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Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Law Significantly Impacts Businesses

Businesses may stand to benefit from tax law changes included in the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) law. Under the new tax law, many companies and business owners will come out ahead. However, several tax deductions were either reduced or eliminated to allow for new benefits. Here we review some of the more impactful changes in the TCJA law that will affect domestic businesses and their owners.

Corporate Tax Rate Changed to 21% Flat Tax Rate

Under pre-TCJA law, C corporations paid graduated Federal income tax rates of 15% on taxable income of $0 to $50,000; 25% on taxable income of $50,001 to $75,000; 34% on taxable income of $75,001 to $10 million; and 35% on taxable income over $10 million. Personal service corporations (PSCs) paid a flat 35% rate.

For tax years beginning in 2018, the TCJA establishes a flat 21% corporate rate, and that rate also applies to PSCs.

Corporate Dividends Deduction, Reduced

Under pre-TCJA law, C corporations that received dividends from other corporations were permitted to partially deduct those dividends. If the corporation owned at least 20% of the stock of another corporation, an 80% deduction applied. Otherwise, the deduction was 70% of dividends received.

For tax years beginning in 2018, the TCJA reduces the 80% deduction to 65% and the 70% deduction to 50%.

Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax Revoked

Under pre-TCJA law, the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) was imposed at a 20% rate, and corporations with average annual gross receipts of less than $7.5 million for the preceding three tax years were exempt. For tax years beginning in 2018, the new law repeals the corporate AMT. For corporations that paid the corporate AMT in earlier years, an AMT credit was allowed under prior law. The TCJA allows corporations to fully use their AMT credit carryovers in their 2018–2021 tax years.

Pass-through Businesses Benefit from New Deduction

Under prior law, net taxable income from pass-through business entities (such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations, and LLCs that are treated as partnerships) was simply passed through to owners and taxed at the owners’ applicable rates.

For tax years beginning in 2018, the TCJA establishes a new deduction based on a noncorporate owner’s Qualified Business Income (QBI). This new business tax break is available to individuals, estates, and trusts that own interests in pass-through business entities. The deduction generally equals 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that can apply at higher income levels.

QBI is generally defined as the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss from any qualified business of the noncorporate owner. For this purpose, qualified items are income, gain, deduction and loss that are effectively connected with the conduct of a U.S. business. QBI doesn’t include certain investment items, reasonable compensation paid to an owner for services rendered to the business or any guaranteed payments to a partner or LLC member treated as a partner for services rendered to the partnership or LLC.

The QBI deduction is not allowed in calculating the noncorporate owner’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), but it reduces taxable income. In effect, it’s treated the same as an allowable itemized deduction.

W-2 wage limitation. For pass-through entities other than sole proprietorships, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the noncorporate owner’s share of:

  • 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees by the qualified business during the tax year, or
  • The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified property.

Qualified property is the depreciable tangible property (including real estate) owned by a qualified business as of year-end and used by the business at any point during the tax year to produce QBI.

Under an exception, the W-2 wage limitation doesn’t apply until an individual owner’s taxable income exceeds $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers). Above those income levels, the W-2 wage limitation is phased in over a $50,000 range ($100,000 range for joint filers).

Service business limitation. The QBI deduction generally isn’t available for income from specified service businesses (such as most professional practices, other than engineering and architecture, and businesses that involve investment-type services such as brokerage and investment advisory services). Under an exception, the service business limitation doesn’t apply until an individual owner’s taxable income exceeds $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers). Above those income levels, the service business limitation is phased in over a $50,000 phase-in range ($100,000 range for joint filers).

The W-2 wage limitation and the service business limitation don’t apply as long as your taxable income is under the applicable threshold in which case you should qualify for the full 20% QBI deduction.

Limits on Business Interest Deductions

Subject to some restrictions and exceptions, prior law stated that interest paid or accrued by a business is generally fully deductible. Under the TCJA, starting with tax years in 2018, the deduction of business interest is generally limited to the sum of the taxpayer’s business interest income plus 30% of its “adjusted taxable income”. Adjusted taxable income generally is a business’ taxable income computed without regard to: (1) any item of interest, gain, deduction, or loss that is not properly allocable to a trade or business; (2) business interest or business interest income; (3) the amount of any net operating loss deduction; (4) the 20% deduction for certain passthrough income, and (5) in the case of tax years beginning before January 1, 2022, any deduction allowable for depreciation, amortization, or depletion.

For S corporations, partnerships, and LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes, this limit is applied at the entity level rather than at the owner level.

Business interest expense that’s disallowed under this limitation is treated as business interest arising in the following taxable year. Amounts that cannot be deducted in the current year can generally be carried forward indefinitely.

Taxpayers (other than tax shelters) with average annual gross receipts of $25 million or less for the three previous tax years are exempt from the interest deduction limitation.

Impact on Employer Deductions for Business-related Meals and Entertainment

Prior to the TCJA, taxpayers could generally expect to deduct 50% of expenses for business-related meals and entertainment. Meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer on the employer’s business premises were 100% deductible by the employer and tax-free to the employee taking advantage of the benefit. Various other employer-provided fringe benefits were also deductible by the employer and tax-free to the recipient employee.

Under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017, deductions for business-related entertainment expenses are disallowed. Meal expenses incurred while traveling on business are still 50% deductible, but the 50% disallowance rule will now also apply to meals provided via an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises for the convenience of the employer. After 2025, the cost of meals provided on the employer’s premises will be nondeductible.

Modifications to Certain Employee Fringe Benefits

The TCJA disallows employer deductions for the cost of providing commuting transportation to an employee, unless the transportation is necessary for the employee’s safety.

It also eliminates employer deductions for the cost of providing qualified employee transportation fringe benefits (for example, parking allowances, mass transit passes, and van pooling), although those benefits remain tax-free to the employees.

Additional Changes

Other business-related changes in the TCJA include the following:

  • The TCJA expands the holding period requirement to three years for gains on qualified carried interests to be taxed at preferential long-term capital gains rates.
  • For business Net Operating Losses (NOLs) that arise in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, the maximum amount of taxable income that can be offset with NOL deductions is generally reduced from 100% to 80%. In addition, NOLs incurred in those years can no longer be carried back to an earlier tax year (excluding certain farming losses). Affected NOLs can be carried forward indefinitely.
  • More generous business asset expensing and depreciation tax breaks are available. The maximum Section 179 deduction increases to $1 million, and the phaseout threshold amount is increased to $2.5 million (from $510,000 and $2.03 million, respectively). There are also much better first-year bonus depreciation rules.
  • The Section 199 deduction (commonly referred to as the domestic production activities deduction or manufacturers’ deduction) is eliminated for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, for noncorporate taxpayers and for tax years beginning after December 31, 2018, for C corporation taxpayers.
  • A new limitation applies to deductions for “excess business losses” incurred by noncorporate taxpayers. Losses that are disallowed under this rule are carried forward to later tax years and can then be deducted under the rules that apply to NOLs. An excess business loss for the taxable year is the excess of aggregate deductions of the taxpayer attributable to trades or businesses of the taxpayer, over the sum of aggregate gross income or gain of the taxpayer plus a threshold amount. The threshold amount for a taxable year is $500,000 for married individuals filing jointly and $250,000 for other individuals. This new limit kicks in after applying the passive activity loss rules.
  • The eligibility rules to use the more-flexible cash method of accounting are liberalized to make them available to many more medium-sized businesses. Eligible businesses are also excused from the chore of doing inventory accounting for tax purposes.
  • The Section 1031 rules that allow tax-deferred exchanges of appreciated like-kind property are allowed only for real estate for exchanges completed after December 31, 2017. Beginning in 2018, there are no more like-kind exchanges for personal property assets. However, the prior-law rules still apply if one leg of an exchange has been completed as of December 31, 2017, but one leg remains open on that date.
  • Compensation deductions for amounts paid to principal executive officers cannot generally exceed $1 million per year, subject to a transition rule for amounts paid under binding contracts that were in effect as of November 2, 2017.
  • Specified R&D expenses must be capitalized and amortized over five years, or 15 years if the R&D is conducted outside the United States instead of being deducted currently. This begins with tax years beginning after December 31, 2021.

If you have questions about how your business or business owners can benefit from the tax breaks the TCJA provides, please contact your Untracht Early tax advisor.

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