Tuesday is Tax Day, the last day to file income taxes for the 2017 income tax season.
This year’s Tax Day puts a nail in the coffin of the old tax code, which was replaced by the tax cut legislation passed by Congressional Republicans late last year. With it gone forever, this seems like a good opportunity to reiterate the tax changes for the country’s 29 million small business owners, who are arguably the most affected by the new tax code.
Sadly, the media reporting on this issue has been heavily politicized, complicating rather than clarifying the issue for small businesses. Even the New York Times couldn’t get it straight in a recent article, leading to an embarrassing correction.
As a Certified Professional Accountant, I’ve already started dealing with the new tax code for small business clients who file returns on a quarterly basis. Here’s what they need to know.
The new tax structure lowers tax rates and expands the income thresholds for anyone who pays individual income tax, including small businesses that are structured as pass-throughs. (These include sole-proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and S-Corps.)
Under the new tax structure, rates fall to 10, 12, 22, 24, 32, 35, and 37 percent from 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, and 40 percent. Income thresholds under these new rates are also expanded. For instance, the 15 percent tax bracket, which used to kick in at just $18,650 ($9,326 for single filers) has been eliminated in favor of a new 12 percent bracket that extends all the way to $77,400/$38,700.
The income threshold for the zero tax bracket, also known as the standard deduction, has also been doubled to $24,000/$12,000.
The tax legislation also introduced a new 20 percent tax deduction for small businesses pass-throughs, allowing these to shield one-fifth of their earnings from taxation. However, this provision is complex, with permutations based on business type, size, and income. Tax accountants have requested guidance on this provision from the IRS.
Here’s what we do know: All small business pass-throughs no matter the type, which earn less than $315,000 ($157,500 for single filers), are allowed to write off 20 percent of their earnings. According to IRS data, roughly 95 percent of small businesses earn less than $315,000, meaning the tax relief is directed at the small businesses that need it most.
Above this income threshold the deduction phases out based on business type and size. For professional services businesses—any business whose model relies on reputation or knowledge—the deduction begins to phase out at $315,000/$157,500 of earnings. That means law, consulting, PR, accounting, financial advisory, healthcare, and other “white collar” businesses can only get the full 20 percent deduction if they earn less than this income threshold.
For these businesses, the deduction phases out between $315,000 and $415,000 of earnings ($157,500 and $207,500 ), above which point zero deduction on any earnings can be taken. (These higher earning small businesses still get a tax cut as a result of the lower individual tax rates mentioned above.)
For other types of businesses, including manufacturers, food & beverage, and those that rely on capital for their business model, the deduction for those earning above the $315,000/$157,500 income threshold is based on the size of the business. It is limited to the greater of 1) 50 percent of wages paid, or 2) 25 percent of wages paid plus 2.5 percent of tangible, depreciating property.
Finally, the tax legislation allows businesses to immediately and fully write-off the costs of capital investment, including used equipment, significantly reducing the costs of expansion and upgrades. This provision eliminates the requirement that businesses deduct these costs over several years according to complicated and time-consuming depreciation schedules.
These are the major new provisions that America’s small business owners need to know about. I’ll try to do the opposite of other tax cut commentary and let the data and provisions speak for themselves in terms of their effects on small businesses and the communities where they are located.