ARM Mid-Year Tax Planning Series (3 of 4): Maximize Your Business Deductions

Take Advantage of the Generous Section 179 Deduction and First-year Bonus Depreciation. Under the Section 179 deduction privilege, an eligible business can often claim first-year depreciation write-offs for the entire cost of new and used equipment and software additions and eligible real property costs. For tax years beginning in 2016, the maximum 179 deduction is $500,000. However, this maximum deduction is reduced to the extent you purchase more than $2.01 million of qualifying property during the tax year. Also, a much lower limit applies for amounts that can be deducted for most vehicles.

Above and beyond the Section 179 deduction, your business can also claim first-year bonus depreciation equal to 50% of the cost of eligible new (not used) equipment and software placed in service by the end of this year.

Note: You cannot claim a Section 179 write-off that would create or increase an overall tax loss from your business. This limit does not apply to first-year bonus depreciation deductions, which can create or increase a Net Operating Loss (NOL) for your business’s 2016 tax year. You can then carry back the NOL to 2014 and/or 2015 and collect a refund of taxes paid in one or both those years. Please contact us for details on the interaction between asset additions and NOLs.

Consider Selling Rather Than Trading-in Vehicles Used in Business. Although a vehicle’s value typically drops fairly rapidly, the tax rules limit the amount of annual depreciation that can be claimed on most cars and light trucks. Thus, when it’s time to replace the vehicle, it’s not unusual for its tax basis to be higher than its value. If you trade the vehicle in on a new one, the undepreciated basis of the old vehicle simply tacks onto the basis of the new one (even though this extra basis generally doesn’t generate any additional current depreciation because of the annual depreciation limits). However, if you sell the old vehicle rather than trading it in, any excess of basis over the vehicle’s value can be claimed as a deductible loss to the extent of your business use of the vehicle.

Consider Reimbursing Employees’ Out-of-pocket Business Expenses. Employees normally receive little or no tax benefit from paying business expenses because they’re deductible only to the extent they exceed (1) 2% of the employee’s adjusted gross income and, (2) when combined with the employee’s other itemized deductions, the employee’s standard deduction. Thus, for example, an employee whose compensation is $2,000 higher than it would otherwise be because he’s expected to incur about $2,000 in unreimbursed business expenses isn’t being fairly compensated for the out-of-pocket expense. After paying income and payroll taxes on the $2,000, he has less than this amount to spend on the business expenses. A better approach would be for the company to reimburse at least part of the employee’s business expenses (and renegotiate the employee’s compensation accordingly). Because properly documented expense reimbursements aren’t considered compensation, both the company and the employee save payroll taxes on this arrangement. Plus, the employee comes out better on income taxes as well.

Set up a Retirement Plan. If your business doesn’t offer a retirement plan, now might be the time to take the plunge. Current retirement plan rules allow for significant deductible contributions. Even if your business is only part-time or something you do on the side, contributing to a SEP-IRA or SIMPLE-IRA can enable you to reduce your current tax load while increasing your retirement savings. With a SEP-IRA, you generally can contribute up to 20% of your self-employment earnings, with a maximum contribution of $53,000. A SIMPLE-IRA, on the other hand, allows you to set aside up to $12,500 plus an employer match that could potentially be the same amount. In addition, if you’re age 50 or older by year-end, you can contribute an additional $3,000 to a SIMPLE-IRA.