Tax time is no one's favorite time of year. But for small-business owners, this year's filing deadline at least comes with the promise of better rates ahead: Many of the changes included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in December, are going into effect.
As entrepreneurs, we should expect to benefit--at least, temporarily--from the new tax plan. My company, Manta, conducted a poll in January and found that 83 percent of business owners anticipate their companies will be positively impacted by the changes. Nearly as many, 80 percent, said they support the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Some are already feeling the benefits of having more money in their pockets, according to another poll we conducted last month. Thirty-four percent of small-business owners said their business income had increased as a result of the tax reform, just three months into the year. Forty-two percent have already changed their budgeting or financial planning because of the new tax law.
It's time to start preparing for the changes--if you haven't already
For the most part, the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that benefit small businesses go into effect this tax year -- meaning they won't impact the returns that are due this month.
The 58 percent of small-business owners who have not yet adjusted their budgets should get started, however. While that big refund check may be a year away, it's not too early to plan accordingly and make sure you take full advantage of the potential savings.
The first step is to review your company's legal structure and determine how it will affect your taxes. One of the most important changes in the new tax law allows pass-through entities (such as S corporations and LLCs) to deduct up to 20 percent of their business income.
However, this doesn't apply to certain professional services firms. Review your situation with a tax professional or attorney--you might be able to adjust your business structure to take advantage of this deduction.
Make the most of your company's tax savings
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act allows businesses to immediately write off the full cost of new equipment and other property, instead of depreciating the expense over five or more years. The new law also protects these write-offs from being rescinded in the future.
This is great news for business owners who want to invest in their growth. According to our polls, 28 percent of small-business owners plan to use their tax savings to invest in new technology and 21 percent plan to open a new location or expand. The immediate write-off should make these investments (and your cash flow) much more manageable in the short term.
Just check with your tax adviser before making a major purchase--you could run into unforeseen obstacles. For example, the depreciation rules for "heavy" SUVs--those with a gross vehicle weight above 6,000 pounds--are different than for light trucks and vans. You want to be prepared for the potential impact on your taxes.
Streamline your expense tracking and tax prep
Make sure you accurately track and document all business expenses. Our polls found that 21 percent of small-business owners still use paper receipts to track expenses.
Think about that for a second. It's messy and inefficient, and you risk losing receipts or miscategorizing expenses.
Hiring a pro is probably the best way to ensure that you take full advantage of the new deductions and stay on the right side of the law. The U.S. tax code is confounding to even the most experienced business owners--20 percent of poll respondents told us they didn't understand all the deductions available to them. Whatever else Congress accomplished with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, they definitely didn't simplify things.
Use a mobile application or accounting software to scan and save digital copies of your receipts and categorize the expenses. Then, when tax time rolls around, you can output a well-organized report or import the data directly into your tax prep software. And if you use an outside accountant or tax preparer, they'll greatly appreciate your providing a digitized expense report instead of handing over shoeboxes full of paper receipts.