Small Business Tax Briefs: July 2021
10 facts about the pass-through deduction for qualified business income
Are you eligible to take the deduction for qualified business income (QBI)? Here are 10 facts about this valuable tax break, referred to as the pass-through deduction, QBI deduction or Section 199A deduction.
- It’s available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships and S corporations. It may also be claimed by trusts and estates.
- The deduction is intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
- It’s taken “below the line.” That means it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income. But it’s available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.
- The deduction has two components: 20% of QBI from a domestic business operated as a sole proprietorship or through a partnership, S corporation, trust or estate; and 20% of the taxpayer’s combined qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership income.
- QBI is the net amount of a taxpayer’s qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss relating to any qualified trade or business. Items of income, gain, deduction and loss are qualified to the extent they’re effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business in the U.S. and included in computing taxable income.
- QBI doesn’t necessarily equal the net profit or loss from a business, even if it’s a qualified trade or business. In addition to the profit or loss from Schedule C, QBI must be adjusted by certain other gain or deduction items related to the business.
- A qualified trade or business is any trade or business other than a specified service trade or business (SSTB). But an SSTB is treated as a qualified trade or business for taxpayers whose taxable income is under a threshold amount.
- SSTBs include health, law, accounting, actuarial science, certain performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, investment, trading, dealing securities and any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of its employees or owners.
- There are limits based on W-2 wages. Inflation-adjusted threshold amounts also apply for purposes of applying the SSTB rules. For tax years beginning in 2021, the threshold amounts are $164,900 for singles and heads of household; $164,925 for married filing separately; and $329,800 for married filing jointly. The limits phase in over a $50,000 range ($100,000 for a joint return). This means that the deduction reduces ratably, so that by the time you reach the top of the range ($214,900 for singles and heads of household; $214,925 for married filing separately; and $429,800 for married filing jointly) the deduction is zero for income from an SSTB.
- For businesses conducted as a partnership or S corporation, the pass-through deduction is calculated at the partner or shareholder level.
As you can see, this substantial deduction is complex, especially if your taxable income exceeds the thresholds discussed above. Other rules apply. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
Who in a small business can be hit with the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty?”
There’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be at risk for paying personally if you own or manage a business with employees. It’s called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty” and it applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.
Because taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes will be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.
The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.
Here are some answers to questions about the penalty so you can safely avoid it.
What actions are penalized? The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.
Who is at risk? The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax as well as a partnership’s partners, or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under some circumstances. In some cases, responsibility has even been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.
According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and have the power to pay them but instead make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.
Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken entirely on his or her own after the penalty is paid. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.
What’s considered “willful?” For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due the government is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to take care of the job yourself can be treated as the willful element.
Never borrow from taxes
Under no circumstances should you fail to withhold taxes or “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds withheld should be paid over to the government on time. Contact us with any questions about making tax payments.
Getting a new business off the ground: How start-up expenses are handled on your tax return
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials are seeing a large increase in the number of new businesses being launched. From June 2020 through June 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that business applications are up 18.6%. The Bureau measures this by the number of businesses applying for an Employer Identification Number.
Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many of the expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your federal tax bill.
How to treat expenses for tax purposes
If you’re starting or planning to launch a new business, keep these three rules in mind:
- Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one.
- Under the tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. As you know, $5,000 doesn’t go very far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
- No deductions or amortization deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to start earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?
In general, start-up expenses are those you make to:
- Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
- Create a business, or
- Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.
To qualify for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To be eligible as an “organization expense,” an expense must be related to establishing a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.
The deductibility of corporate expenses covered by officers or shareholders
Do you play a major role in a closely held corporation and sometimes spend money on corporate expenses personally? These costs may wind up being nondeductible both by an officer and the corporation unless proper steps are taken. This issue is more likely to arise in connection with a financially troubled corporation.
Deductible vs. nondeductible expenses
In general, you can’t deduct an expense you incur on behalf of your corporation, even if it’s a legitimate “trade or business” expense and even if the corporation is financially troubled. This is because a taxpayer can only deduct expenses that are his own. And since your corporation’s legal existence as a separate entity must be respected, the corporation’s costs aren’t yours and thus can’t be deducted even if you pay them.
What’s more, the corporation won’t generally be able to deduct them either because it didn’t pay them itself. Accordingly, be advised that it shouldn’t be a practice of your corporation’s officers or major shareholders to cover corporate costs.
When expenses may be deductible
On the other hand, if a corporate executive incurs costs that relate to an essential part of his or her duties as an executive, they may be deductible as ordinary and necessary expenses related to his or her “trade or business” of being an executive. If you wish to set up an arrangement providing for payments to you and safeguarding their deductibility, a provision should be included in your employment contract with the corporation stating the types of expenses which are part of your duties and authorizing you to incur them. For example, you may be authorized to attend out-of-town business conferences on the corporation’s behalf at your personal expense.
Alternatively, to avoid the complete loss of any deductions by both yourself and the corporation, an arrangement should be in place under which the corporation reimburses you for the expenses you incur. Turn the receipts over to the corporation and use an expense reimbursement claim form or system. This will at least allow the corporation to deduct the amount of the reimbursement.
Contact us if you’d like assistance or would like to discuss these issues further.
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