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PPP: Does a Borrower need its Lender’s Consent to a Change in Control Transaction?

Nothing in the CARES Act, Interim Final Rules, or Frequently Asked Questions currently requires Lender’s Consent in connection with a change in control transaction. However, the specific terms of the PPP Note signed by the borrower may require the Lender’s consent in a variety of situation.

(Note: This is one post in a series of posts regarding questions about the Paycheck Protection Program and Loan Forgiveness. A list of questions addressed so far is also available on our PPP Resources page. These questions and our answers are based on discussions with colleagues and clients, both lenders and borrowers. Our intention is to cover issues that, while potentially frequently asked, are not explicitly addressed in official FAQs or directly in Interim Final Rules. Our answers may ultimately be subject to change as additional guidance is provided, but reflect our view of the regulations at the time of posting.)

Consistent with SBA PPP FAQ #19, no specific form of PPP note was required to be used by lenders. Each lender was authorized to use their own promissory note or an SBA form of promissory
note. Many, but by no means all, PPP lenders ultimately used the SBA Standard Loan Note on Form 147 as the base of their PPP promissory notes.

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PPP: Who is subject to Owner-Employee Compensation Forgiveness Limitations?

Self-employed Schedule C (and Schedule F) filers, general partners, and other PPP borrowers that utilized 2019 IRS Form 1040 Schedule C line 31 net profit amount in calculating the amount of their PPP loan are clearly subject to these limitations. However, the SBA guidance also indicates that owner-employees of C-Corporations, S-Corporations and LLCs are subject to the owner-employee compensation limits, and the SBA guidance is silent on limited partners.

Update (8/24/20): The Treasury and SBA published a new Interim Final Rule that confirms the initial guidance did not include any exception based on the owner-employee’s percentage of ownership. However, the new rule also provides that “an owner-employee in a C- or S-Corporation who has less than a 5 percent ownership stake will not be subject to the owner-employee compensation rule.” While limited partners are not addressed in the new rule, we note the original Interim Final Rule which limited owner-employees only referenced general partners; accordingly presumably no formal exception for limited partners is necessary. This would also be consistent with the reasoning for less than 5% shareholders, as limited partners would generally “have no meaningful ability to influence decisions over how loan proceeds are allocated.”

(Note: This is the third in what we anticipate to be a series of posts regarding questions about the Paycheck Protection Program and Loan Forgiveness. A list of questions addressed so far is also available on our PPP Resources page. These questions and our answers are based on discussions with colleagues and clients, both lenders and borrowers. Our intention is to cover issues that, while potentially frequently asked, are not explicitly addressed in official FAQs or directly in Interim Final Rules. Our answers may ultimately be subject to change as additional guidance is provided, but reflect our view of the regulations at the time of posting.)

The current Paycheck Protection Program Forgiveness Application asks all borrowers to certify as follows:

  • if a 24-week Covered Period applies, the forgiveness amount requested  does not exceed 2.5 months’ worth of 2019 compensation for any owner-employee or self-employed individual/general partner, capped at $20,833 per individual; and
  • if the Borrower has elected an 8-week Covered Period, the forgiveness amount requested does not exceed 8 weeks’ worth of 2019 compensation for any owner-employee or self-employed individual/general partner, capped at $15,385 per individual.

While the concept of owner-employee compensation was initially used by the SBA to calculate the amount that a small business with no employees was eligible for, with the expansion of the eligible covered period, the Treasury and SBA have also added restrictions on the use of compensation to “owner-employees” in calculation of the amount of payroll costs eligible for forgiveness. See, for example, the “Interim Final Rule on Revisions to Loan Forgiveness Interim Final Rule and SBA Loan Review Procedures Interim Final Rule” and the Frequently Asked Questions about Loan Forgiveness.

Unfortunately, to date, neither the Treasury nor the SBA has meaningfully defined what constitutes an “owner-employee” or provided any guidance as to whether borrowers need to limit W-2 compensation paid to an employee that happens to have an ownership interest (however small) in the borrower. The Frequently Asked Questions “defines” an owner-employee as “an owner who is also an employee.”

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PPP: Does the Size of the Loan Affect Eligibility for Form 3508EZ?

No. PPP borrowers of any size may use Form 3508EZ, assuming they otherwise meet the eligibility requirements of that form.

(Note: This is the second in what we anticipate to be a series of posts regarding questions about the Paycheck Protection Program and Loan Forgiveness. A list of questions addressed so far is also available on our PPP Resources page. These questions and our answers are based on discussions with colleagues and clients, both lenders and borrowers. Our intention is to cover issues that, while potentially frequently asked, are not explicitly addressed in official FAQs or directly in Interim Final Rules. Our answers may ultimately be subject to change as additional guidance is provided, but reflect our view of the regulations at the time of posting.)

The U.S. Treasury Department and Small Business Administration have provided two forms for applying for forgiveness from Paycheck Protection Loans, and lenders have the further ability to develop their own comparable forms. Both the standard form, Form 3508, and the “simplified” form, Form 3508EZ, are available on the Treasury’s website, along with instructions.

Note: At this time, there appears to be bipartisan support in Congress for additional forgiveness relief for borrowers of $150,000 or less, potentially indicating a pathway for seeking forgiveness without completing Form 3508 or Form 3508EZ. While action on such relief appears tied up in the debate on other issues, there is no current urgency to seek forgiveness, as all payments under the PPP loan are deferred until the earlier of the SBA reimbursing the lender the amount of loan forgiveness or 10 months after the end of the relevant covered period if no forgiveness application is filed. Accordingly, smaller PPP borrowers may desire to delay filing any forgiveness application at this time.

Form 3508 and From 3508EZ are very similar, but are different in two ways: eligibility and the support information required. Notably, one area in which they are different is that both forms require a borrower to indicate if they, along with any affiliates, received PPP loans in excess of $2 million. This question would appear to flag the loan for further SBA review, consistent with FAQ 39, which indicated that the SBA would review all such loans independently. Accordingly, filing using Form 3508EZ will not avoid such review, and is presumably permitted for borrowers with loans in excess of $2 million. However, in connection with such a review, the borrower may be required to submit additional information.

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(Final?) PPP Loan Approval Statistics through 8/8/2020

Barring further legislative action, the approval window for new Paycheck Protection Program Loans came to a close on August 8, 2020. Since the original launch on April 3rd following the CARES Act, 5,212,128 small businesses have borrowed $525 billion under the Paycheck Protection Program. On August 11th, the SBA published a Paycheck Protection Program Report with additional details.

The overall average loan size under the Paycheck Protection Program was $101 thousand, and this average steadily fell during the lifetime of the Paycheck Protection Program. But even that average number emphasizes the statistical differences between median and mean. While the average loan was just over $100 thousand, over 68% of the loans were for $50 thousand or less (and over 81% of PPP loans were smaller than the average PPP loan).

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PPP: Can Forgivable Payroll Costs Exceed Loan Amount?

Yes, in completing a Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness application, we believe a borrower can appropriately report actual payroll costs during the applicable covered period in excess of the original PPP loan amount. While actual forgiveness is ultimately limited to the amount of the PPP loan, the calculations provided for in the loan forgiveness application allow payroll costs to exceed the amount of the PPP loan, thereby permitting borrowers to potentially obtain full forgiveness even if the borrower is subject to FTE and/or salary/hourly wage reductions.

(Note: This is a first in what we anticipate to be a series of posts regarding questions about the Paycheck Protection Program and Loan Forgiveness. A list of questions addressed so far is also available on our PPP Resources page. These questions and our answers are based on discussions with colleagues and clients, both lenders and borrowers. Our intention is to cover issues that, while potentially frequently asked, are not explicitly addressed in official FAQs or directly in Interim Final Rules. Our answers may ultimately be subject to change as additional guidance is provided, but reflect our view of the regulations at the time of posting.)

In light of the 24-week covered period and the PPP loan amount being based on effectively 10 weeks of payroll costs, we believe most PPP borrowers will ultimately have payroll costs that significantly exceed the amount of their PPP loan principal. This should not only facilitate full loan forgiveness, but also may ease the calculations under the forgiveness application and reduce the need to be aggressive with regard to questionable forgivable expenses, FTE calculations, or safe harbor certifications. (As reflected in the Forgiveness API FAQ, so long as lenders agree with the final total forgiveness amount, such applications can be submitted as being approved in full, even if there is disagreement on certain line items.)

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Analysis of PPP Borrowers: Who Returned Funds?

While a lot has been written and said about the “need” certification when it comes to the Paycheck Protection Program, particularly for public companies, the SBA and Treasury have been relatively quiet about how many borrowers that received PPP funds elected to to take advantage of the government’s subsequent safe harbor to return funds. In connection with the forgiveness process, the SBA has indicated that it will review all loans in excess of $2 million, but will deem all borrowers of $2 million or less to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.

Based on our analysis below, 88% of public borrowers that received PPP loans elected to retain their PPP proceeds, and 75% of borrowers approved for PPP loans of between $5 and $10 million did the same. Based on our discussions with PPP borrowers throughout the country, we think this is consistent with the economic uncertainty that was created by the coronavirus.

SEC Filings

Based on a review of SEC filings, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner identified over 850 borrowers who indicated that they had received PPP loan approvals. 107 of these borrowers, or roughly 12 percent, subsequently indicated that they either ultimately did not accept the loan, or returned the loan proceeds. About 25% of public companies who returned their loans had PPP borrowings that were less than the $2 million threshold for review indicated above.

Of the 759 public companies that elected not to return their PPP funds, approximately 73% received $2 million or less, while the remaining 27% had PPP loans of more than $2 million. About 8% of the public company recipients received less than $100,000, while over 55% received less than $1 million.

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Georgia Passes Legislation Creating Immunity for COVID-19 Liabilities

On June 26, 2020, Georgia’s Legislature passed the “Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act” (the “Act”). The Act provides Georgia businesses with certain defenses and immunities for potential liability from claims related to the spread of COVID-19. These immunities apply broadly to the health care facilities and providers as well as other business entities and individuals.

Under the Act, no covered entity or individual will “be held liable for damages in an action involving a COVID-19 liability claim . . . unless the claimant proves that the actions . . . showed: gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.” 

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CFPB Issues CARES Act Credit Reporting FAQs

On June 16th, the CFPB issued a Compliance Aid Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) addressing the CARES Act changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and clarifying furnisher reporting obligations regarding consumers who have received payment assistance or forbearance. In public remarks in connection with Consumer Data Industry Association webinar released June 19, 2020 Director Kraninger highlighted the CFPB’s commitment to consumers:  “I do want to stress that we are telling struggling borrowers to reach out to their servicers to see what options are available to them. Under CFPB regulations, servicers are required to have policies and procedures in place to ensure the disclosure of the availability of CARES Act mortgage forbearance to consumers. If a consumer has an issue with their servicer, we encourage them to submit a complaint to us if the consumer can’t first resolve the matter with the servicer.” Here are few of the highlights in the FAQ that address issues which may prove the most challenging for lenders, services and furnishers and agencies.

FAQ #5 “Constructive Work” With Borrowers Encouraged.

“Even if accommodations are not required by the CARES Act or by other applicable law, the Bureau and other Federal and State agencies have encouraged financial institutions in prior guidance (the March 22, 2020 Federal Reserve Intragency Statement) to work constructively with borrowers who are or may be unable to meet their contractual payment obligations because of the effects of COVID-19.” This guidance goes to the spirit of the CARES Act to help consumers impacted by the pandemic, but also asks servicers use their best judgment in offering assistance beyond that required. Understanding borrower’s specific circumstances will be critical in assessing the reasonableness of efforts. Where personnel are applying judgment, having internal servicer guidelines for escalation to ensure uniformity and consistency may prove beneficial. Tracking and monitoring metrics and other characteristics of those loans and borrowers may also help ensure fairness.  

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The Unsafe Waters of the PPP Purported FTE Reduction Safe Harbors

On June 17, 2020, the SBA and U.S. Treasury published an updated form of application and instructions for borrowers seeking forgiveness of their Paycheck Protection Program loans, as well as a new “EZ” form of application and instruction. In both cases, these applications generally implement the statutory changes required by the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act.

While the improved likelihood of full forgiveness due to the 24-week covered period is likely to draw the most attention, potential compliance with two of the safe harbors provided to avoid a loss of forgiveness in the event of a reduction in the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees comparing the applicable “covered period” with the applicable reference period. Under the CARES Act, while borrowers are generally eligible for loan forgiveness for certain expenditures during the covered period, actual loan forgiveness must be reduced if the borrower’s weekly average number of FTE employees during the covered period was less than during the borrower’s chosen reference period (generally, February 15, 2019 through June 30, 2019 or January 1, 2020 and February 29, 2020; or, for seasonal employers, any consecutive 12-week period between May 1, 2019 and September 15, 2019).

However, under the revised PPP loan forgiveness application, there are certain FTE reduction exceptions and two safe harbors. Each of these provide potential relief from a decrease in forgiveness due to a reduction in FTE levels… but they also provide enhanced risk for borrowers needing to rely on them. In addition, general eligibility for the use of the Form EZ loan forgiveness application is conditioned on compliance with the reduction exceptions or one of the safe harbors.

FTE Forgiveness Reduction Exceptions

As provided in the original forgiveness application, in calculating the average number of FTE employees during the covered period, borrowers are permitted to effectively add back the FTEs for: (1) any positions for which the employer made a good-faith, written offer to rehire, which was rejected, (2) any employees who were fired for cause, voluntarily resigned, or voluntarily requested and received a reduction in hours. (If the positions were re-filled during the covered period, than borrowers are required not to double-count such positions.)

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PPP Loan Statistics Through June 6, 2020

From the launch of the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) on April 3, 2020, through June 6, 2020, 5,458 lenders have approved loans to over 4.5 million small businesses for over $511 billion dollars. On June 7, 2020, the SBA published an updated Paycheck Protection Program Report with additional details.

To put some scale around the size of the program, for the last five years, the SBA has averaged annual total personal loans approved under its 7(a) small business loan program (the same umbrella under which PPP loans fall) of roughly $17.4 billion. Accordingly, in April and May of 2020, the SBA has processed roughly 29 years worth of SBA loans. While the rate of PPP loans being improved has slowed greatly, as discussed more below, this still highlights the size of the program and the strain under which the SBA has been operating.

Average Loan Size

The overall average size of a PPP loan is now approximately $113 thousand. This is down significantly from the first round of PPP funding, where the average approved PPP loan was $206 thousand. Based on the formula for PPP lending, this means the average borrower likely had monthly payroll costs of approximately $45 thousand.

Of course, the average size of PPP loan is certainly affected by a relatively small number of larger loans. As reflected above, the majority of loans made were for loans of less than $50 thousand (reflecting monthly payroll costs of less than $20 thousand). Over 85% of the total PPP loans made were for less than $150 thousand, and over 93% of the total PPP loans made were for less than $350 thousand. While significant ink (digitally and otherwise) has been spilled on larger PPP borrowers, less than 2% of the PPP loans made were for more than $1 million.

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