In a small town in northern Michigan, Daniel Walsh, the CEO of Purebacco USA, has been spending a lot of time analyzing his company's taxes. Besides state and federal taxes, the Gaylord, Michigan-based vaping-components manufacturer pays use taxes, interstate taxes, payroll taxes, import taxes, property taxes, business-property-use taxes, and out-of-state purchase taxes. Tack on tax compliance and administration costs, and he can kiss 60 cents on every dollar of profit goodbye--and that doesn't even include sales taxes, which he says amount to another 6 to 10 cents.
"When you hit that 90 percent tax level, there is just not that much incentive to doing business," says Walsh, whose company landed at No. 169 on the 2016 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America. "We're really not far from that."
So President Donald Trump's promise to slash the federal corporate tax rate is welcome news. "Tax is a big deal to us," says Walsh, whose 12-person company brought in $3.1 million in revenue in 2015. "We've been pulling back one region at a time since the business climate is so hostile."
Like Walsh, business owners across the U.S. are following Trump's tweets, speeches, and executive orders closely--eager for any indication that he'll make good on campaign promises to cut the federal corporate tax rate in half.
In a recent discussion with airline CEOs, Trump noted that there would be an announcement that would be "phenomenal in terms of tax" in the next two to three weeks.
While details are thin, if it's anything like what Trump put forward on the campaign trail, chances are good that as many businesses will be pleased as are dissatisfied--and you'll need to potentially make major course corrections to your business as a result.
"Doing large-scale tax reform is still a difficult thing, and it does involve winners and losers," says Joseph Rosenberg, a senior research associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan tax-policy research organization in Washington, D.C.
Here's a look at four key ways your business's taxes could change, for better or worse.
1. Your tax bill could drop, or not
The president has, at various points on the campaign trail, called for lowering the federal corporate tax rate to 15 or 20 percent from the upper-level range of 35 percent. And while he has said the measure would apply to all businesses, both small and large, it's not yet clear if pass-through entities like LLCs and S Corps will be included. Most small businesses are structured as pass-through entities, which means a business's income is taxed on an owner's individual return.
The president may choose to favor a plan put forward last year by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wisconsin) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R., Texas). That proposal, named A Better Way, offers to create a separate low tax rate of 25 percent for small businesses. (Under that plan, bigger businesses would pay just 20 percent.)
Of course, tax cuts have a price. Trump's revised tax plan, which he released in September and which includes cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, is expected to reduce U.S. federal tax receipts by $2.35 trillion over 10 years. Should pass-through businesses see this same tax break, the cost would tick up another $900 billion to $1.5 trillion over the same period, according to the Tax Policy Center.
2. Your import costs could jump
To account for some of the loss, the president is considering a policy known as a border adjustment, which would add a 20 percent tax on all imported goods. The Better Way plan from the House, which holds the border-adjustment proposal as its reform centerpiece, would transition the U.S. to what it calls a destination-basis tax system. So instead of basing a company's federal tax liability on both the location of production and the location of the company, it would stem from the location of its sales.
"That's probably the most controversial part of the tax plan," says Robert Willens, an independent tax and accounting analyst in New York City. "It would convert the system from income based to hybrid sales tax."
Should it pass, the border adjustment is expected to raise $1.2 trillion over 10 years, according to the Tax Policy Center. The president has considered more tactical options, including a tariff on U.S. companies that manufacture outside the U.S. and a 20 percent tax on just Mexican imports. However, he could wind up favoring the border-adjustment proposal, as it is more comprehensive and thus more lucrative. That could help him fund his tax cuts.
3. You may have to pay federal taxes on overseas earnings
Another revenue raising effort favored by the president--which has more big business implications--is what's called "deemed repatriation" of currently deferred foreign profits. It is estimated that U.S. companies like Apple have as much as $2.5 trillion in cash sitting overseas. Under the proposal, these companies would be compelled to bring those proceeds back to the U.S. and pay taxes, at a rate of 10 percent over 10 years. Like a repatriation tax holiday, a deemed repatriation would generate one-time federal revenues.
An earlier version of Trump's tax plan held that a deemed repatriation would pair with eliminating U.S. companies' ability to defer paying taxes on income earned outside the U.S. That element was omitted from his revised tax plan, so it's unclear how he would handle non-U.S.-generated income going forward.
The House Better Way proposal suggests implementing a "territorial" system of taxes by way of a 100 percent exemption for dividends from foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies. Translation: "It allows for the tax-free repatriation of earnings," says Willens.
4. You could lose almost all federal business tax credits
Trump is also calling for eliminating all but one federal business tax credit, for research and development. That includes putting limits on some companies' ability to deduct interest expenses, which could make financing capital asset purchases or servicing bank loans more costly, says Rosenberg. Currently, most companies can deduct interest expenses.
Under the latest version of the Trump tax plan, U.S. manufacturing companies can elect to expense investments in equipment, structures, and inventories--deducting them immediately--rather than depreciating these purchases over time, as current law requires. Businesses that elect immediate expensing would not be allowed to deduct interest expenses.
It's worth noting that there's disagreement within the tax community about whether this option would be given only to U.S. manufacturers. Trump has made statements suggesting that he may open up the option to all businesses.
The House Better Way plan, by contrast, doesn't provide an option. It simply allows expensing for all businesses without the ability to deduct interest paid. "They don't like that the tax code [currently] encourages leveraging," says Willens. "They would eliminate the preference for indebtedness."
Whatever the downsides may be, you won't hear Walsh complaining. "I'm excited about whatever Trump's tax plan is. He's a businessman," he says. "Hopefully the new laws will bring us some relief."