Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act - Individual Provisions

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress's economic stimulus package, signed into law by the President on March 27, 2020.  Below is information on provisions in the CARES Act as they relate to individual taxpayers.

Recovery rebates for individuals

To help individuals stay afloat during this time of economic uncertainty, the government will send up to $1,200 payments to eligible taxpayers and $2,400 for married couples filing joints returns. An additional $500 additional payment will be sent to taxpayers for each qualifying child dependent under age 17 (using the qualification rules under the Child Tax Credit).

Rebates are gradually phased out, at a rate of 5% of the individual's adjusted gross income over $75,000 (singles or marrieds filing separately), $122,500 (head of household), and $150,000 (joint). There is no income floor or ''phase-in''-all recipients who are under the phaseout threshold will receive the same amounts. Tax filers must have provided, on the relevant tax returns or other documents (see below), Social Security numbers for each family member for whom a rebate is claimed. Adoption taxpayer identification numbers will be accepted for adopted children. Social Security numbers are not required for spouses of active military members. The rebates are not available to nonresident aliens, to estates and trusts, or to individuals who themselves could be claimed as dependents.

The rebates will be paid out in the form of checks or direct deposits. Most individuals will not have to take any action to receive a rebate. IRS will compute the rebate based on a taxpayer's tax year 2019 return (or tax year 2018, if no 2019 return has yet been filed). If no 2018 return has been filed, IRS will use information for 2019 provided in Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement. 

Rebates are payable whether or not tax is owed. Thus, individuals who had little or no income, such as those who filed returns simply to claim the refundable earned income credit or child tax credit, qualify for a rebate.

Waiver of 10% early distribution penalty

The additional 10% tax on early distributions from IRAs and defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans) is waived for distributions made between January 1 and December 31, 2020 by a person who (or whose family) is infected with the Coronavirus or who is economically harmed by the Coronavirus (a qualified individual). Penalty-free distributions are limited to $100,000, and may, subject to guidelines, be re-contributed to the plan or IRA. Income arising from the distributions is spread out over three years unless the employee elects to turn down the spread out. Employers may amend defined contribution plans to provide for these distributions. Additionally, defined contribution plans are permitted additional flexibility in the amount and repayment terms of loans to employees who are qualified individuals.

Waiver of required distribution rules

Required minimum distributions that otherwise would have to be made in 2020 from defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans) and IRAs are waived. This includes distributions that would have been required by April 1, 2020, due to the account owner's having turned age 70 1/2 in 2019.

Charitable deduction liberalizations

The CARES Act makes four significant liberalizations to the rules governing charitable deductions:

(1) Individuals will be able to claim a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash contributions made, generally, to public charities in 2020. This rule effectively allows a limited charitable deduction to taxpayers claiming the standard deduction.

(2) The limitation on charitable deductions for individuals that is generally 60% of modified adjusted gross income (the contribution base) doesn't apply to cash contributions made, generally, to public charities in 2020 (qualifying contributions). Instead, an individual's qualifying contributions, reduced by other contributions, can be as much as 100% of the contribution base. No connection between the contributions and COVID-19 activities is required.

Exclusion for employer payments of student loans

An employee currently may exclude $5,250 from income for benefits from an employer-sponsored educational assistance program. The CARES Act expands the definition of expenses qualifying for the exclusion to include employer payments of student loan debt made before January 1, 2021. 

Break for remote care services provided by high deductible health plans  

For plan years beginning before 2021, the CARES Act allows high deductible health plans to pay for expenses for tele-health and other remote services without regard to the deductible amount for the plan.

Break for nonprescription medical products

For amounts paid after December 31, 2019, the CARES Act allows amounts paid from Health Savings Accounts and Archer Medical Savings Accounts to be treated as paid for medical care even if they aren't paid under a prescription. And, amounts paid for menstrual care products are treated as amounts paid for medical care. For reimbursements after December 31, 2019, the same rules apply to Flexible Spending Arrangements and Health Reimbursement Arrangements.

Net operating loss liberalizations

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the 2017 Tax Law) limited NOLs arising after 2017 to 80% of taxable income and eliminated the ability to carry NOLs back to prior tax years. For NOLs arising in tax years beginning before 2021, the CARES Act allows taxpayers to carryback 100% of NOLs to the prior five tax years, effectively delaying for carrybacks the 80% taxable income limitation and carryback prohibition until 2021.

The Act also temporarily liberalizes the treatment of NOL carryforwards. For tax years beginning before 2021, taxpayers can take an NOL deduction equal to 100% of taxable income (rather than the present 80% limit). For tax years beginning after 2021, taxpayers will be eligible for: (1) a 100% deduction of NOLs arising in tax years before 2018, and (2) a deduction limited to 80% of taxable income for NOLs arising in tax years after 2017.

The provision also includes special rules for REITS, life insurance companies, and the Code Sec. 965 transition tax. There are also technical corrections to the 2017 Tax Law effective dates for NOL changes.

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