The CARES Act: Economic Relief and Income Tax Planning

by Glenn DiBenedetto | Apr 22, 2020

In response to the Coronavirus and the economic havoc it has brought on our nation’s people and businesses, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The following is a summary of some select provisions of the CARES Act and other information that we feel will be helpful to our clients and business associates.

The IRS has postponed the tax filing and payment deadline. Generally, all taxpayers that have a tax filing or payment deadline falling on or after April 1, 2020 and before July 15, 2020, are allowed until July 15, 2020 to file and make payments without penalty. The extra time applies to individuals, trusts, estates, corporations and other non-corporate filers and also to the 2020 estimated tax payment originally due June 15, 2020.


1. Tax Loss Harvesting

  • With global equities having declined 20 percent in the first quarter, investors may now have positions in taxable accounts with unrealized losses. In such instances, an investor should consider harvesting the loss while replacing the exposure with a similar, but not identical, security. In doing so, a realized loss is produced for tax purposes while the portfolio is still positioned to benefit from a subsequent market rebound.
  • Realized losses can offset realized gains. To the extent realized losses exceed realized gains in a given tax year, up to $3,000 of losses can be applied against ordinary income with any excess producing a loss carryforward to be used in future tax years. Investors should be aware of the “wash sale rule,” which states a loss cannot be realized for tax purposes if a substantially identical position was bought 30 days before or after the sale.

2. Roth Conversions

  • Individuals with significant traditional IRA or 401(k) assets may consider converting to a Roth IRA, as the market selloff has reduced IRA and 401(k) balances. Roth IRAs have very favorable tax treatment as the account grows tax-deferred, qualified distributions are tax-free and there are no required minimum distributions for the original account owner. Individuals should recognize that converting a traditional IRA or 401(k) to a Roth IRA is a taxable event (taxed at ordinary income rates) thus, there are numerous variables to consider.

3. Reducing Concentrated Stock Positions/Portfolio Rebalancing

  • For investors with highly appreciated single-stock positions, the recent market pullback may provide an opportunity to pare back such exposure at a reduced tax cost. The same can be said for portfolio rebalancing as portfolios with a sizable overweight to, say, U.S. large cap stocks may be able to redeploy a portion of the exposure to other asset classes at a lower tax cost.

4. Charitable Giving

  • Ordinarily, an investor with long-term appreciated securities would be better served by gifting such securities rather than cash. However, this general guideline changes a bit given: 1) the extent of the recent market decline (stocks were more valuable as of late 2019) and 2) tax changes associated with the recently passed CARES Act.
  • The CARES Act included a provision removing the adjusted gross income (AGI) limitation for cash contributions made in 2020 to public charities (private foundations, supporting organizations and donor-advised funds are excluded). As such, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to 100 percent of adjusted gross income after factoring in other charitable contributions otherwise subject to AGI limitations. In comparison, the charitable deduction for long-term appreciated securities is limited to 30 percent of AGI for gifts to public charities and 20 percent of AGI for gifts to private foundations. As a result, some taxpayers may find a greater tax benefit in making 2020 charitable gifts through cash rather than securities.
  • Taxpayers may also consider a “bunching” strategy in which several years’ worth of charitable gifts are made in a single tax year to produce a large itemized deduction total, while the standard deduction, which is greatly increased following the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, is claimed in subsequent years.

5. Basic Estate Planning

  • The federal estate exemption stands at $11.58 million per person for 2020 but is set to revert to a base level of $5 million, plus inflation adjustments, in 2026. Last November, the IRS issued final regulations clarifying taxpayers who took advantage of the increased exemption amount (tied to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) would not be subject to a future “clawback” should the exemption decrease. Per the IRS news release, “Individuals planning to make large gifts between 2018 and 2025 can do so without concern that they will lose the tax benefit of the higher exclusion level once it decreases after 2025.”
  • The possibility exists that the exemption amount could change prior to 2026, as Democratic presidential candidates have expressed a desire to modify current estate tax provisions. Individuals likely to have a taxable estate may consider accelerating gifts given the elevated exemption amount and currently depressed asset values.
  • Check that your wills, trusts, and other estate related documents are up to date. This would include checking that trustees and beneficiaries are appropriate and your assets are properly titled.

6. Advanced Estate Planning

  • Given the low interest rate environment, high net worth individuals may be able to take advantage of certain estate planning strategies.
  • For example, a grantor-retained annuity trust (GRAT) allows for the transfer of assets which grow above the statutory IRS rate at a discounted gift and estate tax cost. The IRS Section 7520 rate stands at a meager 1.2 percent for April. Therefore, assets placed in a newly formed GRAT which grow above that rate over the trust’s term will ultimately transfer to the trust’s designated beneficiaries, thus representing a potentially significant estate planning opportunity.
  • As another example, properly structured intra-family loans can take advantage of low interest rates. In April, the applicable federal rate for a mid-term loan (more than three years, but less than nine years) stood at just 0.99 percent.


1. The CARES Act provides special withdrawal provisions for those impacted by the coronavirus. ‘Qualifying individuals’ are defined as:

  • An individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a test approved by the CDC.
  • An individual whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed with such virus, or
  • An individual who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to such virus, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to such virus or disease, or other factors as determined by the Secretary of Treasury.

2. Tax-Favored Withdrawals from Retirement Plans (including IRAs)

  • Coronavirus-related distribution up to $100,000 may be taken from an eligible retirement plan before December 31, 2020.
  • The 10% early withdrawal penalty (for those under age 59½) does not apply to any coronavirus-related distribution.
  • Distribution may be included in gross income (for income tax purposes) ratably over three years beginning in 2020.
  • Coronavirus-related distribution may be repaid at any time during the three-year period beginning on the day after the date on which such distribution was received. Any repaid amount is treated as a rollover and is not included in gross income.

3. Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

  • The SECURE Act of 2019 pushed back the beginning age for required minimum distributions to the year in which an individual turns age 72 (previously age 70 ½) or by April 1 of the following year. The CARES Act suspended RMDs for calendar year 2020 (except for qualified defined benefit plans). As such, individuals with sufficient assets for living expenses should consider forgoing distributions from retirement accounts that would otherwise be taxable or accelerate distributions if you are expected to be in a lower or zero tax bracket.

4. Loans from Qualified Plans

  • This provision is applicable for qualified individuals taking a loan during the 180-day period beginning on the date of the enactment of the Act.
  • It increases the dollar limit on loans to $100,000 from $50,000 and increases the percentage limit to 100% from 50% of the present value of the employee’s vested accrued benefit.
  • Repayment of new qualified loans, and existing loans, may be suspended for up to one year. At the end of the one-year suspension, the loan balance and accrued interest must be re-amortized.