Following the inaugural Running Retail Digital Town Hall on March 31, which addressed a number of issues facing run specialty retailers in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a second event was held on the afternoon of April 2 that focused on the federal government’s CARES Act and why and how run specialty retailers can take part.
The Digital Town Hall was moderated by Running Insight’s Mark Sullivan and featured a presentation by Howard Gamer, managing partner at PBG Financial Services in Illinois, who was brought to the event by one of his clients, Kris Hartner, of Naperville Running Company.
“Most people are very confused and to be honest there’s a good reason to be,” Gamer said of the complicated process whose details are still being worked out. “Everybody has a different opinion on this and as I am sitting here the banks are still going back and forth on the details.”
Basically, the CARES Act’s intent is to keep more people employed, rather than on the unemployment line. The program works through the banks and retailers will either be able to use their current company banker or one of the many national banks participating in the program.
Gamer had some advice to nervous retailers on the call. “Everyone feels there is a drop-dead date or the government is going to run out of money and they need to their application to be in tomorrow, but the process won’t even be in place tomorrow, most likely next week,” he advised.
“Everyone seems to be running through the same door at the same time,” he added. “It is going to be a challenge.”
But the real issue is, will the government run out of money? “You can be 100 percent certain that there is nowhere near enough money allocated to run this program, but there is a good chance the government will allocate more funds.
“I don’t believe that you are going to get slighted if you get it in next week as compared to tomorrow because it will be a mad rush to get applications in and bankers will be swamped,” he said.
Because the CARES Act is perhaps the best fit for businesses such as run specialty retailers – business is non-existent, stores have great employees they want to keep employed and the government wants them to stay employed – the Town Hall focused on the process because, as Gamer put it, “the CARES Act is the easiest amount of free money that my clients can get.”
A key component of the CARES Act is the Personal Paycheck Protection (PPP). The challenge for retailers is coming up with the most accurate and beneficial computation to take advantage of the maximum 2.5X eligible payroll payment. (This computation should include health insurance after employee contribution, state income taxes paid by employers and any employer benefit plan contribution paid by employer, computed by monthly average over 12-month period.)
This calculation should also include 1099 contractors that might otherwise be an employee, but not an accounting or law firm, but individuals.
The important thing is to get the process started and work out the details as they become more well known, Gamer said.
“We are advising our clients to apply for this front-end regardless they you think it is going to be forgiven or not. Because the back-end portion of this is far more complex and doesn’t take place until after you get your loan,” he said. “To not go after the maximum money up front would be a mistake. Focus on getting as much money as you can under this program and worry about forgiveness later.”
“Go for the loan, figure out the max and err on the side of going a little bit high,” echoed Hartner. “Get the loan in, take a deep breath, give it a few days and let your banker figure it out. It will make itself known as you get closer to getting your money.”
Among the other details and pieces of advice offered during the Virtual Town Hall:
- Owners should use the many calculators that are available online to determine their maximum loan amount.
- Employment levels as of June 30 will determine the level of the loan that is forgivable.
- The CARES Act forgivable portion is not taxable.
- There is a $100,000 cap on each employee salary when figuring the equation. If a retailer in an LLC, self-employment income is part of the equation up to $100,000.
- The calculation should be made off of the final 2019 payroll register for the year because it contains all of the elements to make sure the full gross amount of the payroll is considered. Banks will eventually ask for the returns but are not using them to compute the benefits. “Take your payroll register and add it up,” Gamer advised. “That is employees who are being paid. Adding up payroll and 1099s and employer benefits and 401Ks to get your number for the 2.5X. That is the number they are looking for.”
- Yet-to-be determined is whether store owners should utilize a calendar or fiscal year in their equations.
The primary takeaway from the Virtual Town Hall is that it is vital that store owners begin the process and be part of it when the money becomes available. One problem is that even the banks, large and small, aren’t fully aware of all of the details.
”The banks are taking millions of applications, so if you have a banker that you know they may be able to help guide you through the application,” Gamer said, but they will most likely forward you to their website or portal
“And if you have a smaller bank, call your loan officer or private banker and ask if they are part of the process,” he added, because most of them are.
Final point: It is unproductive to think about how hard it is to apply and whether all of your calculations are completely accurate once the details do emerge.
“Get the application in, get the money and ask for the forgiveness later when we know more of what has to be done,” Hartner said.