The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an estimated $2 trillion federal relief package designed to combat the harmful economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The law looks to provide cash infusions to individuals, businesses, health care organizations and state/local governments through payments, loans and tax credits.

The CARES Act, which congressional leaders put together and sent to the president’s desk in essentially warp speed, is designed to help businesses stay afloat — and, crucially, afford to continue to pay employees — during coronavirus-mandated shutdowns.

Pie chart showing the amount of estimated funding included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and where it is going. The share for individuals is 560 billion dollars, big corporations will receive 500 billion dollars, small businesses 377 billion dollars, state and local governments 340 billion dollars, public health will receive 154 billion dollars and 70 billion dollars will go to education and other unspecified funding.

Still, there are already questions about specific program details and concerns that more aid will be needed.

This isn’t the end of the road. Agencies are thinking about things that they can do themselves. There is already talk about a fourth stimulus bill. Pension funding relief may be on the horizon, which could bring additional changes to retirement plan rules in a year that’s already experienced sweeping legislation under the CARES and the SECURE acts.

As Washington continues to consider additional economic aid and relief measures,  we want to highlight some of the CARES provisions that we believe will be of interest to small businesses.


What small business owners need to know


If you are a small business owner, self-employed or working for a small company, here are three key things to be aware of:


1. Paycheck Protection Program Loans


Businesses with fewer than 500 employees — including sole proprietors, independent contractors, “gig economy” workers and anyone otherwise self-employed — can apply for loans of up to $10 million, or 2.5 times total payroll expenses for the loan period. Sole proprietors and independent contractors should be eligible to apply. However, many large national banks are already reporting to be at or near lending capacity.

Those who are able to access funds can use them to help pay for payroll costs and other expenses, such as mortgage payments, rent, utilities and other debt service from February 15 to June 30. At least 75% of the loan must be payroll, and payroll costs (salary, wages, commissions and tips) are capped at $100,000 for each employee.

The loans are fully guaranteed by the federal government through the end of 2020 and can have a maturity of up to 10 years. Business owners will be able to apply for these loans at any lending institution approved to participate in the program through the existing U.S. Small Business Administration’s 7(a) lending program.

Other notable provisions to the loan program:

  • The portion of the Paycheck Protection Program Loan that was used for the first eight weeks of payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent and utilities is eligible for permanent forgiveness.


  • Payments of principal and interest can be deferred for at least six months and for no more than one year. The interest rate is capped at 4%.


  • Businesses that laid off workers from February 15 to April 26 can be eligible for credit for loan forgiveness as long as those jobs and salaries are reinstated by June 30.
    501(c)(3) charitable organizations with fewer than 500 workers can qualify as well. All entities must have been in operation as of February 15, 2020.


2. Expansion of the SBA Disaster Loan Program


This expansion enables sole proprietors to access disaster loans and enables them to receive a working capital loan to overcome the temporary loss of revenue. Entities that apply for a disaster loan can get an immediate advance of up to $10,000 to maintain payroll, and the advanced $10,000 does not have to be repaid even if the full loan application is later denied.


3. Other benefits for businesses


The employer’s portion of Social Security payroll tax payable in 2020 may be deferred until January 1, 2021, with the first half of the deferred 2020 payment due at the end of 2021 and the second half due at the end of 2022.

Employers may be eligible for up to one year of credit against the employer’s 6.2% share of Social Security tax for a business that is fully or partially suspended due to government orders, or where revenue in a quarter in 2020 is less than 50% of the revenue in the same quarter last year.

Employers may be eligible for more flexible net operating loss rules for access to an immediate refund.

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