Biden Highlights Small-Business Help, as Problems Persist With Lending Program

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman, by an 81-to-17 vote.

Despite the concerns, Mr. Biden was met with praise in Chester, Pa., when he visited Smith Flooring, a Black-owned business that supplies and installs flooring. White House officials said the shop cut payroll over the last year, from 22 union employees to 12, after revenues declined by 20 percent during the pandemic. It has survived, the officials said, thanks in part to two rounds of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress established last year during the Trump administration to help small businesses.

“This is a great outfit. This is a union shop,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks. Its employees, he said, “work like the devil, and they can make a decent wage, a living wage.”

The owners of Smith Flooring, Kristin and James Smith, secured their second loan from the program as part of one of the Biden administration’s changes, which created a two-week exclusive period for certain very small businesses to receive loans. They thanked Mr. Biden for his efforts and for visiting Chester.

Mr. Biden’s aid bill, signed last week, added $7 billion to the program and funded others to help struggling businesses, including a $28 billion grant fund for restaurants. The law also set aside additional money for other relief efforts run by the Small Business Administration, including a long-delayed grant program for music clubs and other live-event businesses, which the agency said would start accepting applications early next month.

Lenders are scrambling to carry out the administration’s changes to the Paycheck Protection Program and finish processing a flood of applications before March 31. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants called the deadline “unrealistic,” and 10 banking groups sent a letter to lawmakers urging Congress to give them more time.

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For Gig Workers and Business Owners, Taxes Are Even Trickier Now

The revamped credit “is a better program — there’s more money, and it’s available to more employers,” said Shelly Abril, the head of tax compliance at Gusto, a payroll services provider. “But with that comes all this extra complexity.”

Devon Lind plans to seek retroactive 2020 credits for his workers at Blender, a collection of businesses in Spokane, Wash. Blender’s two core businesses — Photoboxx, which sells photo printing and display technology, and Smash, a mobile “rage room” where people can destroy plates — both depend on events, and sales plunged last year. The company had nine employees before the pandemic. It laid off five.

How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Taxes?

Nope. The so-called economic impact payments are not treated as income. In fact, they’re technically an advance on a tax credit, known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The payments could indirectly affect what you pay in state income taxes in a handful of states, where federal tax is deductible against state taxable income, as our colleague Ann Carrns wrote. Read more.

Mostly.  Unemployment insurance is generally subject to federal as well as state income tax, though there are exceptions (Nine states don’t impose their own income taxes, and another six exempt unemployment payments from taxation, according to the Tax Foundation). But you won’t owe so-called payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security and Medicare. The new relief bill will make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free if your income is less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only. (If you’ve already filed your taxes, watch for I.R.S. guidance.) Unlike paychecks from an employer, taxes for unemployment aren’t automatically withheld. Recipients must opt in — and even when they do, federal taxes are withheld only at a flat rate of 10 percent of benefits. While the new tax break will provide a cushion, some people could still owe the I.R.S. or certain states money. Read more.

Probably not, unless you’re self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker. The tax law overhaul of late 2019 eliminated the home office deduction for employees from 2018 through 2025. “Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home,” the I.R.S. said. Read more.

Self-employed people can take paid caregiving leave if their child’s school is closed or their usual child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak. This works similarly to the smaller sick leave credit — 67 percent of average daily earnings (for either 2020 or 2019), up to $200 a day. But the caregiving leave can be taken for 50 days. Read more.

Yes. This year, you can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions, even if you use the standard deduction. Previously, only people who itemized could claim these deductions. Donations must be made in cash (for these purposes, this includes check, credit card or debit card), and can’t include securities, household items or other property. For 2021, the deduction limit will double to $600 for joint filers. Rules for itemizers became more generous as well. The limit on charitable donations has been suspended, so individuals can contribute up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from 60 percent. But these donations must be made to public charities in cash; the old rules apply to contributions made to donor-advised funds, for example. Both provisions are available through 2021. Read more.

Because Blender took a Paycheck Protection Program loan, it was initially ineligible for the retention credit, but Mr. Lind now plans to seek it for two quarters last year. The credit “is really going to help us continue to retain employees as we’re gaining back business,” he said.

But extracting the most money allowed from the credit is complicated because of the way it interacts with P.P.P. proceeds — and the Internal Revenue Service hasn’t yet provided detailed guidance.

“There’s just tons of nuance in the credit,” said Andre Shevchuck, a partner at the accounting firm BPM. “We have instructed a lot of clients to first check in with their payroll provider to see how the rubber meets the road, and it may also make sense for businesses to talk to a C.P.A or a lawyer.”

Self-employed workers are normally not eligible for unemployment compensation, but the CARES Act extended benefits to them. Ms. Holcomb filed for unemployment when her contract job temporarily eliminated her hours.

Some who collected the money are in for a tax-time shock, though: The payments are taxed as income. States are supposed to offer recipients the option of having federal taxes withheld, but in their scramble to deal with a deluge of claims, some states didn’t do it — and many people, faced with urgent bills and a reduced income, declined the option. Researchers at the Century Foundation estimate that fewer than 40 percent of unemployment payments last year had taxes withheld.

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