Since the new tax bills have been coming out of the House and Senate, many small business owners and the self-employed have been carefully watching to see what they actually contain.

There have been many criticisms of the tax bills, and rightly so. But one concern I've been hearing from entrepreneurs and self-employed people is that they would no longer be able to deduct ordinary business expenses like a home office or staples, for that matter.

It got to the point that even major media began to echo the concerns. Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post on the Senate version:

The Senate plan does not allow "service businesses" that earn more than $75,000 a year ($150,000 per married couple) to benefit from the small business tax break. Other small businesses like pizza shops can deduct 17.4 percent of their income, but service businesses cannot. Business owners also lose the ability to deduct many of their daily expenses for supplies, home office costs, legal fees, etc.

Puzzled, I dug through both the Senate Finance Committee section-by-section summary and the one from the House Ways and Means Committee. What we have here is a failure to communicate -- or at least to clearly read what is going on.

The problem is that some people in the media, and apparently some business owners, don't realize that there are two ways in which business expenses can be deducted. One is as an expense of a legitimate business. Even a sole-proprietorship can deduct legal fees, a home office, and so on by using the right forms. This typically happens on a Schedule C form.

However, there has been another way to deduct business expenses. If you're an employee and incur unreimbursed expenses on the part of your employer, you've been able potentially to deduct them. That would be a Schedule A deduction.

Both the Senate and House bills were addressing that type of deduction. The Senate bill, for example, has a section called "Unreimbursed expenses attributable to the trade or business of being an employee." It starts as follows:

In general, unreimbursed business expenses incurred by an employee are deductible, but only as an itemized deduction and only to the extent the expenses exceed two percent of adjusted gross income.

The document goes on to mention business liability insurance premiums, dues to professional societies, home offices, and work-related legal fees, among other things.

The House version has even less specific language addressing the question, and none I can see suggesting ordinary business expenses would no longer be allowed.

So relax and remember to always look at the original explanations where possible. A lot can be lost in translation.

Published on: Nov 27, 2017
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