Paycheck Protection Program: What self-employed people should know

Female small-business owner applying for a loan through the paycheck protection programImage: Female small-business owner applying for a loan through the paycheck protection program

In a Nutshell

The Paycheck Protection Program helps self-employed people and small businesses meet payroll and other expenses while so many businesses are shut down due to COVID-19. Even better: Many borrowers will be able to have their loans forgiven, and they won’t have to pay income tax on the forgiven amount.

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Self-employed workers who have been hit hard by coronavirus shutdowns may be able to find some relief from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

The PPP is designed to help small businesses — including self-employed people — meet critical expenses like payroll, mortgages and rent over an eight-week period.

Measures like social distancing and stay-at-home orders in cities and states across the country have left thousands of business owners and self-employed people calculating exactly how the coronavirus pandemic will affect their finances. The PPP is intended to help them make it through the financial crisis — but the last day to apply is June 30, 2020. And funds are limited, so if you plan to apply, do it as soon as possible.

Let’s explore who’s eligible for the PPP and how it works.

What is the Paycheck Protection Program?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, created the Paycheck Protection Program, which is a federal loan program administered through the U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA.

The program specifically intends to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll and meet essential expenses needed to keep their doors open. Borrowers can apply for 1% fixed-rate loans through any participating federally insured bank, credit union or Farm Credit System institution.

Small businesses and sole proprietorships can apply for these loans as of April 3. Independent contractors and self-employed workers can apply as of April 10.

Who can apply?

The Paycheck Protection Program is open to small-business owners, solopreneurs, independent contractors, self-employed workers and other small organizations affected by COVID-19. Private companies, nonprofits and veterans’ organizations all qualify.

You may qualify if your business was operating as of Feb. 15, 2020, and you …

  • Have 500 or fewer employees
  • Work as an independent contractor
  • Work in the gig economy
  • Are a sole proprietor
  • Are self-employed

Restaurant, hotel or other hospitality company owners with multiple locations can qualify if each individual location employs fewer than 500 people.

If your company has more than 500 employees, you may still qualify for the program if you meet SBA criteria for your industry. You can check online using the SBA’s “Size Standards” tool.

Federal loans offered through the PPP are highly specialized and targeted for short-term relief. You’ll want to read the terms carefully before applying to make sure you’re eligible and that the program offers what you need.

How much can I borrow?

PPP loans are intended to help eligible borrowers cover eight weeks of payroll costs and debt payments. If you’re eligible for a loan, you can borrow up to two months of your average monthly payroll costs from the last year plus another 25% of that amount — up to a maximum loan amount of $10 million. Rules are slightly different for seasonal businesses.

When calculating a loan amount, businesses may count the following as payroll costs:

  • Employee compensation, including salaries or wages, commissions and tips
  • Vacation, parental, family, medical or sick leave pay
  • Dismissal or separation allowances
  • Group healthcare benefit payments, including insurance premiums
  • Payments to provide retirement benefits
  • State or local taxes assessed on employee compensation

If you’re an independent contractor or a sole proprietor, you can include the following as payroll costs:

  • Wages
  • Commissions
  • Income
  • Net earnings from self-employment or similar compensation

Note that you can’t count the following as payroll costs:

  • Compensation for employees living outside of the U.S.
  • Salary amount in excess of $100,000 for each employee
  • Federal employment taxes
  • Sick or family leave wages for which you received a credit under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

What can I use the money for?

You can use your loan for any business expense. But if you use it for anything other than payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent or utilities during the eight weeks after getting the loan, you’ll have to pay the loan back.

What are the terms of the loan?

The CARES Act stipulates that the maximum interest rate lenders can charge is 4%. And the SBA has said that loans will be at 1%.

Loan payments are deferred for six months and the full loan amount will be due in two years — though there’s no prepayment penalty if you repay the money sooner. And keep in mind that if you meet all the requirements, you’ll be able to have the loan fully forgiven.

How does loan forgiveness work?

Your PPP loan can be forgiven, but only the portion used for the purposes outlined in the CARES Act.

Your loan can be forgiven if you use the money for …

  • Payroll, including salaries, wages, tips and paid leave
  • Health insurance group benefit premiums
  • Mortgage or lease payments
  • Utility payments
  • Interest on debt taken out before Feb. 15, 2020

If you use your loan for a mix of approved and nonapproved purposes, only the money spent on approved uses will be forgiven. You’ll need to pay the rest back. And at least 75% of the forgiven amount must go toward payroll costs.

What’s more, the amount forgiven will be reduced if you lay off workers or reduce their salaries by more than 25% (for workers making less than $100,000 per year).

If you laid off workers before applying for the loan, you can still qualify for full forgiveness if you rehire them by June 30, 2020.

How will loans be repaid?

The loan agreement with your SBA lender will determine how you repay any portion of the loan not forgiven. The maximum loan term for portions of the loan not forgiven is 10 years, and the maximum interest rate is 4%.

How can I apply?

Paycheck Protection Program loans will be made through existing SBA lenders and other federally insured banks and credit unions that choose to participate in the program. Check with your local lender to see if it’s taking part. You can also find SBA lenders through the Small Business Administration’s website.

You’ll fill out a loan application specific to the program. You can download the application form on the SBA website to see the information that a lender will request.

To apply, you’ll need to certify that …

  • Your qualifying business was operating on Feb. 15, 2020
  • You had employees that you paid a salary or hired (and paid) independent contractors
  • You need the loan due to current economic uncertainties
  • You’ll use the money to keep workers on the payroll or for other qualifying expenses

You’ll also need to provide documentation showing how many full-time employees you have on payroll and the amount of payroll costs, mortgage interest, rents or utilities for the eight-week period covered by the loan.

How could this affect my taxes?

Luckily for self-employed workers and small businesses, the CARES Act specifies that forgiven loans don’t need to be counted as gross income for tax purposes.

And keep in mind that individuals and most businesses now have until July 15 to file and pay their federal taxes for the 2019 tax year.

Bottom line

If you’re self-employed, the Paycheck Protection Program can help tide you over while the U.S. hunkers down during the coronavirus pandemic. And if you make less than $100,000, you can use this loan to pay yourself or qualifying employees for an eight-week period and earn loan forgiveness.

The federal government set aside $349 billion to fund the program. That might sound like a lot of money, but the SBA anticipates many businesses will want to participate. And the last day to apply for the program is June 30, 2020.

The SBA and U.S. Treasury Department are urging would-be borrowers to apply as soon as possible — funds are limited, many businesses are expected to apply and lenders need time to process applications.

About the author: Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than a decade of experience as a reporter and editor at North Carolina news organizations, including the Charlotte Observer and the StarNews… Read more.