Staying out of the “Danger Zone” for the new small business deduction

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act introduced a 20% deduction for small business owners. You can read our overview of this deduction in our last quarterly article. The gist of this new deduction is it will allow small-business owners to deduct 20% of their business income from their taxable income on their personal return. While this new deduction provides some welcome relief for small-business owners, there are restrictions on the deduction that highlight how critical proper tax planning is in 2018

If your business qualifies as a “specified service trade or business” then your deduction will start to be phased out at taxable income of $157,500 ($315,000 if married filing a joint return) and entirely eliminated at taxable income of $207,500 ($415,000 if married filing a joint return). While this means any service business owner with taxable income above $415,000 will receive no benefit from the deduction, the toll is heaviest for any business owner who lands in the middle of the phaseout range

Example: John and Mary own a small consulting business and have taxable income of $315,000. Since they are right at the lower phaseout threshold they will receive the full deduction and their taxable income will be $252,000 ($315,000 x 80%). The tax they will pay on this income is $49,059. Now if their taxable income increases by $100,000 they will be completely phased out of the deduction and their taxable income will jump from $252,000 to $415,000, increasing their tax bill to $96,629. That is $47,500 in federal taxes alone on $100,000 of income.

With what is effectively a marginal tax rate of 48%, small-business owners with taxable income between $315,000 and $415,000 are paying a higher tax rate than any other taxpayer! To avoid this heavy tax burden, proper tax planning is critical to reduce your taxable income and stay out of this “danger zone” of high taxes.

Strategies to Reduce Your Taxable Income

  1. Contribute to a retirement plan. As a small-business owner, you have several options to save for retirement while simultaneously avoiding the heavy tax burden of this phaseout range. By setting up a SEP IRA you can contribute up to $55,000 per year (subject to earned income limitations). A SEP IRA is a simple way to defer significant income for retirement and works best when you are the sole employee. If you have other employees in your business, be aware that you will need to contribute an equal percentage of wages for each eligible employee.

  2. Make the most of your medical expenses

    • Take advantage of the deduction for self-employed health insurance premiums. Unless you or your spouse are eligible to receive subsidized health insurance through your employer, you can reduce your taxable income by paying your health insurance premiums through your business.

    • Set up a Health Savings Account. If you have a High-Deductible Health Plan then you can contribute up to $6,900 per year to save for future medical costs. Your contributions will lower your taxable income in the year they are made, and as long as your distributions are for qualified medical expenses they will be tax-free.

  3. Increase your charitable donations. If you find yourself in the middle of this phaseout range after an exceptionally successful business year, then you may already be considering increased charitable donations. With the large tax burden you could be facing in this phaseout range, the tax deduction from your donations will be more valuable than ever.

These are just a few of the options available to you to lower your taxable income and avoid this danger zone of high taxes. Even if you don’t expect your income to reach the phaseout level for the new deduction, you can still realize significant tax savings by taking advantage of these strategies to lower your taxable income.

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