covid19 cares act faq for small business ecommerce website owners

U.S. small-business owners breathed a sigh of relief in March when Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It includes low-cost loans for SMBs so they can cover payroll expenses and stay afloat as the pandemic creates havoc in the economy. 

However, unlike the stimulus payments that most Americans are receiving automatically, CARES Act loans require business owners to apply through a lender. And as of this writing, the program is closed to new applications—hopefully only temporarily. 

So, plenty of business owners have questions about who’s eligible, when the program will reopen for new applications and where to apply when it does

Here’s what we know now, and where to find more information as events unfold.

What Exactly Is the CARES Act? 

The CARES Act took effect March 27, which already seems like about 10 years ago. The $2 trillion aid package includes direct payments to taxpayers and assistance for businesses, state and local governments and industries hit hard by the illness and stay at home orders. 

The CARES Act is more than 300 pages long, but the Treasury Department has created a good summary of CARES basics. The two provisions of the CARES Act designed to help SMBs are the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program

Both of these programs are closed to new applications as of this writing. But when they open back up with more funding, you’ll want to be informed and ready to apply,

What Is the Paycheck Protection Program?

The PPP offers small businesses low-cost loans to cover as many as eight weeks of payroll expenses as well as mortgage interest, rent and utilities for business property.

Some of the PPP loan terms are pretty sweet:

  • There are no loan origination fees.
  • Business owners don’t have to put up collateral.
  • Loan payments don’t start until six months after the business receives the loan.
  • For businesses that use at least 75% of their loan money to cover payroll expenses, the loan is fully forgiven. In plain English that means the borrower doesn’t have to pay it back.
  • As Forbes notes, forgiven debts usually count as taxable income, but the CARES Act has that covered. Forgiven PPP loans won’t count as taxable income.

Other terms are more complex. PPP loan amounts are based on the equivalent of eight weeks’ worth of payroll costs for employees or eight weeks of net profit for sole proprietors, up to $100,000 per person per year. 

Want the details? Elaine Pofeldt at Forbes explains the SBA’s clarification of PPP rules, or you can read the SBA’s interim final rule on PPP requirements

Applications for PPP loans go through SBA-approved lenders and participating banks, credit unions and farm credit institutions. You can read the Treasury Department’s PPP summary for more details. 

What Is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program?

The EIDL program gives small businesses a loan advance of up to $10,000 if they’re dealing with a temporary revenue loss because of the pandemic. The advance does not have to be repaid.

The EID loan itself (not just the advance) can total as much as $2 million. Like the PPP, EIDL funds are meant to cover payroll, fixed costs and bills. 

Unlike the PPP, EID loans must be repaid (except for the $10,000 advance) over a period of up to 30 years. Interest rates on EID loans are 3.75% for SMBs and 2.75% for nonprofit organizations. 

Applications for Economic Injury Disaster loans go through the Small Business Administration. You can check out the SBA’s EIDL information for more details. 

What Kinds of Businesses Are Eligible for CARES Act Loans? 

The PPP and EIDL programs are meant for small businesses. How exactly does the CARES Act define small business? Who is included?

Any business with 500 or fewer employees is eligible to apply for PPP loans under the law. The Treasury Department states that the definition includes “nonprofits, veterans’ organizations, tribal concerns, self-employed individuals, sole proprietorships and independent contractors.”

That means that you’re eligible to apply if you

  • Own a small local business.
  • Run an eCommerce website. 
  • Generate business income from your blog, through affiliate programs, memberships and/or content sales.
  • Work as a freelancer or contractor. 

The SBA states that small businesses in every US state and territory, as well as in Washington, D.C., are eligible to apply for EIDL advances related to the pandemic.

So if your revenue or income has been cut by the COVID-19 outbreak and you need help meeting payroll and paying the bills, keep an eye on the news to see when these programs will start taking applications again—and be ready to apply as soon as that happens.

Why Are PPP and EIDL Loans Closed to New Applications?

The programs are closed because they were overwhelmed after they opened to applications April 3. The original deadline to apply was June 30. By April 16, the SBA had approved borrowers for the entire $349 billion earmarked for SMBs in the CARES Act. At least for now, there’s no more money to lend. 

When Can I Apply for a CARES Act Loan?

Unfortunately, it’s not clear yet when Congress will allocate more money for CARES Act SMB loans. As of this writing, it looks like it will be the week of April 20, at the earliest, before the Senate and House are back in to vote. 

Where Else Can I Look for Help for my Small Business?

Some cities, counties and states have their own SMB COVID-19 assistance programs. The challenge is finding them. 

Here are some of the best resources we’ve found for tracking down help and finding the most up-to-date information:

  • HR firm Zenefits has a sortable, searchable table of local and state SMB assistance programs across the U.S.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has a state-by-state aid program list, too. The Chamber and Zenefits lists don’t always overlap, so it’s worth checking both. The Chamber list also includes information about business-sponsored aid programs run by Mainvest, Facebook, Kiva and other organizations.
  • NYC Small Business Services has a list of financial and legal advice options for New York-based SMBs plus a signup to get their newsletter about local, state and federal assistance updates. 

Check with your industry’s trade or lobbying organizations. For example, the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Realtors and the Freelancers Union are among the professional groups offering cash grants or free programs for their members. 

Need more information on guiding your business through the pandemic? Visit our COVID-19 business tips center and check out these popular blogs:

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention