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Making Sense Of The New “20% Qualified Business Income Deduction”

Regardless of how the plan may have been sold to the public, the foundation of the recently-enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the reduction in the C corporation tax rate from 35% to 21%. But Congress couldn’t do this in isolation, because such  a one-sided dramatic decrease would cause the business playing field to tilt, with sole proprietors and owners of flow-through entities losing much of their advantage over their corporate competitors. To wit, the effective combined rate on corporate owners would become 39.8% (21% + (79%*23.8%)), while the top rate on ordinary individual income — the rate applied to the income of sole proprietors and owners of flow-through entities, whether distributed or not — would become 37%. Thus, the advantage of a single level of taxation would shrink from 10% to just 2.8%.

While many politicians tend to treat S corporations and partnerships as replacement terms for “small business,” the reality is quite the opposite — many of the largest businesses in America are operated as flow-through entities. As a result, there was tremendous pressure on the tax reform process to provide a break to owners of flow-through businesses so they weren’t left out in the cold with the corporate tax cuts.

After the House and Senate initially approached the non-corporate tax break from very different angles, the final law found some common ground, resulting in the creation of Section 199A, a new provision of the Code. On its surface, Section 199A will allow owners of sole proprietorships, S corporations and partnerships — and yes, even stand-alone rental properties reported on Schedule E —  to take a deduction of 20% against their income from the business. The result of such a provision is to reduce the effective top rate on these types of business income from 40.8% under current law to 29.6% under the new law (a new 37% top rate * a 20% deduction= 29.6%).

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