Taxpayers Receive Guidance on Deductions for Pass-Through Businesses

Posted on September 24, 2018

The IRS recently issued its first round of proposed guidance concerning the pass-through deduction that tax reform introduced to qualifying business owners and to beneficiaries of trusts and estates beginning in the 2018 tax year. Taxpayers who own interests in pass-through businesses structured as LLCs, partnerships, S Corporations, or sole proprietorships now have guidance from the IRS on how they may qualify for and calculate a tax deduction of up to 20 percent of their U.S.-source qualified business income (QBI) that passes from each of their qualifying businesses through to their personal income tax returns. Taxpayers can use the proposed guidance for tax planning in 2018 and future years until the IRS issues final regulations, which are not expected until October 2018 at the earliest.

What is QBI?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) introduced the concept of QBI and defined it as the net amount of income, gains, deductions, and losses effectively connected with a taxpayer’s qualified U.S.-source trade or business, including LLCs, partnerships, S Corporations, sole proprietorships, and trusts and estates. QBI also includes qualified dividends taxpayers receive from real estate investment trusts (REITs), qualified cooperative dividends, qualified income from publicly traded partnerships (PTPs), and income generated from rental property or from trusts and estates with interests in qualifying entities. Under this definition, the QBI deduction may apply to U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and nonresident aliens (or foreign taxpayers) who receive qualified U.S.-source income from a trade or business, business trust, or estates of decedents.

QBI excludes income not effectively connected with a U.S.-source trade or business, investment income, interest income, and capital gains and losses.

How is the QBI Deduction Calculated?

For tax years 2018 through 2025, the maximum amount that a qualifying business owner, trust or estate may deduct from its QBI is the lesser of:

Taxpayers must calculate the QBI deduction separately for each of their trades or businesses. Qualified taxpayers will then report their QBI, net of the QBI deduction, on their individual income tax returns. Taxpayers eligible for the full 20 percent QBI deduction are subject to a top effective tax rate of 29.6 percent on their QBI.

 Are there QBI Deduction Limitations?

Yes. Once annual taxable income (before the QBI deduction) exceeds $157,500 for individuals, or $315,000 for married couples filing jointly, the QBI deduction is subject to restrictions based upon the amount of wages paid to W-2 employees and the unadjusted tax basis of qualified property immediately after acquisition (UBIA). Note that the QBI deduction calculated from qualified REIT dividends and PTP income is not subject to these limitations.

When taxable income exceeds the annual threshold of $157,500 for individuals or $315,000 for married couples filing jointly, the QBI deduction is limited to the lesser of (1) or (2):

  1. 20 percent of QBI, or
  2. the greater of:

W-2 wages are limited to the compensation amount the trade or business pays and reports to its common law employees on Form W-2. For this purpose, the proposed regulations clarify that payments made by Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) and similar entities on behalf of trades or businesses can qualify as W-2 wages, provided that the PEOs issue the W-2’s to persons considered common law employees by the trades or businesses.

Under these limitations, pass-through businesses that pay large sums of W-2 wages may be able to take a larger QBI deduction than businesses that pay less W-2 wages or have fewer W‑2 employees. Similarly, capital-intensive businesses may be in a better position to maximize their QBI deductions than entities without a significant amount of tangible assets.

Are there Additional Limitations?

Yes. The TCJA introduced a new concept of specified service trades or businesses (SSTBs), which are subject to additional QBI deduction limitations. SSTBs are entities that involve the delivery of services in any of the following fields:

Once a taxpayer has taxable income (before the QBI deduction) in excess of $207,500 ($415,000 for jointly filing taxpayers), the QBI deduction attributable to an SSTB is completely phased out. However, the new law does provide an exception for a trade or business with SSTB receipts to qualify for the QBI deduction when it meets either of the following tests:

 How Can I Maximize Tax Savings from the QBI Deduction?

 The rules for qualifying and calculating the new QBI deduction are complex and should not be addressed without guidance from experienced tax professionals. This is especially true when considering that the law and proposed guidance provide taxpayers with opportunities to improve their tax savings while maintaining compliance with the regulations.

For example, taxpayers may reduce their exposure to QBI deduction limitations when they increase the number of their W-2 employees or purchase equipment they currently lease. In addition, high-income taxpayers may be able to receive a larger QBI deduction when they aggregate their ownership interests in multiple qualifying businesses and treat them as a single business for calculating QBI, W-2 wages, and UBIA of property. Outside of QBI, some taxpayers may benefit by changing their entity to a C Corporation, which is subject to a flat 21 percent tax rate beginning in 2018. These decisions are neither easy, nor should they be made without weighing other key factors beyond the tax implications.

Taxpayers should meet with experienced tax advisors who not only understand the nuances of the law but who also can apply and substantiate claims of tax benefits based on the language of the guidance while adhering to the law’s anti-abuse provisions.


Information contained in this article is subject to change based on further interpretation of tax laws and subsequent guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service.