Tax Reform and its Impact on U.S. Businesses by Laurence Bernstein, CPA
Posted on April 20, 2018 by Laurence Bernstein
It can be argued that U.S. businesses and their shareholders will be the biggest winners from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). However, because the law falls short of its aim to simplify the tax code, significant advance planning under the guidance of professional advisors is recommended to help taxpayers dig through the law’s complexity and reap its potential benefits.
One of the most significant provisions of the TCJA is an immediate and permanent reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to a flat 21 percent and a complete repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax. This historically low rate takes the U.S. off its perch as the country with the highest corporate tax rate and puts it a more competitive position compared with other advanced economies around the globe.
For businesses organized as pass-through entities, which represent more than 90 percent of all U.S. businesses, the new law is far more complicated. In general, the TCJA introduces a potential 20 percent deduction on certain income that flows from S Corporations, partnerships, LLCs and sole proprietors through to their owners’ individual income tax returns. However, there are a number of limitations and exclusions to this deduction based on such factors as the new concept of qualified business income (QBI), the amount of W-2 wages a business pays and the cost of the depreciable income-producing property owned by the business. Additional limitations apply to “specified service businesses” in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial sciences, performing arts, consulting, and financial and brokerage services or any other business whose primary asset is the reputation or skill of its owner or employees. How the IRS will interpret this provision remains to be seen as of today. What is known if that, unlike the corporate tax reduction, the treatment of pass-through businesses, is scheduled to expire in 2025.
With just these provisions in mind, it makes sense for some pass-through businesses to weigh the pros and cons of restructuring as C corporations in the near future. Consideration should be given to such matters as state and local tax liabilities and deductibility, exposure to double taxation and the tax treatment of retained profits and dividends paid to owners and partners of C corporations. If business owners intend to reinvest profits in their companies, a C corporation structure may make the most sense. Alternatively, if businesses intend to pull profits out their companies to distribute them to their owners, a C corporation with double-tax treatment may be more expensive. Based on the taxpayer’s specific and unique facts and circumstances, a conversion may not be the best option for minimizing tax liabilities.
Credits and Deductions
The TCJA provides corporations with a mixed bag of both limited and enhanced credits and deductions that may require careful planning in 2018 to minimize future tax liabilities.
For example, gone are deductions for domestic production activities. In addition, businesses may no longer deduct expenses for entertainment, including costs they incur for seats or suites at entertainment venues, tickets and meals for sporting events and concerts, and dues for membership in in business, recreational and social organizations.
The costs that a taxpayer incurs when treating clients or prospective customers to a business-focused lunch or dinner remains 50 percent deductible, as long as the meal occurs outside of an entertainment facility. Similarly, a company may continue to deduct 50 percent of the reimbursement for meals they provide to traveling employees and 100 percent of costs for a holiday party or similar employee event. However, under tax reform, businesses have until Dec. 31, 2025, to deduct on an annual basis only 50 percent of the costs for meals they provide to their employees for their benefit or in an employer’s on-site cafeteria. Despite these limitations, the law does provide businesses with some enhanced benefits.
Net Operating Losses (NOLs)
Net operating losses are a prime example of the ying and yang of tax reform. While NOL carrybacks areno longer allowed beginning in 2018, unused losses that were previous limited to 20 years of carryforwards are now permitted to be carried forward indefinitely. Yet, only 80 percent of taxable income will be can be offset with an NOL carryforward. As a result, corporations will no longer be able to use NOLs to bring their tax liabilities to zero.
Limitations to Business Interest Deduction
The deduction for business interest, including interest on related-party debt, is limited for certain taxpayers under the new law to 30 percent of earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) until 2021. At that point, the limitation is set to apply to earnings before interest taxes (EBIT). Any remaining business interest expense that is not allowed as a deduction may be carried forward indefinitely and applied to future tax years. An exception to the 30 percent limitations exists for businesses whose gross receipts for the three most recent tax ears are less than $25 million, as well as for qualifying taxpayers who accrued interest in real property trades or business that elect the slower alternative depreciation system or ADS. Additional guidance on this topic is forthcoming from the IRS.
Limitations to Carried Interest
The TCJA preserves the favorable long-term capital gains treatment of gains from partnership interest held by managers and partners for a share of a business or project’s future profits. Yet, it also limits the benefit to assets held for a minimum of three years, rather than the previous holding period of one year, unless a corporation owns the partnership interest. The new longer holding period applies to capital assets. Curiously, the law does not apply the longer holding period to trade or business assets, also known as Section 1231 assets, which typically include apartments, office buildings and other depreciable property used in a trade or business and held for more than one year. We will watch for additional guidance from the IRS and on this topic.
Expanded Opportunities to Expense Business Assets
One significant bright spot in corporate tax reform deductions is available for businesses that invest in capital assets. For one, qualifying tangible property that businesses acquire and put into service after Sept. 27, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2023, may be eligible for 100 percent “bonus” depreciation in the year of purchase. The new law defines qualifying property as tangible personal property with a recovery period of 20 years or less and including for the first time used property. Prior to the TCJA, bonus depreciation was limited to 50 percent of the cost of new tangible property or non-structural improvements to the interiors of nonresidential building.
Expanded Definition and Expensing of Section 179 Property
The new law expands the definition of Section 179 qualifying improvement property and business assets to include improvements to nonresidential property, such as roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems improvements. In addition, the law increases the maximum amount a taxpayer may expense under Section 179 to $1 million per year. Previously, the Section 179 deduction was limited to $500,000, and it began to phase out at $2 million.
Changes in Accounting Methods
The TCJA qualifies a larger percentage of corporations and partnership to use the cash method of accounting when filing their tax returns, rather than the accrual method, by raising the gross receipts test from $5 million to $25 million over a three-year period. Moreover, taxpayers that meet the average gross receipts test are no longer required to account for inventory using the accrual method. Rather, taxpayers have the option to either treat inventory as non-incidental materials and supplies or rely on the same method of accounting they use for financial statement purposes.
In order for businesses to take advantage of what may be the largest corporate tax cut in history, proper and timely planning is required. The professional advisors with Berkowitz Pollack Brant work with domestic and international businesses to implement tax efficient strategies that comply with complex laws and minimize taxpayer’s liabilities.
About the Author: Laurence Bernstein, CPA, is an associate director of Tax Services with Berkowitz Pollack Brant, where he provides tax and consulting service to high-net-worth families, entrepreneurs and growth-oriented business owners. He can be reached at the CPA firm’s Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-7000 or via email at email@example.com.
Information contained in this article is subject to change based on further interpretation of the law and guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service.