Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Key provisions affecting businesses (from Thomson Reuters Tax and Accounting News)

On December 22, President Trump signed into law H.R. 1, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” a sweeping tax reform law that promises to entirely change the tax landscape.  While the final version of the legislation carries the title “An Act to provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018,” this article refers to the Act by its former and commonly used name: The “Tax Cuts and Job Act.” This article describes key business tax changes that are made under the Act, including a reduction in the corporate tax rate to a flat 21% rate; an increase in expensing to $1 million; a temporary 100% first year qualifying business asset deduction; a 5-year write-off period for R&D expenses; a limitation on the deduction for business interest, and elimination of the domestic production activities deduction.  We have explained some of the key provisions below:

Corporate Tax Rates Reduced

Under pre-Act law, corporations are subject to graduated tax rates of 15% (for taxable income of $0-$50,000), 25% (for taxable income of $50,001-$75,000), 34% (for taxable income of $75,001-$10,000,000), and 35% (for taxable income over $10,000,000). Personal service corporations pay tax on their entire taxable income at the rate of 35%.

New law. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the corporate tax rate is a flat 21% rate.

Increased Code 179 Expensing

A taxpayer may, subject to limitations, elect under Code Sec. 179 to deduct (or “expense”) the cost of qualifying property, rather than to recover such costs through depreciation deductions. Under pre-Act law, the maximum amount a taxpayer could expense was $500,000 of the cost of qualifying property placed in service for the tax year. The $500,000 amount was reduced (but not below zero) by the amount by which the cost of qualifying property placed in service during the tax year exceeds $2 million. These amounts were indexed for inflation.

In general, qualifying property is defined as depreciable tangible personal property that is purchased for use in the active conduct of a trade or business, and includes off-the-shelf computer software and qualified real property (i.e., qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property). There are additional specific requirements on passenger automobiles not listed here.

New law. For property placed in service in tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the maximum amount a taxpayer may expense under Code Sec. 179 is increased to $1 million, and the phase-out threshold amount is increased to $2.5 million. For tax years beginning after 2018, these amounts (as well as the $25,000 sport utility vehicle limitation) are indexed for inflation. Property is not treated as acquired after the date on which a written binding contract is entered into for such acquisition.

“Qualified real property.” The definition of Code Sec. 179 property is expanded to include certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging or in connection with furnishing lodging. The definition of qualified real property eligible for Code Sec. 179 expensing is also expanded to include the following improvements to nonresidential real property after the date such property was first placed in service: roofs; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems

Temporary 100% Cost Recovery of Qualifying Business Assets

Under pre-Act law, an additional first-year bonus depreciation deduction was allowed equal to 50% of the adjusted basis of qualified property, the original use of which began with the taxpayer, placed in service before Jan. 1, 2020 (Jan. 1, 2021, for certain property with a longer production period). The 50% allowance was phased down for property placed in service after Dec. 31, 2017 (after Dec. 31, 2018 for certain property with a longer production period). A first-year depreciation deduction is also electively available for certain plants bearing fruit or nuts planted or grafted after 2015 and before 2020. Film productions aren’t eligible for bonus depreciation.

New law. A 100% first-year deduction for the adjusted basis is allowed for qualified property acquired and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2023 (after Sept. 27, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2024, for certain property with longer production periods). Thus, the phase-down of the 50% allowance for property placed in service after Dec. 31, 2017, and for specified plants planted or grafted after that date, is repealed. The additional first-year depreciation deduction is allowed for new and used property. (The pre-Act law phase-down of bonus depreciation applies to property acquired before Sept. 28, 2017, and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017.) The first-year bonus depreciation deduction phases down in years following 2022.

Domestic Production Activities Deduction Repealed

Under pre-Act law, taxpayers could claim a domestic production activities deduction (DPAD) under Code Sec. 199 equal to 9% (6% in the case of certain oil and gas activities) of the lesser of the taxpayer’s qualified production activities income or the taxpayer’s taxable income for the tax year. The deduction was limited to 50% of the W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer during the calendar year. Qualified production activities income was equal to domestic production gross receipts less the cost of goods sold and expenses properly allocable to such receipts. Qualifying receipts were derived from property that was manufactured, produced, grown, or extracted within the U.S.; qualified film productions; production of electricity, natural gas, or potable water; construction activities performed in the U.S.; and certain engineering or architectural services.

New law. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the DPAD is repealed.

Employer’s Deduction for Fringe Benefit Expenses Limited

Under current law, a taxpayer may deduct up to 50% of expenses relating to meals and entertainment. Housing and meals provided for the convenience of the employer on the business premises of the employer are excluded from the employee’s gross income. Various other fringe benefits provided by employers are not included in an employee’s gross income, such as qualified transportation fringe benefits

New law. For amounts incurred or paid after Dec. 31, 2017, deductions for entertainment expenses are disallowed, eliminating the subjective determination of whether such expenses are sufficiently business related; the current 50% limit on the deductibility of business meals is expanded to meals provided through an in-house cafeteria or otherwise on the premises of the employer; and deductions for employee transportation fringe benefits (e.g., parking and mass transit) are denied, but the exclusion from income for such benefits received by an employee is retained. In addition, no deduction is allowed for transportation expenses that are the equivalent of commuting for employees (e.g., between the employee’s home and the workplace), except as provided for the safety of the employee.

For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2025, the Act will disallow an employer’s deduction for expenses associated with meals provided for the convenience of the employer on the employer’s business premises, or provided on or near the employer’s business premises through an employer-operated facility that meets certain requirements.

New Credit for Employer-Paid Family and Medical Leave

Under pre-Act law, no credit is provided to employers for compensation paid to employees while on leave.

New law. For wages paid in tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, but not beginning after Dec. 31, 2019, the Act allows businesses to claim a general business credit equal to 12.5% of the amount of wages paid to qualifying employees during any period in which such employees are on family and medical leave (FMLA) if the rate of payment is 50% of the wages normally paid to an employee. The credit is increased by 0.25 percentage points (but not above 25%) for each percentage point by which the rate of payment exceeds 50%. All qualifying full-time employees have to be given at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave (all less-than-full-time qualifying employees have to be given a commensurate amount of leave on a pro rata basis).

Although the following is provision is handled at the individual income tax level, the deduction is derived from business entities:

New Deduction for Pass-Through Income

Under pre-Act law, the net income of these pass-through businesses— sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and S corporations—was not subject to an entity-level tax and was instead reported by the owners or shareholders on their individual income tax returns. Thus, the income was effectively subject to individual income tax rates.

New law. Generally for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2026, the Act adds a new section, Code Sec. 199A, “Qualified Business Income,” under which a non-corporate taxpayer, including a trust or estate, who has qualified business income (QBI) from a partnership, S corporation, or sole proprietorship is allowed to deduct:

(1)  the lesser of: (a) the “combined qualified business income amount” of the taxpayer, or (b) 20% of the excess, if any, of the taxable income of the taxpayer for the tax year over the sum of net capital gain and the aggregate amount of the qualified cooperative dividends of the taxpayer for the tax year; plus
(2)  the lesser of: (i) 20% of the aggregate amount of the qualified cooperative dividends of the taxpayer for the tax year, or (ii) taxable income (reduced by the net capital gain) of the taxpayer for the tax year.
The “combined qualified business income amount” means, for any tax year, an amount equal to: (i) the deductible amount for each qualified trade or business of the taxpayer (defined as 20% of the taxpayer’s QBI subject to the W-2 wage limitation; see below); plus (ii) 20% of the aggregate amount of qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership income of the taxpayer for the tax year.

QBI is generally defined as the net amount of “qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss” relating to any qualified trade or business of the taxpayer. For this purpose, qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss are items of income, gain, deduction, and loss to the extent these items are effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the U.S. under Code Sec. 864(c) and included or allowed in determining taxable income for the year. If the net amount of qualified income, gain, deduction, and loss relating to qualified trade or businesses of the taxpayer for any tax year is less than zero, the amount is treated as a loss from a qualified trade or business in the succeeding tax year. QBI does not include: certain investment items; reasonable compensation paid to the taxpayer by any qualified trade or business for services rendered with respect to the trade or business; any guaranteed payment to a partner for services to the business under Code Sec. 707(c); or a payment under Code Sec. 707(a) to a partner for services rendered with respect to the trade or business.

The 20% deduction is not allowed in computing adjusted gross income (AGI), but rather is allowed as a deduction reducing taxable income.

Limitations. For pass-through entities, other than sole proprietorships, the deduction cannot exceed the greater of:

(1)  50% of the W-2 wages with respect to the qualified trade or business (“W-2 wage limit”), or
(2)  the sum of 25% of the W-2 wages paid with respect to the qualified trade or business plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis, immediately after acquisition, of all “qualified property.” Qualified property is defined in Code Sec. 199A(b)(6) as meaning tangible, depreciable property which is held by and available for use in the qualified trade or business at the close of the tax year, which is used at any point during the tax year in the production of qualified business income, and the depreciable period for which has not ended before the close of the tax year.

For a partnership or S corporation, each partner or shareholder is treated as having W-2 wages for the tax year in an amount equal to his or her allocable share of the W-2 wages of the entity for the tax year. A partner’s or shareholder’s allocable share of W-2 wages is determined in the same way as the partner’s or shareholder’s allocable share of wage expenses. For an S corporation, an allocable share is the shareholder’s pro rata share of an item. However, the W-2 wage limit begins phasing out in the case of a taxpayer with taxable income exceeding $315,000 for married individuals filing jointly ($157,500 for other individuals), both indexed for inflation after 2018. The application of the W-2 wage limit is phased in for individuals with taxable income exceeding these thresholds, over the next $100,000 of taxable income for married individuals filing jointly ($50,000 for other individuals).

Thresholds and exclusions. The deduction does not apply to specified service businesses (i.e., trades or businesses described in Code Sec. 1202(e)(3)(A), but excluding engineering and architecture; and trades or businesses that involve the performance of services that consist of investment-type activities). However the service business limitation begins phasing out in the case of a taxpayer whose taxable income exceeds $315,000 for married individuals filing jointly ($157,500 for other individuals), both indexed for inflation after 2018.  The benefit of the deduction for service businesses is phased out over the next $100,000 of taxable income for joint filers ($50,000 for other individuals). (Code Sec. 199A(d)) The deduction also does not apply to the trade or business of being an employee.

The new deduction for pass-through income is also available to specified agricultural or horticultural cooperatives, in an amount equal to the lesser of (i) 20% of the co-op’s taxable income for the tax year, or (ii) the greater of (a) 50% of the W-2 wages of the co-op with respect to its trade or business, or (b) or the sum of 25% of the W-2 wages of the cooperative with respect to its trade or business plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition of qualified property of the cooperative.

As we mentioned, there are several other provisions of the new law that affect businesses directly and the terminology can be quite daunting…even though this was originally to be a “tax simplification” bill.  Please give us a call if you have any questions on how these provisions might affect you specifically.

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