With the release of the most detailed tax reform proposal, to date, last week, there is a lot of conversation and debate about what exactly these proposed changes might mean for you and your business. One thing that cannot be stressed enough at this point, however, is that these proposed tax changes are just that--proposed changes--the final bill may look very different.

While some proposals, including the proposed capping of the corporate rate at 20 percent, and changes to policies related to overseas earnings are receiving a lot of attention, small business may end up being dramatically impacted as well. 

Also important to note is that just because some, or even many, small businesses benefit from a proposed change, your business may not. 

Starting this Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee is launching a 4-day review period of the plan, which will almost certainly generate changes and tweaks. Examining this plan with a focus on small business implications, reveals several details that might fly under the radar, but could help you and your business.

Tax reform is inherently a complicated process, with a lot of compromises and tweaks along the path from proposal to final bill. Regardless of political affiliation it's important to remember that 1) these proposals are not law yet, and 2) compromises mean that no one constituency gets everything they want. 

Let's take a look at 3 of the proposed changes that might impact your business: 

1. Increased expensing of capital assets.

Opportunity: Running a business requires investment, and one of the proposed business provisions is that businesses will be able to expense 100 percent of qualified property placed into service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023. Additionally, the plan also proposed a tenfold increase of the ceilings currently in place on the Section 179 deduction, another tax code provision enabling businesses to expense capital investments.

This might sound a little dry, so putting some numbers to the conversation might help. Let's say your business invests $250,000 in qualified property (be sure to consult your CPA or tax professional on this) -- under this proposal you can fully expense this item (lowering taxable income), and be further assisted by the increase in Section 179 expense limitation to $5 million.

Challenge: This proposed expensing policy is temporary (only until 2023), and only applies for qualifying property. So, if you run a business without much in the way of large physical assets, you might not see much in the way of benefit from this proposal.

2. Less paperwork for corporate returns.

Opportunity: Depending on how you or your clients businesses are organized, and more on that below, the tax reform package proposes two items that will reduce paperwork. First, a 20% corporate rate (25% for personal service corporations) would seem to be good news for business overall. Second, and building on this simplification, the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) would be eliminated. 

Challenge: The proposed 20 percent might sound like a nice reduction, but your business may not qualify for that rate depending on how it is structured (see below), and what industry you operate within. Also, in order to qualify as a personal service corporation your business must be involved a relatively narrow range of fields, and have 95 percent of its stock owned by current employees, former employees, or the estates of these employees. 

3. Lower rates for passthrough businesses.

Opportunity: Taking a high level view of these proposed changes, the key takeaway is that some income distributions/profits (but not wages paid by the business) will be taxed at a maximum rate of 25 percent. Specifically, up to 30 percent of your total non-passive income, for example if you own the business, from business activities will be taxed at the 25 percent rate. The remaining 70 percent would still be taxed at your individual tax rate.

Challenge: This is one of the more contentious proposal in the tax reform proposal, for two reasons. First, there is ambiguity about what exactly constitutes a passthrough business. Second, the difficulty in distinguishing, especially for closely held businesses, wages paid and income distributions may make this change more of a headache than a windfall for some.

Tax reform is a complicated issue that will have an effect on every aspect of the economy for years to come, and is certain to be a lengthy process. As this proposal moves through the law making process in both the House and the Senate it will surely evolve and change over time. Keeping an eye on key provisions of this plan, and consulting with your financial expert will help you be prepared whatever the final outcome.

Published on: Nov 6, 2017
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