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There is a significant new tax deduction that provides a substantial tax benefit to individuals with “qualified business income” from a partnership, S corporation, LLC, or sole proprietorship (i.e., “pass-through” income). 

The deduction is equal to 20% of the pass-through entity “qualified business income (QBI).” This is defined as the net amount of items of income, gain, deduction, and loss with respect to your domestic trade or business. 

The deduction is taken “below the line,” i.e., it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income. However, it is available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction. In general, the deduction cannot exceed 20% of the excess of your taxable income over net capital gain. If QBI is less than zero it is treated as a loss from a qualified business in the following year.

Rules are in place (discussed below) to deter high-income taxpayers from converting wages for personal services into income eligible for the deduction. Specifically, for taxpayers with taxable income above $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), an exclusion from QBI of income from “specified service” trades or businesses is phased in. These are trades or businesses involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, consulting, athletics, financial or brokerage services, or where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more employees or owners.

Here’s how the phase-in works: If your taxable income is at least $50,000 above the threshold, i.e., $207,500 ($157,500 + $50,000), all of the net income from the specified service trade or business is excluded from QBI. (Joint filers would use an amount $100,000 above the $315,000 threshold, viz., $415,000.) If your taxable income is between $157,500 and $207,500, you would exclude only that percentage of income derived from a fraction the numerator of which is the excess of taxable income over $157,500 and the denominator of which is $50,000. So, e.g., if taxable income is $167,500 ($10,000 above $157,500), only 20% of the specified service income would be excluded from QBI ($10,000/$50,000). (For joint filers, the same operation would apply using the $315,000 threshold, and a $100,000 phase-out range.)

Additionally, for taxpayers with taxable income in excess of the aforementioned thresholds, a limitation on the amount of the deduction is phased in based either on wages paid or wages paid plus a capital element. Here’s how it works: If your taxable income is at least $50,000 above the threshold, i.e., $207,500 ($157,500 + $50,000), your deduction for QBI cannot exceed the greater of (1) 50% of taxpayer’s allocable share of the W-2 wages paid with respect to the qualified trade or business, or (2) the sum of 25% of such wages plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition of tangible depreciable property used in the business (including real estate). So, if your QBI were $100,000, leading to a deduction of $20,000 (20% of $100,000), but the greater of (1) or (2) above were only $16,000, your deduction would be limited to $16,000, i.e., it would be reduced by $4,000. And if your taxable income were between $157,500 and $207,500, you would only incur a percentage of the $4,000 reduction, with the percentage worked out via the fraction discussed in the preceding paragraph. (For joint filers, the same operations would apply using the $315,000 threshold, and a $100,000 phase-out range.)

Other limitations may apply in certain circumstances, e.g., for taxpayers with qualified cooperative dividends, qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends, or income from publicly traded partnerships.

Will your business operation create the 20% tax deduction for you?

If not, and if that is due to too much income and a lack of (a) wages and/or (b) depreciable property, a switch to the S corporation as your choice of business entity may produce added tax savings.

As aforementioned, to qualify for the full 20% deduction on your qualified business income under new tax code Section 199A, you need defined taxable income of less than $157,500 (single) or $315,000 (married). If your taxable income is greater than $207,500 (single) or $415,000 (married), you don’t qualify for the Section 199A deduction unless you pay W-2 wages or have property.

Example. Sam is single, not in the out-of-favor specified service trade or business group (doctors, lawyers, consultants, etc.), operates a sole proprietorship that generates $400,000 of proprietorship net income, and has taxable income of $370,000. In this condition, Sam’s 20% Section 199A tax deduction is zero.

Here’s how the S corporation helps Sam. The S corporation pays Sam a reasonable salary, let’s say that’s $100,000. With this salary, Sam pockets

  1. $10,871 on his self-employment taxes, and
  2. $17,500 on his newfound 20% deduction under new tax code Section 199A.

Obviously, the complexities surrounding this substantial new deduction can be formidable, especially if your taxable income exceeds the threshold discussed above. If you wish to work through the mechanics of the deduction with particular attention to the impact it can have on your specific situation, please feel free to contact us for a consultation.