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The Small Business Administration (SBA) has released much-needed clarifications to the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) via guidance issued in their FAQs. While most of the clarifications were consistent with advice we have been providing, based on a common-sense reading of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act, many lenders have interpreted the law differently. This inconsistency has resulted in significant confusion amongst loan applicants.

Below are the clarifications that we have seen as the most-pervasive issues causing aggravation, though more can be found at the SBA website in their Frequently Asked Questions file, which is being updated periodically.

Loan Calculation – $100,000 Limit on Compensation

Question: The CARES Act excludes from the definition of payroll costs any employee compensation in excess of an annual salary of $100,000. Does that exclusion apply to all employee benefits of monetary value?

Answer: No. The exclusion of compensation in excess of $100,000 annually applies only to cash compensation, not to non-cash benefits, including:

  • Employer contributions to defined-benefit or defined-contribution retirement plans;
  • Payment for the provision of employee benefits consisting of group health care coverage, including insurance premiums; and
  • Payment of state and local taxes assessed on compensation of employees.

Loan Calculation – Treatment of Payroll Taxes

Question: How should a borrower account for federal taxes when determining its payroll costs for purposes of the maximum loan amount, allowable uses of a PPP loan, and the amount of a loan that may be forgiven?

Answer: Under the Act, payroll costs are calculated on a gross basis without regard to (i.e., not including subtractions or additions based on) federal taxes imposed or withheld, such as the employee’s and employer’s share of Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and income taxes required to be withheld from employees. As a result, payroll costs are not reduced by taxes imposed on an employee and required to be withheld by the employer, but payroll costs do not include the employer’s share of payroll tax. For example, an employee who earned $4,000 per month in gross wages, from which $500 in federal taxes was withheld, would count as $4,000 in payroll costs. The employee would receive $3,500, and $500 would be paid to the federal government. However, the employer-side federal payroll taxes imposed on the $4,000 in wages are excluded from payroll costs under the statute.

Practical Example:
PPPL Loan Payroll Costs $  5,040
Employer Paid Amounts
Health insurance premium $  600
Employer retirement plan contribution $  200
ER paid State/Local taxes on income(i.e. State Unemployment) $  240
Subtotal $ 1,040 (a)
Payroll
Gross Wages $ 4,000 (a)
Federal income tax withholding $ (500)
Net Paycheck to employee $ 3,500
Total (a) = $ 5,040

 

Loan Calculation – Treatment of Independent Contractors & Sole Proprietors

Question: Should payments that an eligible borrower made to an independent contractor or sole proprietor be included in calculations of the eligible borrower’s payroll costs?

Answer: No. Any amounts that an eligible borrower has paid to an independent contractor or sole proprietor should be excluded from the eligible business’s payroll costs. However, an independent contractor or sole proprietor will itself be eligible for a loan under the PPP, if it satisfies the applicable requirements.

Loan Calculation – Time Period Used for Payroll Costs

Question: What time period should borrowers use to determine their number of employees and payroll costs to calculate their maximum loan amounts?

Answer: In general, borrowers can calculate their aggregate payroll costs using data either from the previous 12 months or from calendar year 2019. For seasonal businesses, the applicant may use average monthly payroll for the period between February 15, 2019, or March 1, 2019, and June 30, 2019. An applicant that was not in business from February 15, 2019 to June 30, 2019 may use the average monthly payroll costs for the period January 1, 2020 through February 29, 2020. Borrowers may use their average employment over the same time periods to determine their number of employees, for the purposes of applying an employee-based size standard. Alternatively, borrowers may elect to use SBA’s usual calculation: the average number of employees per pay period in the 12 completed calendar months prior to the date of the loan application (or the average number of employees for each of the pay periods that the business has been operational, if it has not been operational for 12 months).

Loan Eligibility – Use of a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)

Question: What if an eligible borrower contracts with a third-party payer such as a payroll provider or a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) to process payroll and report payroll taxes?

Answer: The SBA recognizes that eligible borrowers who use PEOs or similar payroll providers are required under some state registration laws to report wage and other data on the Employer Identification Number (EIN) of the PEO or other payroll provider. In these cases, payroll documentation provided by the payroll provider that indicates the amount of wages and payroll taxes reported to the IRS by the payroll provider for the borrower’s employees will be considered acceptable PPP loan payroll documentation. Relevant information from a Schedule R (Form 941), Allocation Schedule for Aggregate Form 941 Filers, attached to the PEOs or other payroll provider’s Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, should be used if it is available; otherwise, the eligible borrower should obtain a statement from the payroll provider documenting the amount of wages and payroll taxes. In addition, employees of the eligible borrower will not be considered employees of the eligible borrower’s payroll provider or PEO.

Additional Resources

Visit Barnes Dennig’s COVID-19 Resource Center for a comprehensive list of resources. Please contact our COVID-19 Advisory Team or any of our leadership team at Barnes Dennig to discuss.

Barnes Dennig COVID-19 Advisory Team Leaders: