SECURE 2.0: Which provisions went into effect in 2024?

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) 2.0 Act was signed into law in December 2022, bringing more than 90 changes to retirement plan and tax laws. Many of its provisions are little known and were written to roll out over several years rather than immediately taking effect.

Here are several important changes that went into effect in 2024:

Pension-Linked Emergency Savings Accounts (PLESAs).

More than half of U.S. adults would turn to borrowing when confronted by an emergency expense of $1,000 or more, according to a Bankrate survey — a figure that has held steady for years. In response, SECURE 2.0 contains provisions related to emergency access to retirement savings, including PLESAs. PLESAs are defined contribution plans designed to encourage workers to save for financial emergencies.

Beginning this year, employers can offer PLESAs linked to employees’ retirement accounts, with the PLESA treated as a Roth, or after-tax, account. Non-highly-compensated employees can be automatically enrolled with a deferral of up to 3% of compensation but no more than $2,500 annually (indexed for inflation) — or less if the employer chooses. Employees can make qualified withdrawals tax- and penalty-free. Employers must allow at least one withdrawal per month, with no fee for the first four per year.

Starter 401(k) plans.

SECURE 2.0 creates a new kind of retirement plan for employers not already sponsoring a qualified retirement plan, called a starter 401(k). Employers must automatically enroll all employees at a deferral rate of at least 3% of compensation but no more than 15%. The maximum annual deferral is $6,000 (indexed for inflation), plus the annual IRA catch-up contribution of $1,000 for those age 50 or older. No actual deferral percentage (ADP) or top-heavy testing of the plan is required, reducing the compliance and cost burden for employers.

Employers can impose age and service eligibility requirements, and employees may elect out. They also can choose to contribute at a different level. Employer contributions aren’t allowed, so less record keeping is required.

Top-heavy rules.

Defined contribution plans that are considered “top-heavy” must make nonelective minimum contributions equal to 3% of a participant’s compensation. This can represent a significant expense for small employers. Top-heavy plans are those where the aggregate of accounts for key employees exceeds 60% of the aggregate accounts for non-key employees.

Starting in 2024, employers can perform the top-heavy test separately on excludable employees (those who are under age 21 and have less than a year of service) and non-excludable employees. The goal is to eliminate the incentive for employers to exclude employees from the plan to avoid the minimum contribution obligation.

SIMPLE IRAs.

SECURE 2.0 boosts the annual Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA and SIMPLE 401(k) deferral limit and the catch-up limit to 110% of the 2024 contribution limits (indexed for inflation) for employers with 25 or fewer employees. Employers with 26 to 100 employees can offer the higher deferral limits if they provide a 4% matching contribution or a 3% employer contribution.

Employers now can make additional contributions to each employee in the plan, as well. Additional contributions must be made in a uniform manner and can’t exceed the lesser of up to 10% of compensation or $5,000 (indexed for inflation) per employee.

Early withdrawal exceptions.

SECURE 2.0 allows penalty-free early withdrawals from qualified retirement plans for “unforeseeable or immediate financial needs relating to personal or family emergency expenses.” Employees have three years to repay such withdrawals; no additional emergency withdrawals are permitted during the three-year repayment period, except to the extent that any previous withdrawals within that period have been repaid. The withdrawals are otherwise limited to once per year.

Victims of domestic abuse by a spouse or partner also are exempt from early withdrawal penalties for the lesser of $10,000 (indexed for inflation) or 50% of their vested account balances. The law’s detailed definition of domestic abuse includes abuse of a participant’s child or another family member living in the same household. Withdrawals can be repaid over a three-year period, and participants can recover income taxes paid on repaid distributions.

Note: An early withdrawal penalty exception for terminally ill individuals took effect in 2023.

Employer-provided student loan relief.

Younger employees with large amounts of student debt have sometimes missed out on their employer’s matching contributions to retirement plans. SECURE 2.0 tackles this catch-22 by allowing these employees to receive matching contributions based on their qualified student loan payments. Employers can make matching contributions to 401(k) plans or SIMPLE IRAs. Note that contributions based on student loan payments must be made available to all match-eligible employees.

Section 529 plan rollovers.

Beginning this year, owners of certain 529 plans can transfer unused funds intended for qualified education expenses directly to the plan beneficiary’s Roth IRA without incurring any federal tax or the 10% penalty for nonqualified withdrawals.

A beneficiary’s rollover amount is limited to a lifetime maximum of $35,000, and rollovers are subject to the applicable Roth IRA annual contribution limit. Rollover amounts can’t include contributions made to the plan in the previous five years, and the 529 account must have been maintained for at least 15 years.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Designated Roth 401(k) and 403(b) plans provided by employers have been subject to annual RMDs in the same way that traditional 401(k)s are. As of 2024, though, the plans aren’t subject to RMDs until the death of the owner.

Act now

Many employers need to amend their plans due to changes related to SECURE 2.0. Fortunately, they generally have until the end of 2025 to make these amendments as long as they comply by the law’s deadlines. Contact us for additional details.

 

© 2024

Federal regulators expand overtime pay requirements, ban most noncompete agreements

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a new final rule regarding the salary threshold for determining whether employees are exempt from federal overtime pay requirements. The threshold is slated to jump 65% from its current level by 2025 and is expected to make four million additional workers eligible for overtime pay.

On the same day the overtime rule was announced, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a final rule prohibiting most noncompete agreements with employees, with similarly far-reaching implications for many employers. Both regulations could be changed by court challenges, but here’s what you need to know for now.

The overtime rule

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), so-called nonexempt workers are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times their regular pay rate for hours worked per week that exceed 40. Employees are exempt from the overtime requirements if they satisfy three tests:

  1.  Salary basis test. The employee is paid a predetermined and fixed salary that isn’t subject to reduction due to variations in the quality or quantity of his or her work.
  2. Salary level test. The salary isn’t less than a specific amount, or threshold (currently, $684 per week or $35,568 per year).
  3. Duties test. The employee primarily performs executive, administrative or professional duties.

The new rule focuses on the salary level test and will increase the threshold in two steps. Starting on July 1, 2024, most salaried workers who earn less than $844 per week will be eligible for overtime. On January 1, 2025, the threshold will climb further, to $1,128 per week.

The rule also will increase the total compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCEs). HCEs are subject to a more relaxed duties test than employees earning less. They need only “customarily and regularly” perform at least one of the duties of an exempt executive, administrative or professional employee, as opposed to primarily performing such duties.

This looser test currently applies to HCEs who perform office or nonmanual work and earn total compensation (including bonuses, commissions and certain benefits) of at least $107,432 per year. The compensation threshold will move up to $132,964 per year on July 1, and to $151,164 on January 1, 2025.

The final rule also includes a mechanism to update the salary thresholds every three years. Updates will reflect current earnings data from the most recent available four quarters from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rule also permits the DOL to temporarily delay a scheduled update when warranted by unforeseen economic or other conditions. Updated thresholds will be published at least 150 days before they take effect.

Plan your approach

With the first effective date right around the corner, employers should review their employees’ salaries to identify those affected — that is, those whose salaries meet or exceed the current level but fall below the new thresholds. For employees who are on the bubble under the new thresholds, employers might want to increase their salaries to retain their exempt status. Alternatively, employers may want to reduce or eliminate overtime hours or simply pay the proper amount of overtime to these employees. Or they can reduce an employee’s salary to offset new overtime pay.

Remember, too, that exempt employees also must satisfy the applicable duties test (which varies depending on whether the exemption is for an executive, professional or administrative role). An employee whose salary exceeds the threshold but doesn’t primarily engage in the applicable duties isn’t exempt.

Obviously, depending on the selected approach, budgets may require adjustments. If some employees will be reclassified as nonexempt, employers may need to provide training to employees and supervisors on new timekeeping requirements and place restrictions on off-the-clock work.

Be aware that business groups have promised to file lawsuits to block the new rule, as they succeeded in doing with a similar rule promulgated in 2016. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a skeptical eye to administrative rulemaking in recent years. So it makes sense to proceed with caution. Bear in mind, too, that some employers also are subject to state and local wage and hour laws with more stringent standards for exempt status.

The noncompete ban

The new rule from the FTC bans most noncompete agreements nationwide (which will conflict with some state laws). In addition, existing noncompetes for most workers will no longer be enforceable after the rule becomes effective, 120 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. The rule is projected to affect 30 million workers. However, it doesn’t apply to certain noncompete agreements and those entered into as part of the sale of a business.

The rule includes an exception for existing noncompetes with “senior executives,” defined as workers earning more than $151,164 annually who are in policy-making positions. Policy-making positions include:

  • A business’s president,
  • A chief executive officer or equivalent,
  • Any other officer who has policy making authority, and
  • Any other natural person who has policy making authority similar to an officer with such authority.

Note that employers can’t enter new noncompetes with senior executives.

Unlike the proposed rule issued for public comment in January 2023, the final rule doesn’t require employers to legally modify existing noncompetes by formally rescinding them. Instead, they must only provide notice to workers bound by existing agreements — other than senior executives — that they won’t enforce such agreements against the workers. The rule includes model language that employers can use to provide notice.

A lawsuit was filed in a Texas federal court shortly after the FTC voted on the final rule, arguing the FTC doesn’t have the statutory authority to issue the rule. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also subsequently filed a court challenge to block the noncompete ban.

More to come

Whether either of these rules will eventually become effective as written remains to be seen. Judicial intervention or a potential swing in federal political power could mean they land in the dustbin of history before taking effect — or shortly thereafter. We’ll keep you up to date on the latest news regarding these two rules.

 

© 2024

IRS extends relief for inherited IRAs

For the third consecutive year, the IRS has published guidance that offers some relief to taxpayers covered by the “10-year rule” for required minimum distributions (RMDs) from inherited IRAs or other defined contribution plans. But the IRS also indicated in Notice 2024-35 that forthcoming final regulations for the rule will apply for the purposes of determining RMDs from such accounts in 2025.

Beneficiaries face RMD rule changes

The need for the latest guidance traces back to the 2019 enactment of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. Among other changes, the law eliminated so-called “stretch IRAs.”

Pre-SECURE Act, all beneficiaries of inherited IRAs were allowed to stretch the RMDs on the accounts over their entire life expectancies. For younger heirs, this meant they could take smaller distributions for decades, deferring taxes while the accounts grew. They also had the option to pass on the IRAs to later generations, which deferred the taxes for even longer.

To avoid this extended tax deferral, the SECURE Act imposed limitations on which heirs can stretch IRAs. Specifically, for IRA owners or defined contribution plan participants who died in 2020 or later, only “eligible designated beneficiaries” (EDB) may stretch payments over their life expectancies. The following heirs are EDBs:

  • Surviving spouses,
  • Children younger than the “age of majority,”
  • Individuals with disabilities,
  • Chronically ill individuals, and
  • Individuals who are no more than 10 years younger than the account owner.

All other heirs (“designated beneficiaries”) must take the entire balance of the account within 10 years of the death, regardless of whether the deceased died before, on or after the required beginning date (RBD) for RMDs. (In 2023, the age at which account owners must start taking RMDs rose from age 72 to age 73, pushing the RBD date to April 1 of the year after account owners turn 73.)

In February 2022, the IRS issued proposed regs that came with an unwelcome surprise for many affected heirs. They provide that, if the deceased dies on or after the RBD, designated beneficiaries must take their taxable RMDs in years one through nine after death (based on their life expectancies), receiving the balance in the tenth year. In other words, they aren’t permitted to wait until the end of 10 years to take a lump-sum distribution. This annual RMD requirement gives beneficiaries much less tax planning flexibility and could push them into higher tax brackets during those years.

Confusion reigns

It didn’t take long for the IRS to receive feedback from confused taxpayers who had recently inherited IRAs or defined contribution plans and were unclear about when they were required to start taking RMDs on the accounts. The uncertainty put both beneficiaries and defined contribution plans at risk. How? Beneficiaries could have been dinged with excise tax equal to 25% of the amounts that should have been distributed but weren’t (reduced to 10% if the RMD failure is corrected in a timely manner). The plans could have been disqualified for failure to make RMDs.

In response to the concerns, only six months after the proposed regs were published, the IRS waived enforcement against taxpayers subject to the 10-year rule who missed 2021 and 2022 RMDs if the plan participant died in 2020 on or after the RBD. It also excused missed 2022 RMDs if the participant died in 2021 on or after the RBD.

The waiver guidance indicated that the IRS would issue final regs that would apply no earlier than 2023. But then 2023 rolled around — and the IRS extended the waiver relief to excuse 2023 missed RMDs if the participant died in 2020, 2021 or 2022 on or after the RBD.

Now the IRS has again extended the relief, this time for RMDs in 2024 from an IRA or defined contribution plan when the deceased passed away during the years 2020 through 2023 on or after the RBD. If certain requirements are met, beneficiaries won’t be assessed a penalty on missed RMDs, and plans won’t be disqualified based solely on such missed RMDs.

Delayed distributions aren’t always best

In a nutshell, the succession of IRS waivers means that designated beneficiaries who inherited IRAs or defined contributions plans after 2019 aren’t required to take annual RMDs until at least 2025. But some individuals may be better off beginning to take withdrawals now, rather than deferring them. The reason? Tax rates could be higher beginning in 2026 and beyond. Indeed, many provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including reduced individual income tax rates, are scheduled to sunset after 2025. The highest rate will increase from 37% to 39.6%, absent congressional action.

What if the IRS reverses course on the 10-year rule, allowing a lump sum distribution in the tenth year rather than requiring annual RMDs? Even then, it could prove worthwhile to take distributions throughout the 10-year period to avoid a hefty one-time tax bill at the end.

On the other hand, beneficiaries nearing retirement likely will benefit by delaying distributions. If they wait until they’re no longer working, they may be in a lower tax bracket.

Stay tuned

The IRS stated in its recent guidance that final regs “are anticipated” to apply for determining RMDs for 2025. However, based on the tax agency’s actions in the past few years, skepticism about that is understandable. We’ll continue to monitor future IRS guidance and keep you informed of any new developments.

 

© 2024

IRS issues guidance on tax treatment of energy efficiency rebates

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) established and expanded numerous incentives to encourage taxpayers to increase their use of renewable energy and adopt a range of energy efficient improvements. In particular, the law includes funding for nearly $9 billion in home energy rebates.

While the rebates aren’t yet available, many states are expected to launch their programs in 2024. And the IRS recently released some critical guidance (Announcement 2024–19) on how it’ll treat the rebates for tax purposes.

The rebate programs

The home energy rebates are available for two types of improvements. Home Efficiency Rebates apply to whole-house projects that are predicted to reduce energy usage by at least 20%. These rebates are applicable to consumers who reduce their household energy use through efficiency projects. Examples include the installation of energy efficient air conditioners, windows and doors.

The maximum rebate amount is $8,000 for eligible taxpayers with projects with at least 35% predicted energy savings. All households are eligible for these rebates, with the largest rebates directed to those with lower incomes. States can choose to provide a way for homeowners or occupants to receive the rebates as an upfront discount, but they aren’t required to do so.

Home Electrification and Appliance Rebates are available for low- or moderate-income households that upgrade to energy efficient equipment and appliances. They’re also available to individuals or entities that own multifamily buildings where low- or moderate-income households represent at least 50% of the residents. These rebates cover up to 100% of costs for lower-income families (those making less than 80% of the area median income) and up to 50% of costs for moderate-income families (those making 80% to 150% of the area median income). According to the Census Bureau, the national median income in 2022 was about $74,500 — meaning some taxpayers who assume they won’t qualify may indeed be eligible.

Depending on your state of residence, you could save up to:

  • $8,000 on an ENERGY STAR-certified electric heat pump for space heating and cooling,
  • $4,000 on an electrical panel,
  • $2,500 on electrical wiring,
  • $1,750 on an ENERGY STAR-certified electric heat pump water heater, and
  • $840 on an ENERGY STAR-certified electric heat pump clothes dryer and/or an electric stove, cooktop, range or oven.

The maximum Home Electrification and Appliance Rebate is $14,000. The rebate amount will be deducted upfront from the total cost of your payment at the “point of sale” in participating stores if you’re purchasing directly or through your project contractors.

The tax treatment

In the wake of the IRA’s enactment, questions arose about whether home energy rebates would be considered taxable income by the IRS. The agency has now put the uncertainty to rest, with guidance stating that rebate amounts won’t be treated as income for tax purposes. However, rebate recipients must reduce the basis of the applicable property by the rebate amount.

If a rebate is provided at the time of sale of eligible upgrades and projects, the amount is excluded from a purchaser’s cost basis. For example, if an energy-efficient equipment seller applies a $500 rebate against a $600 sales price, your cost basis in the property will be $100, rather than $600.

If the rebate is provided at a later time, after purchase, the buyer must adjust the cost basis similarly. For example, if you spent $600 to purchase eligible equipment and later receive a $500 rebate, your cost basis in the equipment drops from $600 to $100 upon receipt of the rebate.

Interplay with the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit

The IRS guidance also addresses how the home energy rebates affect the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit. As of 2023, taxpayers can receive a federal tax credit of up to 30% of certain qualified expenses, including:

  • Qualified energy efficiency improvements installed during the year,
  • Residential energy property expenses, and
  • Home energy audits.

The maximum credit each year is:

  • $1,200 for energy property costs and certain energy-efficient home improvements, with limits on doors ($250 per door and $500 total), windows ($600) and home energy audits ($150), and
  • $2,000 per year for qualified heat pumps, biomass stoves or biomass boilers.

Taxpayers who receive home energy rebates and are also eligible for the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit must reduce the amount of qualified expenses used to calculate their credit by the amount of the rebate. For example, if you purchase an eligible product for $400 and receive a $100 rebate, you can claim the 30% credit on only the remaining $300 of the cost.

Act now?

While the IRA provides that the rebates are available for projects begun on or after August 16, 2022, projects must fulfill all federal and state program requirements. The federal government, however, has indicated that it’ll be difficult for states to offer rebates for projects completed before their programs are up and running. In the meantime, though, projects might qualify for other federal tax breaks. Contact us to determine the most tax-efficient approach to energy efficiency.

 

© 2024

Independent contractor vs. employee status: The DOL issues new final rule

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) test for determining whether a worker should be classified as an independent contractor or an employee for purposes of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has been revised several times over the past decade. Now, the DOL is implementing a new final rule rescinding the employer-friendly test that was developed under the Trump administration. The new, more employee-friendly rule takes effect March 11, 2024.

 

Role of the new final rule

Even though the DOL’s final rule isn’t necessarily controlling for courts weighing employment status issues, it’s likely to be considered persuasive authority. Moreover, it’ll guide DOL misclassification audits and enforcement actions.

If you’re found to have misclassified employees as independent contractors, you may owe back pay if employees weren’t paid minimum wage or overtime pay, as well as penalties. You also could end up liable for withheld employee benefits and find yourself subject to various federal and state employment laws that apply based on the number of affected employees.

The rescinded test

The Trump administration’s test (known as the 2021 Independent Contractor Rule) focuses primarily on whether, as an “economic reality,” workers are dependent on employers for work or are in business for themselves. It examines five factors. And while no single factor is controlling, the 2021 rule identifies two so-called “core factors” that are deemed most relevant:

  • The nature and degree of the employer’s control over the work, and
  • The worker’s opportunity for profit and loss.

If both factors suggest the same classification, it’s substantially likely that classification is proper.

The new test

The final new rule closely shadows the proposed rule published in October 2022. According to the DOL, it continues the notion that a worker isn’t an independent contractor if, as a matter of economic reality, the individual is economically dependent on the employer for work. The DOL says the rule aligns with both judicial precedent and its own interpretive guidance prior to 2021.

Specifically, the final rule enumerates six factors that will guide DOL analysis of whether a worker is an employee under the FLSA:

1. The worker’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on managerial skill (the lack of such opportunity suggests employee status),

2. Investments by the worker and the potential employer (if the worker makes similar types of investments as the employer, even on a smaller scale, it suggests independent contractor status),

3. Degree of permanence of the work relationship (an indefinite, continuous or exclusive relationship suggests employee status),

4. The employer’s nature and degree of control, whether exercised or just reserved (control over the performance of the work and the relationship’s economic aspects suggests employee status),

5. Extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business (if the work is critical, necessary or central to the principal business, the worker is likely an employee), and

6. The worker’s skill and initiative (if the worker brings specialized skills and uses them in connection with business-like initiative, the worker is likely an independent contractor).

In contrast to the 2021 rule, all factors will be weighed — no single factor or set of factors will automatically determine a worker’s status.

The final new rule does make some modifications and clarifications to the proposed rule. For example, it explains that actions that an employer takes solely to comply with specific and applicable federal, state, tribal or local laws or regulations don’t indicate “control” suggestive of employee status. But those that go beyond compliance and instead serve the employer’s own compliance methods, safety, quality control, or contractual or customer service standards may do so.

The final rule also recognizes that a lack of permanence in a work relationship can sometimes be due to operational characteristics unique or intrinsic to particular businesses or industries and the workers they employ. The relevant question is whether the lack of permanence is due to workers exercising their own independent business initiative, which indicates independent contractor status. On the other hand, the seasonal or temporary nature of work alone doesn’t necessarily indicate independent contractor classification.

The return, and clarification, of the factor related to whether the work is integral to the business also is notable. The 2021 rule includes a noncore factor that asks only whether the work was part of an integrated unit of production. The final new rule focuses on whether the business function the worker performs is an integral part of the business.

For tax purposes

In a series of Q&As, the DOL addressed the question: “Can an individual be an employee for FLSA purposes even if he or she is an independent contractor for tax purposes?” The answer is yes.

The DOL explained that the IRS applies its version of the common law control test to analyze if a worker is an employee or independent contractor for tax purposes. While the DOL considers many of the same factors as the IRS, it added that “the economic reality test for FLSA purposes is based on a specific definition of ‘employ’ in the FLSA, which provides that employers ‘employ’ workers if they ‘suffer or permit’ them to work.”

In court cases, this language has been interpreted to be broader than the common law control test. Therefore, some workers who may be classified as contractors for tax purposes may be employees for FLSA purposes because, as a matter of economic reality, they’re economically dependent on the employers for work.

Next steps

Not surprisingly, the DOL’s final new rule is already facing court challenges. Nonetheless, you should review your work relationships if you use freelancers and other independent contractors and make any appropriate changes. Remember, too, that states can have different tests, some of which are more stringent than the DOL’s final rule. Contact your employment attorney if you have questions about the DOL’s new rule. We can assist with any issues you may have regarding independent contractor status for tax purposes.

© 2024

IRS suspends processing of ERTC claims

In the face of a flood of illegitimate claims for the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), the IRS has imposed an immediate moratorium through at least the end of 2023 on processing new claims for the credit. The reason the IRS cites for the move is the risk of honest small business owners being scammed by unscrupulous promoters who submit questionable claims on their behalf.

The fraud problem

The ERTC is a refundable tax credit intended for businesses that 1) continued paying employees while they were shut down due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, or 2) suffered significant declines in gross receipts from March 13, 2020, to December 31, 2021. Eligible employers can receive credits worth up to $26,000 per retained employee. The ERTC can still be claimed on amended returns.

The requirements are strict, though. Specifically, you must have:

  • Sustained a full or partial suspension of operations due to orders from a governmental authority that limited commerce, travel or group meetings due to COVID during 2020 or the first three quarters of 2021,
  • Experienced a significant decline in gross receipts during 2020 or a decline in gross receipts in the first three quarters of 2021, or
  • Qualified as a recovery startup business — which could claim the credit for up to $50,000 total per quarter, without showing suspended operations or reduced receipts — for the third or fourth quarters of 2021 (qualified recovery startups are those that began operating after February 15, 2020, and have annual gross receipts of less than or equal to $1 million for the three years preceding the quarter for which they are claiming the ERTC).

Additional restrictions apply, too.

Nonetheless, the potentially high value of the ERTC, combined with the fact that some employers can file claims for it until April 15, 2025, has led to a cottage industry of fraudulent promoters offering to help businesses claim refunds for the credit. They wield inaccurate information to generate business from innocent clients who may pay upfront fees in the thousands of dollars or must pay the promoters a percentage of refunds they get.

Victims could end up on the hook for repayment of the credit, along with penalties and interest on top of the fees paid to the promoter. Moreover, as the IRS has noted, promoters may leave out key details, unleashing a “domino effect of tax problems” for unsuspecting businesses.

The impact of the moratorium

Payouts on legitimate claims already filed will continue during the moratorium period. But taxpayers should expect a lengthier wait. The IRS has extended the standard processing goal of 90 days to 180 days and potentially much longer for claims flagged for further review or audit.

Increased fraud worries are prompting the agency to shift its review focus to compliance concerns. The shift includes intensified audits and criminal investigations of both promoters and businesses filing suspect claims.

The IRS also is working to develop new initiatives to aid businesses that have fallen prey to aggressive promoters. For example, it expects to soon offer a settlement program that will allow those who received an improper ERTC payment to avoid penalties and future compliance action by repaying the amount received.

If you claimed the credit, but your claim hasn’t yet been processed or paid, you can withdraw your claim if you now believe it was improper. You can withdraw even if your case is already under or awaiting audit. The IRS says this option is available for filers of the more than 600,000 claims currently awaiting processing.

Still considering claiming the credit?

The IRS urges taxpayers to carefully review the ERTC guidelines during the moratorium period. Legitimate claimants shouldn’t be dissuaded, but, as the IRS says, it’s best to confirm the validity of your claim with a “trusted tax professional — not a tax promoter or marketing firm looking to make money” by taking a “big chunk” out of your claim. And don’t count on seeing payment of your credit anytime soon. Contact us if you have questions regarding the ERTC.

© 2023  


The IRS warns businesses about ERTC scams

The airwaves and internet are inundated these days with advertisements claiming that businesses are missing out on the lucrative Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC). While some employers do indeed remain eligible if they meet certain criteria, the IRS continues to caution businesses about third-party scams related to the credit.

While there’s nothing wrong with claiming credits you’re entitled to, those that claim the ERTC improperly could find themselves in hot water with the IRS and face cash-flow problems as a result. Here’s what you need to know to reduce your risks.

ERTC in a nutshell

The ERTC is a refundable tax credit intended for businesses that 1) continued paying employees while they were shut down due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, or 2) suffered significant declines in gross receipts from March 13, 2020, to December 31, 2021. Eligible employers could receive credits worth up to $26,000 per retained employee. The credit may still be available on an amended tax return.

The requirements are strict, though. Specifically, you must have:

  • Sustained a full or partial suspension of operations due to orders from a governmental authority that limited commerce, travel or group meetings due to COVID-19 during 2020 or the first three quarters of 2021,
  • Experienced a significant decline in gross receipts during 2020 or in the first three quarters of 2021, or
  • Qualified as a recovery startup business — which can claim the credit for up to $50,000 total per quarter without showing suspended operations or reduced receipts — for the third or fourth quarters of 2021. (Qualified recovery startups are those that began operating after February 15, 2020, and have annual gross receipts of less than or equal to $1 million for the three tax years preceding the quarter for which they are claiming the ERTC.)

In addition, a business can’t claim the ERTC on wages that it reported as payroll costs when it applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness or it used to claim certain other tax credits. Also, a business must reduce the wage deductions claimed on its federal income tax return by the amount of credits.

Prevalence of scams

The potentially high value of the ERTC, combined with the fact that employers can file claims for it on amended returns until April 15, 2025, has led to a cottage industry of fraudulent promoters offering to help businesses claim the credit. These fraudsters wield inaccurate information and inflated promises to generate business from innocent clients. In return, they reap excessive upfront fees in the thousands of dollars or commissions as high as 25% of the refund received.

The IRS has called the amount of misleading marketing around the credit “staggering.” For example, in recent guidance, the tax agency explained that, contrary to advice given by some promoters, supply chain disruptions generally don’t qualify an employer for the credit unless the disruptions were due to a government order. It’s not enough that an employer suspended operations because of disruptions — the credit applies only if the employer had to suspend operations because a government order caused the supplier to suspend its operations.

ERTC fraud has grown so serious that the IRS has included it in its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the worst tax scams in the country. In Utah, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice has charged two promoters, who did business as “1099 Tax Pros,” with participating in a fraudulent tax scheme by preparing and submitting more than 1,000 forms to the IRS. They claimed more than $11 million in false ERTCs and COVID-related sick and family leave wage credits for their clients.

Fraudsters have been able to monopolize on the general confusion and uncertainty around the ERTC. A recent congressional hearing found that some of the problems can be traced back to the entirely paper application process created for the credit. This has contributed to a backlog of nearly 500,000 unprocessed claims, out of more than 2.5 million claims that have been submitted.

Although it’s unclear how much progress the IRS has made on the backlog, the agency has announced that it has entered a new phase of intensified scrutiny of ERTC claims. It’s stepping up its compliance work and establishing additional procedures to deal with fraud in the program. The IRS already has increased its audit and criminal investigation work on ERTC claims, focusing on both the promoters and the businesses filing dubious claims.

If you fell into the trap and are among those businesses, you could end up on the hook for repayment of the credit, along with penalties and interest, on top of the fees you paid the promoter. That could make a substantial dent in your cash flow.

Even if you’re eligible for the credit, you could run into trouble if you failed to reduce your wage deductions accordingly or claimed it on wages that you also used to claim other credits. As the IRS has noted, promoters may leave out key details, unleashing a “domino effect of tax problems” for unsuspecting businesses.

Moreover, providing your business and tax documents to an unscrupulous promoter could put you at risk of identify theft.

Red flags to watch for

The IRS has identified several warning signs of illegitimate promoters, including:

  • Unsolicited phone calls, text messages, direct mail or ads highlighting an “easy application process” or a short eligibility checklist (the rules for eligibility and computation of credit amounts are actually quite complicated),
  • Statements that the promoter can determine your ERTC eligibility within minutes,
  • Hefty upfront fees,
  • Fees based on a percentage of the refund amount claimed,
  • Preparers who refuse to sign the amended tax return filed to claim a refund of the credit,
  • Aggressive claims from the promoter that you qualify before you’ve discussed your individual tax situation (the credit isn’t available to all employers), or
  • Refusal to provide detailed documentation of how your credit was calculated.

The IRS also warns that some ERTC “mills” are sending out fake letters from nonexistent government entities such as the “Department of Employee Retention Credit.” The letters are designed to look like official IRS or government correspondence and typically include urgent language pushing immediate action.

Protect yourself

Taking several simple steps can help you cut your risk of being victimized by scammers. First, if you think you may qualify for the credit, work with a trusted professional — one who isn’t proactively soliciting ERTC work. Those who are aggressively marketing the credit (and in some cases, only the credit) are more interested in making money themselves and are unlikely to prioritize or protect your best interests.

You also should request a detailed worksheet that explains how you’re eligible for the credit. The worksheet should “show the math” for the credit amount as well.

If you’re claiming you suspended business due to a government order, ensure that you have legitimate documentation of the order. Don’t accept a generic document about a government order from a third party. Rather, you should acquire a copy of the actual government order and review it to confirm that it applies to your business.

Proceed with caution

No taxpayer ever wants to leave money on the IRS’s table, but skepticism is warranted whenever something seems too good to be true. If you believe your business might be eligible for the ERTC, we can help you verify eligibility, compute your credit and file your refund claim. We can also help you determine how to proceed if you claimed the ERTC improperly.

© 2023  


Employee Spotlight – Logan Hostetter



What year did you join Slattery & Holman?

2023

Tell me a little about where you attended college and the degree(s) you earned? Any special accomplishments.
I graduated from the Kelley School of Business at IU Bloomington with a bachelor’s in finance. I would say I’m very proud of my 3.7 GPA because of how much time I put in and how rigorous the Kelley coursework was. I was able to make the Dean’s List multiple times while having a great experience at the greatest college in the country.

What is your favorite thing about living in Indiana?
I would say my favorite thing about Indiana is the people because everyone who means something in my life is from here and it’s where I grew up, so the people make the place so special to me. I also don’t mind the price of living


Tell me a little about your family.
I come from a family of 5. I have my parents Patrick & Jennifer, my brother Gavin (21), and my sister Addyson (18). I also have 2 dogs, Ash (Silver Lab) and Charli (Golden Retriever), who are my genuine best friends on this earth.

If you did not have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
This might sound cliché but just get more productive things done. Find ways to better myself, spend an extra hour at work, spend an extra hour at the gym, and help my family out in whatever ways I can.

What fictional place would you most like to visit?
Coruscant (the capital of the galaxy in Star Wars). I am a nerd at heart


What is a new skill that you would like to master? 
I would either like to learn how to do a standing backflip or learn MMA. Those are two things that have always been on my bucket list.

What do you wish you knew more about?
The universe. Once again very general, but I would like to know so badly what else is out there beyond our planet and if there are more life forms or societies.

What is the farthest you have ever been from home?
Honestly, Florida. I have not ventured too far from my nest yet.

What question would you most like to know the answer to?
Are professional sports rigged? I just have some suspicions.

What is the most impressive thing you know how to do?
I can probably spin a basketball on my finger for 45 minutes straight if I wanted to.

What was the best compliment you have ever received?
“I love your work ethic.” I have had a few people come up to me and say that and it just means a lot because I try to put 110% into whatever I do and a little validation can go a long way.

What silly accomplishment are you most proud of?
Winning the MVP of an 8-foot goal basketball league.

What is your favorite smell?
I’m a huge advocate of candles (my mom got me into them), so any fall scented candle from Bath & Body Works, especially pumpkin.

If you had a clock that would countdown to any one event of your choosing, what event would you want it to countdown to?
The Pacers’ first NBA title or the Colts’ next Super Bowl. That clock might run to infinity though


When was the last time you climbed a tree?
I believe my senior year of college.

What is the most unusual thing you have ever eaten?
Alligator, for sure.

What was your first job?
I worked at Menards as a team member where I would stock goods, assist customers around the store, and help close.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Easily telepathy, no question.

Pocket a tax break for making energy-efficient home improvements

An estimated 190 million Americans have recently been under heat advisory alerts, according to the National Weather Service. That may have spurred you to think about making your home more energy efficient — and there’s a cool tax break that may apply. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, you may be able to benefit from an enhanced residential energy tax credit to help defray the cost.

Eligibility rules

If you make eligible energy-efficient improvements to your home on or after January 1, 2023, you may qualify for a tax credit up to $3,200. You can claim the credit for improvements made through 2032.

The credit equals 30% of certain qualified expenses for energy improvements to a home located in the United States, including:

  • Qualified energy-efficient improvements installed during the year,
  • Residential “energy property” expenses, and
  • Home energy audits.

There are limits on the allowable annual credit and on the amount of credit for certain types of expenses.

The maximum credit you can claim each year is:

  • $1,200 for energy property costs and certain energy-efficient home improvements, with limits on doors ($250 per door and $500 total), windows ($600 total) and home energy audits ($150), as well as
  • $2,000 per year for qualified heat pumps, biomass stoves or biomass boilers.

In addition to windows and doors, other energy property includes central air conditioners and hot water heaters.

Before the 2022 law was enacted, there was a $500 lifetime credit limit. Now, the credit has no lifetime dollar limit. You can claim the maximum annual amount every year that you make eligible improvements until 2033. For example, you can make some improvements this year and take a $1,200 credit for 2023 — and then make more improvements next year and claim another $1,200 credit for 2024.

The credit is claimed in the year in which the installation is completed.

Other limits and rules

In general, the credit is available for your main home, although certain improvements made to second homes may qualify. If a property is used exclusively for business, you can’t claim the credit. If your home is used partly for business, the credit amount varies. For business use up to 20%, you can claim a full credit. But if you use more than 20% of your home for business, you only get a partial credit.

Although the credit is available for certain water heating equipment, you can’t claim it for equipment that’s used to heat a swimming pool or hot tub.

The credit is nonrefundable. That means you can’t get back more on the credit than you owe in taxes. You can’t apply any excess credit to future tax years. However, there’s no phaseout based on your income, so even high-income taxpayers can claim the credit.

Collecting green for going green

Contact us if you have questions about making energy-efficient improvements or purchasing energy-saving property for your home. The Inflation Reduction Act may have other tax breaks you can benefit from for making clean energy purchases, such as installing solar panels. We can help ensure you get the maximum tax savings for your expenditures. Stay cool!

© 2023