» Stimulus package: 4 steps you need to take now

Stimulus package: 4 steps you need to take now

February 20, 2009 by Carol Katarsky
Posted in: Best practices, Communication, Fringe benefits, Hiring & training staff, In this week's e-newsletter, Internal controls, IRS regs, Latest news & views, Tax compliance

The economic package Congress just passed will require a fair amount of work on your part. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) offers a lot of perks to workers — but implementing them will require you to make some changes to your established procedures. Here are four areas you need to keep an eye on starting now:

  • New withholding rates. The “Making Work Pay” tax credit will most likely be implemented by having Payroll make two withholding adjustments: one in June of this year, and another at the start of Jan. 2010. (The maximum credit each year is $400 for singles. Because the ’09 credit is effective mid-year, the weekly withholding will have to be re-adjusted in 2010.)
  • COBRA coverage/reporting. Employees who are terminated between Sept. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009 are eligible for lower premiums on their COBRA coverage, starting Feb. 17, 2009. Eligible employees will now pay 35% of the premium. The rest will be paid by the employer — but you can recover the subsidy through a credit on your payroll tax deposits. (Note: The subsidy applies only to former employees whose income is less than $125,000 a year; or family income of under $250,000 a year.)
    That creates a few tasks for Accounting and Benefits pros: You’ll need to contact eligible former employees who rejected COBRA to let them know they are eligible at the new lower rate. You’ll also need to get up to speed on the reporting fast, since the first round is due for 1Q ’09.
  • Monitoring COBRA reimbursements from the feds. Related to the point above, if your COBRA premium subsidy is more than your tax deposit, you’ll have to request — and wait for — reimbursement from the feds. So far, there’s no word on how quickly that will be processed.
  • Transportation fringe benefits. The new monthly limit on benefits for transit passes and vanpools has been increased to $230 per month, the same as for qualified parking. It’s in effect from March 2009 through December 2010.

In addition to these changes, you can expect employees will be confused about what they’re eligible for, what forms they have to fill out, etc. Be prepared for a slew of e-mails and phone calls. In particular, you may have many more employees who want to update their W-4s due to new tax credits that were tucked into the non-business portions of the law.

Consider putting together a resource you can hand out to answer the questions you’re more likely to hear. Even an e-mail with some links to IRS information releases can go a long way toward reducing how many times your phone rings over the next few weeks.

You can see the entire text of ARRA here.

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