Summary of CARES Act

March 30, 2020  | By Erik Lincoln

By a unanimous vote on March 25, the Senate passed a third coronavirus relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act, H.R. 748, the Act). This article discusses the tax relief provisions for businesses that are contained in the Act.

1. Employee retention credit for employers

New Legislation:  This provision provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees during the COVID-19 crisis. (Act Sec. 2301(a))

2. Delay of payment of employer payroll taxes

Employers are required to withhold social security taxes (Code Sec. 3111(a)) and tax under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) from wages paid to employees. (Code Sec. 3211(a) and Code Sec. 3221(a)). Self-employed individuals are subject to self-employment (SECA) tax. (Code Sec. 1401(a))

New Legislation: The CARES Act allows taxpayers to defer paying the employer portion of certain payroll taxes through the end of 2020. Thus, notwithstanding any other provision of law, the payment for “applicable employment taxes” for the “payroll tax deferral period” won’t be due before the “applicable date.” (Act Sec. 2302(a)(1))

3. Temporary repeal of taxable income limitation for net operating losses (NOLs)

Under Code Sec. 172(a) the amount of the NOL deduction is equal to the lesser of (1) the aggregate of the NOL carryovers to such year and NOL carrybacks to such year, or (2) 80% of taxable income computed without regard to the deduction allowable in this section. Thus, NOLs are currently subject to a taxable-income limitation and can’t fully offset income.

New Legislation: The CARES Act temporarily removes the taxable income limitation to allow an NOL to fully offset income. (Code Sec. 172(a), as amended by Act Sec. 2303(a)(1))

4. Modification of rules relating to net operating loss (NOL) carrybacks

Code Sec. 172(b)(1) provides that, except for farming losses and losses of property and casualty insurance companies, an NOL for any tax year is carried forward to each tax year following the tax year of the loss but isn’t carried back to any tax year preceding the tax year of the loss.

New Legislation: The CARES Act provides that NOLs arising in a tax year beginning after Dec. 31, 2018 and before Jan. 1, 2021 can be carried back to each of the five tax years preceding the tax year of such loss. (Code Sec. 172(b)(1) as amended by Act Sec. 2303(b)(1))

5. Modification of limitation on losses for noncorporate taxpayers

Code Sec. 461(l)(1) disallows the deduction of excess business losses by noncorporate taxpayers for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and ending before Jan. 1, 2026. Generally, Code Sec. 461(l)(3)(A) provides that an “excess business loss” is the excess of the (1) taxpayer’s aggregate trade or business deductions for the tax year over (2) the sum of the taxpayer’s aggregate trade or business gross income or gain plus $250,000 (as adjusted for inflation).

New Legislation: The CARES Act temporarily modifies the loss limitation for noncorporate taxpayers so they can deduct excess business losses arising in 2018, 2019, and 2020. (Code Sec. 461(l)(1), as amended by Act Sec. 2304(a))

6. Corporate minimum tax credit (MTC) is accelerated

Corporations (for which the alternative minimum tax was repealed for tax years after 2017) may claim outstanding MTCs (subject to limits) for tax years before 2021, at which time any remaining MTC may be claimed as fully refundable. Thus, under Code Sec. 53(e), the MTC is refundable for any tax year beginning in 2018, 2019, 2020, or 2021, in an amount equal to 50% (100% for tax years beginning in 2021) of the excess MTC for the tax year, over the amount of the credit allowable for the year against regular tax liability. (Code Sec. 53(e))

New Legislation: The CARES Act changes ”2018, 2019, 2020, or 2021” (above) to ”2018 or 2019,” and changes “(100% for tax years beginning in 2021)” to “(100% for tax years beginning in 2019)” (Code Sec. 53(e)(1), as amended by Act Sec. 2305(a), and Code Sec. 53(e)(2), as amended by Act Sec. 2305(a))

7. Deductibility of interest expense temporarily increased

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-97, the “TCJA”) generally limited the amount of business interest allowed as a deduction to 30% of adjusted taxable income. (Code Sec. 163(j)(10))

New Legislation: The CARES Act temporarily and retroactively increases the limitation on the deductibility of interest expense under Code Sec. 163(j)(1) from 30% to 50% for tax years beginning in 2019 and 2020. (Code Sec. 163(j)(10)(A)(i) as amended by Act Sec. 2306(a))

8. Bonus depreciation technical correction for qualified improvement property

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-97, the “TCJA”) amended Code Sec. 168 to allow 100% additional first-year depreciation deductions (“100% Bonus Depreciation”) for certain qualified property. The TCJA eliminated pre-existing definitions for (1) qualified leasehold improvement property, (2) qualified restaurant property, and (3) qualified retail improvement property. It replaced those definitions with one category called qualified improvement property (“QI Property”). A general 15-year recovery period was intended to have been provided for QI Property. However, that specific recovery period failed to be reflected in the statutory text of the TCJA. Thus, under the TCJA, QI Property falls into the 39-year recovery period for nonresidential rental property. That makes the QI Property category ineligible for 100% Bonus Depreciation.

New Legislation: The CARES Act provides a technical correction to the TCJA, and specifically designates QI Property as 15-year property for depreciation purposes. (Code Sec. 168(e)(3)(E)(vii), as amended by Act Sec. 2307(a)(1)(A)) This makes QI Property a category eligible for 100% Bonus Depreciation. QI property also is specifically assigned a 20-year class life for the Alternative Depreciation System. (Code Sec. 168(g)(3)(B), as amended by Act Sec. 2307(a)(3)(B))


Erik Lincoln is a founding member of Lincoln. In addition to being an attorney he is also a CPA. Erik has consistently been recognized as one of the top attorneys in North Carolina, by Business North Carolina.