While nearly two-thirds of the newly-adopted $787 billion economic stimulus package represents spending programs, the other third (about $288 billion) offers tax breaks for individuals and businesses. According to CBIZ, a major accounting firm and business services provider, small biz bagged some of the biggest benefits under the new law.
Some tax goodies extend popular incentives that recently expired. Others expand tax write-offs for losses - which will generate quick cash for many business owners. Here's a rundown of key business tax benefits included in the stimulus bill:
1) Longer operating loss carry-backs: If your small business had a "net operating loss" (NOL) in 2008, this provision could be a terrific way to generate cash by claiming refunds now of taxes paid in previous years when profits were flowing. Instead of the current two-year carry-back period, eligible businesses (those averaging less than $15 million in gross receipts) can now carry back 2008 losses to 2003, 2004 or 2005. And you don't have to be a corporation or LLC. Even sole proprietors can qualify. If your business had a loss last year, CBIZ suggests filing your 2008 return early so you can then file amended returns for prior years and reclaim your cash.
2) Bonus depreciation extended: In a bid to boost new equipment purchases (computers, machinery, vehicles) "Bonus Depreciation" - a juicy tax tidbit that expired in 2008 - has been extended through 2009 for most property, and 2010 for longer-lived assets. Basically, this is a 50 percent "bonus" write-off for the cost of new equipment a business buys and starts using this year.
Say you spend $100,000 on new computers, software and other IT equipment. Under prior rules, your first year depreciation write-off would be 14 percent ($14,000). But now you can get a 50 percent "bonus depreciation" ($50,000), plus 14 percent of the remaining amount (another $7,000). Thus, you'd net a total first-year deduction of $57,000 on the $100,000 purchase. This applies to businesses of all sizes that invest in tangible property or computer software, as well as improvements to leased property.
3) Bigger expensing write-offs for depreciable property: Higher expensing limits for depreciable property that expired in '08 have also been extended through '09. This lets your business immediately write off up to $250,000 of tangible personal property placed in service this year.
"The tax benefits of leveraging these two provisions can be tremendous" say CBIZ experts. You can quickly recover the cost of major asset purchases. But the provisions might not be around for long, so moving up equipment purchases to get the tax benefits now might make sense. Be sure to check with your tax advisor about state tax provisions since not all states conform to the federal bonus deprecation provisions.
4) Estimated tax relief: If you report income from a small business on your personal tax return, you'll get a small break on the amount of estimated taxes required to avoid underpayment penalties. If at least 50 percent of your adjusted gross income is from the business, you'll only need to cover 90 percent of your prior year's taxes to avoid penalty, beginning with the 2009 tax year. Previously this was 100 percent to 110 percent, depending on your income.
5) Small biz stock gains: Anyone who buys stock in a small business between the enactment date of the stimulus bill and 2011 gets a bulked-up break on capital gains taxes later on. If the stock is held at least five years, 75 percent of any gain can be excluded - up from the current 50 percent. According to CBIZ, the stock must be original issue stock held by a non-corporate investor in a C corporation with gross assets under $50 million. The company must also be actively engaged in a trade or business.
6) Tax breaks for hiring: The new law expands the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program to include two new targeted groups - unemployed vets and young people between 16 and 25 who haven't been employed or attended school in the past six months. Businesses hiring such individuals can qualify for a $2,400 tax credit per worker.