IRS requires you to make payments four times a year. And not paying estimated taxes or underpaying can lead to penalties, something which must be avoided!  Until you prepare your 2019 or at least an accurate draft tax return, it is not feasible to pinpoint your estimated taxes for 2020.  You can make a reasonable estimate by first figuring out your adjusted gross income, taxable income, deductions, and credits and then split that number into four estimated payments to pay through the year. Using the numbers from the previous tax year can provide a solid base for these estimations but the more thorough you are with your documentation the more accurate your estimated payments will be and the less likely you are to owe more money at the end of the year.

One final tidbit of advice:  if you know that you can’t meet the Wednesday April 15, 2020 filing deadline, prepare a Form 4868 extension and make a payment.  Remember, the IRS and all states will allow extensions until October 15, 2020, but these jurisdictions will his you for interest and possibly late payment penalties for shortages not received by April 15!

We at Mazur & Associates, Certified Public Accountants and Business Advisors are here to assist you with your tax return preparation and make it a stress-free endeavor.  We have the knowledge and experience to ensure that you maximize your deductions and credits while minimizing the amount you owe. Call us at (732) 936-1230 and make us your trusted CPAs and Business Advisors!  Together let’s create a custom tax plan that you can feel good about.

Empowering Women in the Workplace

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Did you know that companies that actively prioritize gender representation are 15 percent more profitable than the median of their industry? 15 percent is a big number and for those companies that are not prioritizing gender diversity, it’s a lot of extra profit that they are missing out on. The best way to ensure that your business isn’t letting that 15 percent slip by is simple: ensure that women are empowered and represented within your workplace! In honor of Women’s Equality Day celebrated on last August, we at Mazur and Associates would like to address the hot-button issue of female empowerment in the workplace. While we have done research on how to specifically empower women for this post, applying these tips to any group of employees–whether they be classified by a gender, sexuality, or race–is sure to make them feel welcomed, included, valued, and empowered as well.

There are some really simple ways to ensure that your workplace is one that empowers women. First, it is important to be aware of your representation at the higher responsibility levels of your business. Promoting women and allowing them to succeed in positions of leadership and power will not only empower them individually, but will empower the employees whom they supervise by demonstrating that there are opportunities for them to excel as well. Promotion can take place at any level, from team leadership to C-level leadership. Letting women stand at the helm of new projects and initiatives provides a vote of confidence as well, causing a positive ripple effect for women throughout the office. Actions speak louder than words!

We do know that is isn’t possible to promote everyone all the time. When promotion is not an option, we advise you to take the opportunity to focus on training and developing women in your office so that they are ready for a promotion when one comes along. It is crucial that you as an employer or as a senior coworker create and connect women to opportunities for them to improve upon and expand their skillsets. By providing these opportunities for growth, you show your investment in them as employees and in their success within their career. Mentorships are the best way to connect women to these opportunities. The one on one guidance and continued relationships that mentorships provide are invaluable. Creating both in house and outside mentorship programs to pair female employees with trusted senior colleagues within your networks will ensure that your female employees have access to opportunities to learn and expand their success. It would also be helpful to refer women on your team for new projects that you’re aware of. While men are usually chosen for roles based on their potential, women are typically chosen for their prior experience. By leveraging your leadership, you can create opportunities for women to expand their experience and to prove themselves, even if they have not had that type of experience before.

Day to day work experiences cannot be overlooked either. While granting promotions and increasing mentorship and learning opportunities are big picture goals for empowering women, their daily work experience has a significant impact on how they feel about their career within your company. Reviewing what your workplace has in place for women as far as policies on harassment, discrimination and bias is something that you should do often as an employer. Having a plan when offenders are identified is also a large part of ensuring that women feel empowered within the workplace. The corrective measures taken to handle offenders quickly and definitively will show women that they are supported, valued, and included in their work environment. This support will allow them to focus their energy into their work which in turn will help your business overall. This kind of support doesn’t stop once your female employees leave the office, either. It is important to support parents and their need for parental leave. Reviewing your parental leave policies to ensure that parents are given ample time off to make sure their new family duties are taken care of will help reduce the stress of returning to work that often plagues new mothers and hinders their productivity. Consider creating a policy that allows women to work from home or outside of regular business hours to help them balance their duties at home and at work. This flexibility will give them peace of mind and allow them to meet all of their responsibilities to the fullest.

Another great way to empower women in your workplace is to celebrate and acknowledge their strengths. Give praise when it is well deserved to not only empower women but to retain valuable employees. This is especially helpful to other women looking to increase empowerment within their business. Recognizing other women will create a positive feedback loop of growth and empowerment. It is also important to support and amplify women in meetings and discussions on any level from the boardroom to team discussions. Success is about confidence just as much as it is about competence. Having support or at the very least respect in public spaces where women are presenting themselves and their opinions will create more spaces for them to feel comfortable speaking openly on an equal level.

Speaking openly about trials and tribulations as someone in a position of power is also extremely helpful, especially if you are a woman in a position of power. This takes away the illusion for women that in order to be successful they need to do everything right every time. Setting measurable targets and goals can also help with fighting this illusion. When women reach these goals, they will have something concrete to show for their efforts and use that evidence to boost themselves up to the levels that they need for pay raises and promotions. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can help ensure that women are being recognized for their efforts as well as when discussing promotion opportunities.

Lastly, openness about salaries is a requirement if you intend to participate in fair pay structures. The concept that discussing salaries is “unprofessional” or “inappropriate” is a rouse companies use to hide their unfair payment structures. To empower women and to show that you as an employer are treating all employees equally, it is important to be as transparent as possible when it comes to salaries. “Equal pay for equal work” should be more than a slogan for each and every employer!

We here at Mazur and Associates strongly believe that all marginalized groups of employees must be empowered and supported in their workplace. Not only is this movement for empowerment supportive of human dignity, but it can also improve your businesses productivity and profitability! There is no down side to recognizing and implementing these strategies within your organization. As always, at Mazur & Associates, CPAs and Business Advisors, PC, we are here to counsel your team and answer any questions pertaining to your business operations. Please call us at (732) 936-1230 to speak with a CPA business advisor or to schedule an appointment. We look forward to hearing from you!

Safeguarding Your Internet Passwords

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In this day and age of technology, just about everyone has some sort of online account that requires a password. Whether it be a streaming site like Netflix, a shopping site like Amazon, or an email provider like Google or Yahoo, they all use accounts with usernames to identify individual users and passwords to protect that user’s personal information stored within the account. Passwords are a necessary protective layer for all users in order to keep their personal information from prying eyes with mal-intent. However, there are many questions that arise for account users regarding security. What makes a good password? How else can I protect my accounts and information? How am I going to remember all of my passwords? Can I use a password more than once if it is secure enough? We have the answers here.

What makes a good password?

Secure passwords are difficult for hackers to guess or figure out, which makes them an excellent layer of protection. It is important to create secure and unique passwords for each of your personal and business accounts. It is recommended that your passwords be long, but not necessarily too complex. Remember that while you want your password to be complex enough to secure your account, you also don’t want it to be too difficult to remember that you lock yourself out of your account as well. It is important to also keep your passwords unique. Try to avoid generic things such as sports teams, pop culture icons or references, and common phrases. It is best if the password is seemingly random. It is common for people to stack their upper and lower case letters and special characters in certain spots in their passwords as well. This trend weakens a password. Most people capitalize letters in the beginning, use lowercase letters in the middle, and special characters or numbers at the end of their passwords. By breaking out of this trend, your password becomes harder to guess for hackers. Spread out the capital and lower-case letters as well as the special characters and numbers in your password to ensure a more secure password. There are tools available to help you create secure passwords that are long and complex enough, yet still easy enough to remember.

If I have a secure password that I can remember, can I use it or multiple accounts?

The short answer is “NO”. It is not a safe practice to repeat passwords on different accounts. No matter how secure your password is, there is always the possibility that someone will be able to figure it out and gain access to your account, and once they have done so, they will be able to access any other account with that password. To mitigate breaches in your accounts, it is important to create one of a kind secure passwords for each individual account that you have, both business and personal.

How often should I change my passwords?

It is common practice for people to routinely change their passwords for an extra layer of security, however research indicates that there is no significant reduction in risk by changing passwords frequently. In fact, it only makes it more difficult for the user to keep track of their passwords. By creating a singular secure password, your accounts will be protected and accessible to you. This is why it is so imperative to create a secure password in the first place.

How can I remember my secure passwords?

If you have a good memory, then it should be easy for you to create secure passwords for each of your accounts and remember them. However, many people do not have a perfect memory and find it difficult to juggle multiple long and complex passwords. There are options! You can purchase or find a free password manager to maintain your passwords for you. There are many free and self-operated programs offered.  Many web browsers like Google Chrome and Fire Fox offer a basic password manager that will store and sometimes even create secure passwords for your accounts that you frequently access. While these are convenient and free, they are very limited in their storage and password generating abilities. For a few dollars a month, you can buy a password manager dedicated solely to the security of your passwords.

What is a password manager?

A password manager is like a vault for your accounts and their individual passwords. Many programs require you to create one secure password for the vault that contains all of your other passwords. This way, you only need to remember the vault password to gain access to the rest of your passwords. Having one password for all of your other passwords is much easier to remember than each individual one, however, this master password must be all the more secure. Some of the top paid password manager programs available are 1Password ($3 a month) and Dashlane ($5 a month). LastPass is a free password manager and KeeppassXC is a free self-operated management system.

How else can I protect my information?

Passwords are a great layer of protection for your account information, but they are not the only thing you can use. A commonly used additional layer of security is authentication. Authentication security comes in many forms from codes sent to your phone or mobile devise via text message, call, or email to security questions with preset answers by the user. These additional layers are often offered by sites to their users and can also be added with extensions/add-ons or settings within the account. These additional layers can be added and adjusted by the user depending on the server the account is on. Another additional yet extremely simple layer of security can be found in the settings of most accounts that require a password.  This feature is often ignored. Usually, there is an option for users to elect for the account server to remember their user name and password on a particular device or website. By selecting this option, the server or device stores your login information so that there is no need to manually enter your information to log in each time. Do NOT select this. If anyone has access to the devices that you frequently use or if you select this option while using a public device, people can easily access your account, perhaps even without your knowledge. To avoid someone gaining access to your account without your knowledge, it is possible for a user to create an alert system for their accounts. An alert system will notify the user via email or text message when a login attempt is being made and will sometimes ask for the user to verify if the attempt was valid. An example of this can be found with Google accounts. Their systems will notify the account user via email if a suspicious attempt was made to access their account from an area that they are not normally in or if a certain number of log in attempts were made incorrectly. Additional layers of protection like this are always recommended to ensure security.

Can I ever not use a password?

Yes and no. Strides have been made towards developing password-less accounts, but there are no current options available for a truly password-less account. Examples of these strides are biometrics or SMS operated accounts. Biometric accounts use things like fingerprints or facial recognition software to verify a user. Day to day examples of biometric accounts are the latest iPhones and Android models. However, these devises still require a PIN number or password to access the phone if the biometric software fails to recognize the user. SMS operated accounts are accounts that use the user’s phone number as a user name and instead of a set password, the system sends a generated code to the mobile devise via SMS to gain access to the account. Though there is no set password to remember, there is still a code required. This can be not only a hassle but also unsafe. It is easy enough for an unauthorized user to gain access to a designated mobile device and log in using the verification code sent to it. There are also physical keys being used rather than passwords to gain access to online accounts. Keys and codes are stored in devices like USBs, NFCs, and even over Bluetooth that can be used to log into accounts by connecting or plugging in the key. None of these options truly replace passwords, however, as they all require additional keys or security measures to enter into accounts. For the near future, there will always be a password for accounts somewhere, even in the background, for security purposes.

At Mazur & Associates, Certified Public Accountants and Business Advisors, we understand the importance of internet security.  Like you or your Company, our firm has multiple business accounts, client accounts, and personal accounts that must be kept secure with passwords and other levels of security. If you have any other questions or need more details on this subject, please call us at (732) 936-1230 to schedule a meeting or telephone conference. We are here to help! Safeguarding your personal information should be a top priority and by working with our firm and other experts you can prevent your personal and business accounts from falling victim to hackers.

Secure Act and TEDRA

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Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 – Businesses

As a year-end holiday gift, Congress included a number of individual and business friendly tax provisions in its year-end spending package that was signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019. The “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020” (2020 Act) brought back to life many deductions and credits that had expired at the end of 2017, as well as a few others that had either expired at the end of 2018 or were scheduled to expire at the end of 2019. In addition, substantial changes were made to retirement-related tax provisions, some of which may benefit your business. The funding for some of these changes will come from increases made to various penalty provisions – notably increases in the penalties for failing to timely file a tax or retirement plan return or timely pay taxes due.

To the extent that your business tax return for 2018 could have benefited from any of the resurrected 2017 tax provisions, we should file an amended return to claim any refunds your business may be due. The 2020 Act changes may also affect your business’s 2019 tax liability.

The following is a recap of the provisions that expired at the end of 2017 but are now available for 2018 and future tax returns:

Special Expensing Rules for Film, TV, or Theatrical Productions

The owner of a qualified film or television production or a qualified live theatrical production that began after 2015 and before 2021 may elect to deduct production costs in the year the costs are paid or incurred in lieu of capitalizing the costs and recovering them through depreciation allowances.

Energy Efficient Home Credit

The credit for energy efficient homes is extended to 2018, 2019, and 2020 for homes acquired after December 31, 2017. The credit applies to contractors who construct or manufacture qualifying energy efficient homes in the year such homes are sold or leased for use as a residence. The credit is $2,000 or $1,000, depending on whether the home is constructed or manufactured and on the energy saving standards satisfied.

Alternative Fuel Refueling Property Credit

The credit under Code Sec. 30C for alternative fuel refueling property is extended to property placed in service before January 1, 2021. The credit is equal to 30 percent of the cost of any qualified alternative fuel vehicle refueling property placed in service by the taxpayer during the tax year.

Qualified Fuel Cell Motor Vehicles Credit

The alternative motor vehicle fuel credit is extended to motor vehicles purchased before 2021. The credit applies to vehicles propelled by chemically combining oxygen with hydrogen and creating electricity (i.e., fuel cell vehicles). The base credit is $4,000 for vehicles weighing 8,500 pounds or less. Heavier vehicles can get up to a $40,000 credit, depending on their weight. An additional $1,000 to $4,000 credit is available to cars and light trucks to the extent their fuel economy exceeds the 2002 base fuel economy set forth in the Code.

Two-Wheeled Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit

The credit applicable for the acquisition of a qualified two-wheeled plug-in electric drive motor vehicle has been extended and now applies to vehicles acquired before January 1, 2021.

Credit for Electricity Produced from Certain Renewable Resources

The credit for electricity produced from certain renewable resources at qualified facilities is extended through 2020. In addition, (1) the election to treat qualified facilities as energy property is available through 2020; (2) a wind facility under construction, where the construction of the facility begins before January 1, 2021, is a qualified facility for purposes of the credit; and (3) for purposes of the phaseout of the credit for wind facilities, the credit amount is 40 percent for any facility the construction of which begins after December 31, 2019, and before January 1, 2021.

Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel Incentives

The credit for certain biodiesel or renewable diesel used or sold as fuel in a trade or business is extended through 2022. There are five components to this credit: (1) the biodiesel credit; (2) the renewable diesel credit; (3) the biodiesel mixture credit; (4) the renewable diesel mixture credit; and (5) the small agri-biodiesel producer credit. In addition, the credit for alcohol fuel, biodiesel, and alternative fuel mixtures is extended to any sale or use for any period before January 1, 2023.

Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction

The deduction available for the cost of energy efficient commercial building property is extended to property placed in service before 2021. The deduction is limited to the excess (if any) of (1) the product of $1.80 and the square footage of the building, over (2) the aggregate amount of the energy efficient commercial property deductions allowed with respect to the building for all prior tax years.

Classification of Certain Race Horses as 3-Year Property

The three-year depreciation period now applies to any race horse placed in service before 2021.

Classification of Motorsports Entertainment Complexes as 7-Year Property

The seven-year depreciation period for certain motorsports entertainment complex now applies to any such property placed in service before January 1, 2021.

Accelerated Depreciation Deduction for Business Property on Indian Reservations

The accelerated depreciation deduction for qualified Indian reservation property now applies to property placed in service before January 1, 2021.

Indian Employment Credit

Under the Indian employment credit, employers are allowed a credit for a percentage of the wages and health insurance costs paid to employees who are American Indians. This credit is now available through the end of 2020. However, the total amount of wages and health insurance costs that may be taken into account for any qualified employee for a tax year is limited to $20,000.

Other deductions and credits which were scheduled to expire but have been extended include the following:

Work Opportunity Credit

The work opportunity credit, which was scheduled to expire at the end of 2019, is extended through 2020. An employer is generally allowed a 40 percent credit for qualified first-year wages paid or incurred during the tax year to individuals who are members of a targeted group of employees.

Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave

The paid family and medical leave credit, which was scheduled to expire at the end of 2019, is extended through 2020. The credit allows eligible employers to claim a general business credit equal to an applicable percent of the amount of wages paid to qualifying employees during any period in which such employees are on family and medical leave, provided that the rate of payment under the program is at least 50 percent of the wages normally paid to an employee.

New Markets Tax Credit

The New Markets credit, which was scheduled to expire at the end of 2019, is extended through 2020. The New Markets credit provides that a taxpayer is entitled to a credit for a percentage of the amount paid for a qualified equity investment in a qualified community development entity. In addition, if the tax credit limitation for any calendar year exceeds the aggregate amount allocated for such year, such limitation for the succeeding calendar year is increased by the amount of such excess.

Repeal of Increase in Unrelated Business Taxable Income for Certain Fringe Benefit Expenses

Of interest to nonprofits, the 2020 Act eliminates the increase in unrelated business taxable income of an organization for a deduction that was not allowable by reason of Code Sec. 274 and which was paid or incurred by such organization for any qualified transportation fringe, any parking facility used in connection with qualified parking, or any on-premises athletic facility.

As you are aware, providing excellent benefits to employees can make hiring and retaining talented employees much easier. A number of retirement-related tax provisions were enacted in the 2020 Act, including several that may affect your business or might make adopting certain retirement benefits for employees more attractive.

Tax Credit Increase for Small Employer Pension Plan Startup Costs

An eligible small employer may qualify for a nonrefundable income tax credit for qualified startup costs incurred in adopting a new qualified retirement plan, SIMPLE IRA plan, or SEP (i.e., an eligible employer plan), provided that the plan covers at least one non-highly compensated employee. Qualified startup costs are expenses connected with the establishment or administration of the plan or retirement-related education for employees with respect to the plan. Before the 2020 Act, the credit was the lesser of (1) a flat dollar amount of $500 per year, or (2) 50 percent of the qualified startup costs. Under the 2020 Act, the flat dollar amount for a tax year after 2019 is the greater of (1) $500 or (2) the lesser of (a) $250 multiplied by the number of nonhighly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan, or (b) $5,000. As under present law, the credit applies for up to three years. You are considered an eligible small employer if, for the preceding year, your business had no more than 100 employees, each with compensation of $5,000 or more.

Small Employer Automatic Enrollment Credit

For tax years beginning after 2019, an eligible employer is allowed a business tax credit of $500 per year for up to three years for startup costs for new Section 401(k) plans and SIMPLE IRA plans that include automatic enrollment. This credit is in addition to the plan startup credit allowed under present law. An eligible employer is also allowed a credit of $500 per year for up to three years if the employer converts an existing plan to an automatic enrollment design. The credit applies for up to three years beginning with the year the plan is first effective, or, at the election of the employer, with the year preceding the first plan year.

Qualified Cash or Deferred Arrangements Must Allow Part-Time Employees to Participate

The 2020 Act requires a Section 401(k) plan to allow an employee to make elective deferrals if the employee has worked at least 500 hours per year with the employer for at least three consecutive years and has met the age requirement (age 21) by the end of the three consecutive year period (for this purpose, an employee is referred to as a “long-term part-time employee” after having completed this period of service). Thus, if your business has a 401(k) plan, a long-term part-time employee cannot be excluded from the plan because the employee has not completed a year of service as defined under the prior-rule participation requirements (i.e., a 12-month period with at least 1,000 hours of service).

Penalty-Free Withdrawals from Retirement Plans for Individuals in Case of Birth of Child or Adoption

New parents can withdraw up to $5,000 from a qualified employer retirement plan or individual retirement plan without any early withdrawal penalty for a qualified birth or adoption. A qualified birth or adoption distribution is a distribution from an applicable eligible retirement plan to an individual if made during the one-year period beginning on the date on which a child of the individual is born or on which the legal adoption by the individual of an eligible adoptee is finalized. An eligible adoptee means any individual (other than a child of the taxpayer’s spouse) who has not attained age 18 or is physically or mentally incapable of self-support.

Finally, the 2020 Act also made some taxpayer and business friendly changes with respect to disaster-related events.

Employee Retention Credit for Employers Affected by Qualified Disasters

The 2020 Act provides a credit of 40 percent of the qualified wages (up to a maximum of $6,000 in qualified wages per employee) paid by an eligible employer to an eligible employee. You are an ”eligible employer” if you (1) conducted an active trade or business in a qualified disaster zone at any time during the incident period of the qualified disaster with respect to such qualified disaster zone, and (2) if your trade or business is inoperable at any time during the period beginning on the first day of the incident period of such qualified disaster and ending on December 20, 2019, as a result of damage sustained by reason of such qualified disaster.

Automatic Extension of Filing Deadlines for Businesses Affected by Federally Declared Disasters

The 2020 Act provides that, in the case of a federally declared disaster, a qualified taxpayer is entitled to a mandatory 60-day extension with respect to filing returns and paying tax due. The 60-day period begins on the earliest incident date specified in the declaration of the relevant disaster and ends on the date which is 60 days after the latest incident date so specified.

The section below describes how this legislation will impact your individual income tax planning and taxable income.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 – Individuals

As a year-end holiday gift, Congress included a number of individual and business friendly tax provisions in its year-end spending package that was signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019. The “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020” (2020 Act) brought back to life many deductions and credits that had expired at the end of 2017, as well as a few others that had either expired at the end of 2018 or were scheduled to expire at the end of 2019. In addition, substantial changes were made to retirement-related tax provisions and new disaster-related tax provisions have been added. Some of the funding for these changes will come from increases made to various penalty provisions – notably increases in the penalties for failing to timely file a tax return or timely pay the tax due.

To the extent that you could have benefited from any of the resurrected 2017 tax provisions on your 2018 tax return, we should file an amended return to claim any refunds you may be due. The 2020 Act changes may also affect your 2019 tax liability.

The following is a recap of the provisions that have been extended that may require the filing of an amended tax return for 2018.

Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses

The deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses is now available for 2018, 2019, and 2020 and applies to qualified education expenses paid during the year for yourself, your spouse, or a dependent. The maximum deduction is $4,000 of expenses if your modified adjusted gross income does not exceed $65,000 ($130,000 in the case of a joint return). If your income is more than that, you can still deduct $2,000, as long as your adjusted gross income does not exceed $80,000 ($160,000 in the case of a joint return).

Expansion of Section 529 Plans

Several changes were made to the rules involving Section 529 plans – tax-advantaged savings plans designed to accumulate funds for future educational needs. First, tax-free distributions for higher education expenses now to apply to expenses for fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the participation of a designated beneficiary in an apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship program must be registered and certified with the Secretary of Labor under Section 1 of the National Apprenticeship Act. Second, tax-free treatment applies to distributions of certain amounts used to make payments on principal or interest of a qualified education loan. No individual may receive more than $10,000 of such distributions, in aggregate, over the course of the individual’s lifetime. Third, a special rule allows tax-free distributions to a sibling of a designated beneficiary (i.e., a brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister). This rule allows a 529 account holder to make a student loan distribution to a sibling of the designated beneficiary without changing the designated beneficiary of the account.

Treatment of Mortgage Insurance Premiums as Qualified Residence Interest

For 2018, 2019, and 2020, you can treat amounts paid during the year for qualified mortgage insurance as qualified residence interest. The insurance must be in connection with acquisition debt for a qualified residence.

Exclusion from Gross Income of Discharge of Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness

For 2018, 2019, and 2020, gross income does not include the discharge of indebtedness of a taxpayer if the debt discharged is qualified principal residence indebtedness which is discharged before January 1, 2021.

Elimination of Certain Kiddie Tax Provisions

If you have a child that was subject to the new kiddie tax rules that went into effect in 2018, those rules have now been repealed retroactive to the date they were adopted. As a result, the onerous trust and estate tax rates that applied to the child’s unearned income in 2018 no longer apply. Similarly, the reduced AMT exemption amount for such children has been eliminated.

Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit

The nonbusiness energy property credit is extended to property placed in service in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The nonbusiness energy property credit is available for (1) 10 percent of the amounts paid or incurred for qualified energy efficiency improvements installed during the tax year, and (2) the amount of residential energy property expenditures paid or incurred during the tax year.

Alternative Fuel Refueling Property Credit

The credit for alternative fuel refueling property has been extended to property placed in service in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The credit is equal to 30 percent of the cost of any qualified alternative fuel vehicle refueling property placed in service by the taxpayer during the tax year.

Two-Wheeled Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit

The credit available for the purchase of a qualified two-wheeled plug-in electric drive motor vehicle is extended to vehicles acquired in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Another change made by the 2020 Act which may affect your 2019 tax return and future tax returns includes the following:

Reduction in Medical Expense Deduction Floor

The floor for deducting medical expenses for 2019 and 2020 has been reduced from 10 percent of adjusted gross income to 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. In addition, there is no adjustment to the medical expense deduction when computing the alternative minimum tax for 2019 and 2020.

Some of the retirement-related provisions which may be of interest to you include the following:

Repeal of Maximum Age for Traditional IRA Contributions

The prohibition on contributions to a traditional IRA by an individual who has attained age 70½ has been repealed.

Increase in Age for Required Beginning Date for Mandatory Distributions

The required beginning date for required minimum distributions has been increased to 72 years old from 70 ½ years old. The former rules continue to apply to employees and IRA owners who attain age 70½ prior to January 1, 2020. The new provision is effective for distributions required to be made after December 31, 2019, with respect to individuals who attain age 70½ after December 31, 2019.

Penalty-Free Withdrawals from Retirement Plans for Individuals in Case of Birth of Child or Adoption

A new exception to the 10-percent early withdrawal tax applies in the case of a qualified birth or adoption distribution of up to $5,000 from an applicable eligible retirement plan. A qualified birth or adoption distribution is a distribution from an applicable eligible retirement plan to an individual if made during the one-year period beginning on the date on which a child of the individual is born or on which the legal adoption by the individual of an eligible adoptee is finalized. An eligible adoptee means any individual (other than a child of the taxpayer’s spouse) who has not attained age 18 or is physically or mentally incapable of self-support.

Certain Taxable Non-Tuition Fellowship and Stipend Payments Treated As Compensation for IRA Purposes

For tax years after 2019, an amount includible in an individual’s income and paid to the individual to aid the individual in the pursuit of graduate or postdoctoral study or research (such as a fellowship, stipend, or similar amount) is treated as compensation for purposes of IRA contributions.

Disaster-related provisions in the 2020 Act include the following:

Exception to Penalty for Using Retirement Funds

An exception to the 10-percent early withdrawal tax on a retirement-related distribution applies in the case of “qualified disaster distributions” from a qualified retirement plan, a Code Sec. 403(b) plan, or an individual retirement account (IRA). In addition, income attributable to a qualified disaster distribution may be included in income ratably over three years, and the amount of a qualified disaster distribution may be recontributed to an eligible retirement plan within three years. A “qualified disaster distribution” is any distribution from an eligible retirement plan made on or after the first day of the incident period of a qualified disaster and before June 18, 2020, to an individual whose principal place of abode at any time during the incident period is located in the qualified disaster area and who has sustained an economic loss by reason of such disaster, regardless of whether a distribution otherwise would be permissible.

Special Rules for Qualified Disaster-Related Personal Casualty Losses

Under a new provision, in the case of a qualified disaster-related personal casualty loss which arose as the result of a net disaster loss, such loss is deductible without regard to whether aggregate net losses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. In order to be deductible, however, such losses must exceed $500 per casualty. Such losses may be claimed in addition to the standard deduction and may be claimed even if you are subject to the alternative minimum tax.

Special Rule for Determining Earned Income

If you qualify, you may elect to calculate your earned income tax credit and additional child tax credit for an applicable tax year using your earned income from the prior tax year. Qualified individuals are permitted to make the election with respect to an applicable tax year only if their earned income for such tax year is less than their earned income for the preceding tax year. You are a qualified individual if (1) at any time during the incident period of a qualified disaster, you had your principal residence in the applicable qualified disaster zone, or (2) during any portion of such incident period, you were not in the applicable qualified disaster zone but your principal residence was in the applicable qualified disaster area and you were displaced from such principal place of abode by reason of the qualified disaster.

Automatic Extension of Filing Deadlines in the Case of Federally Declared Disasters

In the case of a federally declared disaster, qualified taxpayers get a mandatory 60-day extension period for filing and paying taxes.

As you can see, the provisions in the 2020 Act are quite extensive. Without a doubt, our CPA staff has the expertise to guide you through the many changes brought about by this legislation.  In fact, you may be able to amend your 2018 business and individual tax return and seek a refund of taxes previously paid!  Please call 732 936-1230 at your earliest convenience to schedule an appointment to discuss how these changes will impact your tax situation.  Happy New Year!