Take advantage of this year's tax changes to help your small business today

By Reed Richardson

This year, the tax code has undergone a number of changes that could offer substantial benefits come filing season next spring. But to take full advantage, savvy small business owners should start incorporating these new rules into their day-to-day business practices right now.

Section 179 Expensing: If you missed out-or couldn't afford-to make large capital investments for your business in 2008, you still have the chance to do so in 2009 while enjoying the more generous Section 179 deduction enacted last year. This deduction, which covers depreciable assets like manufacturing equipment or office computers and furniture, was raised from $122,000 to $250,000 in 2008 and will continue at the same level for 2009. Section 179 deductions are only available in the same tax year that the claimed assets were placed into service. It does not matter, however, whether they were financed in part or in total. Similarly, the Section 179 total annual threshold on all depreciable assets increased to $800,000 annually for the 2008 tax year, will also remain in effect for 2009.

Implications: For small businesses projecting a profit for 2009, Section 179 deductions can be a smart way to re-invest in their business, lessen their potential tax bill come next spring, and prevent greater erosion of asset value to inflation over a long depreciation schedule. Companies that will end up losing money in 2009 would be better off skipping the Section 179 deduction and sticking with the normal depreciation schedule, however. So, a wise strategy might involve waiting until later in the year-when a small business owner has a better sense of whether or not their company will finish 2009 in the red or the black-to purchase new production equipment or finance an expansion. Also note that a small business can wait until filing its tax return in March 2010 before declaring whether or not it will take the deduction.

Bonus First-Year Depreciation: Similar to Section 179, this deduction applies to depreciable assets. The bonus first-year deduction, raised to 50% of an asset's total cost in 2008, was continued for qualified purchases made in 2009. This tax break, much like the more generous Section 179 deduction, is intended to spur business re-investment and expansion.

Implications: When coupled with the Section 179 deduction and regular depreciation allowances, this more robust bonus first-year depreciation deduction means savvy small businesses could make some substantial investments in 2009 and still keep their tax liability relatively low. On qualified purchases of up to $250,000, a small business could choose to deduct the entire amount in 2009. And for more expensive investments, like, say, a new, $750,000 production line, which would ordinarily be depreciated over 15 years, the potential tax writeoff from combining Section 179, bonus first-year, and normal depreciation deductions could equal nearly three quarters of the total-$550,000 ($250,000-Section 179 + $250,000-Bonus 50% first-year depreciation + $50,000-Ordinary 1/15th depreciation).

Estimated Taxes: The recently passed stimulus package also has a new provision that allows small business owners (and employees) to withhold more of their individual estimated taxes this year. According to the new rule, individuals who have an adjusted gross income of under $500,000 and who draw more than half of their income from a business with an average of fewer than 500 employees can enjoy a through-year 10% cut in their estimated tax payments.

Implication: Paying just 90%-rather than the full amount-of estimated taxes during the year frees up more capital for small business owners and employees. Of course, deferring full payment of estimated taxes may mean those individuals will end up with a larger tax liability come spring 2010. But for many entrepreneurs, this change could provide much needed cash flow now, with the hope that by the time they have to file their 2009 taxes, an economic recovery will have finally begun.

Targeted Hiring Benefits: Also included in the president's February recovery package were two new work opportunity tax credits for employers. These credits, which top out at $2,400 per hired worker, are geared toward the hiring of two specific types of job candidates: "disconnected youth" (people ages 16 to 24 who haven't held a job or been attending school in the past six months) and unemployed veterans (Armed Services members, discharged or released within the past five years, who have also collected unemployment for at least one month during the past year).

Implications: For small businesses looking to perhaps add unskilled labor or first-line supervisors, these work opportunity tax credits may be a smart and financially savvy way to up your staff.

Small Business Stock Investment: Geared more toward investors than employers, the stimulus plan also relaxes tax rates on future capital gains of Section 1202 small business stock investments purchased between mid-February 2009 and Jan. 1, 2011. According to the new law, investors that purchase stock in qualified smaller companies (defined as certain C corporations with gross assets less than $50 million), and hold that stock for at least five years, can exclude up to 75% of their eventual gains from taxes. This represents a 25 percentage-point increase over the 2008 capital gains exclusion rate of 50%.

Implication: For small, incorporated businesses, this tax change could provide just enough of an incentive to lure in hesitant investors. Additionally, this new provision should be factored in when considering the best strategy to raise money-stock issue vs. equity stake-for your company in 2009.

S-Corporation Gains Taxes: Staring in 2009 and continuing through 2010, small businesses organized as S corporations will enjoy a shortened recognition period on built-in gains taxes. Normally 10 years, newly elected S corporations now will only be exposed to the top corporate tax rate on realized gains during their first seven years of existence.

Implication: For small companies currently organized as C corporations, IRS Section 1374, which originally closed a big tax loophole, has now been opened back up a bit to make re-forming as an S corporation more enticing. For small business owners looking to shed a more complicated corporate structure and convert to a more straightforward organizational and profit structure, 2009 and 2010 might offer a good opportunity to make the switch without having to pay steep financial penalties later on.

For more on the 2009 individual and business tax changes stemming from the February economic stimulus bill, try these websites: http://finance.senate.gov/press/Bpress/2009press/prb021209.pdf

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