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Congress Passes CARES Act, Adds Forgivable Loan Program for Small Businesses

Congress passes the CARES Act, by 96-0 vote. Adds forgivable loan program for small businesses.

Late in the evening on March 25th, the United States Senate passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) by a vote of 96-0. The House passed the Act on Friday, March 27th. President Trump signed the Act into law a few hours later. While SamuelsLawBlog.com will provide additional details on the CARES Act in the coming days, here are additional details of the Act’s significant $349 billion expansion of the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Section 7(a) loan program:

Eligibility Requirements.

Small business and nonprofit organizations are eligible if they have not more that 500 employees (or the SBA’s applicable size standard for the industry, if higher). Independent contractors and other self-employed individuals are also eligible for loans.

Maximum Loan Amounts.

Business will be able to borrow the lesser of: (i) $10 million; or (ii) the business’s average monthly payroll costs during the prior year, times 2.5, plus any outstanding principal owed on SBA disaster loans entered into after January 31, 2020. For this purpose, payroll costs include salaries and wages (but excluding annual compensation to any individual in excess of $100,000), commissions, tips, health insurance premiums, retirement benefits, state and local taxes assessed on employee compensation, as well as vacation, parental, family medical or sick leave benefits. Qualified sick leave and family leave wages under the recently-passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act are not to be included in the calculation of monthly payroll costs for purposes of this calculation.

Use of Loan Proceeds. 

Borrowers under this program can use the loan proceeds to cover costs for payroll (including sick, medical, and family leave, and health benefits), rent, mortgage interest payments (not principal), utilities, and interest on any other debt obligations that were incurred before February 15, 2020.

Loan Terms.

The Act caps the maximum interest for these loans at 4 percent. If the loan is not forgiven (see below), the remaining loan balance will have a maturity of not more than 10 years. Additionally, the Act waives collateral and personal guarantee requirements under the 7(a) program.  Loan payments under this program can be deferred for at least six months and not more than a year.

Loan Forgiveness

Borrowers that receive loans under this program would be eligible, under certain circumstances, to have a portion of these loans forgiven. The total amount of loan forgiveness would not be allowed to exceed the amount of 7(a) loans granted by the CARES Act but would otherwise be equal to the amount of expenditures of the borrower made in the 8 weeks following the loan’s closing on payroll costs, including payroll costs for tipped workers in excess of their normal pay level, mortgage interest (not principal), rental payments, and utilities, in each instance for arrangements that were in place prior to February 15, 2020.

Reduction in Loan Forgiveness Amount.

The policy behind the loan forgiveness provisions is to encourage businesses to keep employees on the payroll. Therefore, the amount that can be forgiven is reduced proportionally by the reduction in employees as compared to a prior base period (i.e. at the election of the borrower, either: the period from February 15, 2019 to June 30, 2019, or the period from January 1, 2020 to February 29, 2020). The amount of loan forgiveness would also be further reduced for any reduction in wages to an employee beyond a 25{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} reduction in compensation compared to the prior year’s compensation. This would only apply to employees that earn not more than $100,000 on an annualized basis in any pay period. For employees that are laid off or that have their wages cut between February 15, 2020 and 30 days after passage of the Act, the borrower will not have to take those cuts into account if those employees are rehired or their wages are restored to prior levels by June 30, 2020.

Tax Free Loan Forgiveness.

Interestingly, the CARES Act also states that the amount of loan forgiveness provided under the Act is not included in the borrower’s income (i.e. the forgiveness is tax free!).

Timing of Loan Program.

The CARES Act allows the SBA to move quickly to approve loans under this program.  Once a lender receives an application for loan forgiveness, they have 60 days to issue a decision on the application.

Michael D. Walker is a business, tax and estate planning attorney who has worked with individuals and small to medium-sized businesses for nearly 30 years. A careful listener, Michael skillfully guides his clients to meet the wide variety of legal challenges they face in our current complex world.

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