Guidance issued on payroll tax deferral

By Alistair M. Nevius, J.D.

Late on Friday, the IRS issued much-anticipated guidance on the payroll tax deferral that was ordered by President Donald Trump in a presidential memorandum on Aug. 8 (Notice 2020-65). The notice allows employers to defer withholding on affected employees’ compensation during the last four months of 2020 and then withhold those deferred amounts during the first four months of 2021

Under the guidance, employers can defer the withholding, deposit, and payment of certain payroll taxes on wages paid from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020. The deferral applies to the employee portion of the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance (OASDI) tax under Sec. 3101(a) and Railroad Retirement Act Tier 1 tax under Sec. 3201. The due date for withholding and payment of these taxes is postponed until the period beginning Jan. 1, 2021, and ending April 30, 2021.

The deferral applies to any employee whose pretax wages or compensation during any biweekly pay period generally is less than $4,000. The notice defines applicable wages, for these purposes, as:

wages as defined in [Sec.] 3121(a) or compensation as defined in [Sec.] 3231(e) paid to an employee on a pay date during the period beginning on September 1, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020, but only if the amount of such wages or compensation paid for a bi-weekly pay period is less than the threshold amount of $4,000, or the equivalent threshold amount with respect to other pay periods.

Amounts excluded from wages or compensation under Secs. 3121(a) or 3231(e) are not included when determining applicable wages.

Under the notice, the determination of applicable wages is to be made on a pay-period-by-pay-period basis — meaning that if the amount of compensation payable to an employee for a particular pay period is less than the threshold amount ($4,000 for biweekly pay periods), then the payroll tax deferral applies to that compensation, irrespective of the amount paid to that employee in other pay periods.

The notice requires affected employers to withhold and pay the deferred taxes from wages and compensation paid during the period between Jan. 1, 2021, and April 30, 2021. Interest, penalties, and additions to tax will begin to accrue on unpaid taxes starting May 1, 2021. The notice says, that, if it is necessary, employers can “make arrangements to otherwise collect the total Applicable Taxes from the employee” but does not provide details on that requirement.

The AICPA, in a letter to Treasury and the IRS on Aug. 12, asked for guidance on many open issues regarding the implementation of the presidential memorandum.

For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the pandemic, visit the JofA’s coronavirus resources page.

For tax-related resources, visit the AICPA’s COVID-19: Tax resources page.

— Alistair M. Nevius, J.D., (Alistair.Nevius@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA’s editor in chief, tax.

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