Beware of the New Cap on Business Losses
Making money in the business world is not easy. Not many business owners would contest that statement. In spite of the best-laid plans and intentions, business losses can and do occur. I suspicion the IRS and/or Congress became concerned that someone might “create” a business loss only for tax saving purposes using some of the newly enacted faster write-offs for certain fixed assets. For that reason, I believe the IRS and/or Congress developed some of their own self-serving parameters to limit what they deemed as potential abuse. Thusly, the cap on “excess” business losses was apparently born.
This new tax law provision seems to have flown in under the radar. For the most part the press has chosen to write about other more popular topics. This limitation on “excess” business losses applies to individuals. However, remember that the income taxes on profits for many “flow-through” businesses are paid by the individuals on their own individual income tax returns. This new loss provision has been nicknamed the “anti-tax-shelter” measure. In certain instances, it treats taxpayers as though their business losses were from a tax shelter. This loss limitation was created to limit the ability of taxpayers (other than C Corporations) to use business losses to offset other sources of income, such as investment income. Limitations on business losses are not new. The ones already in place include passive activity loss limitations (PAL) and the at-risk basis limitations. Both of these are complicated and may have far-reaching consequences. The new loss limitation adds yet another hurdle to a loss deduction in addition to the ones already in place.
“Excess business loss” is essentially defined as the excess of aggregate business deductions over the taxpayer’s aggregate business income as defined in Internal Revenue Code Section 461(l), plus a floor amount. For 2018, the floor is $500,000 for married filing jointly taxpayers and $250,000 for all other taxpayers. The “excess business loss” that exists for the tax year is disallowed and becomes a net operating loss that will be carried forward for possible use in the future.
Thusly, the new law limits a taxpayer’s net business loss deduction to the threshold amount in the tax year incurred. The limitation also forces taxpayers to wait at least one year before these losses may be used. (Ouch!) In some instances one could draw some parallels between this business loss limitation and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) – both are sneaky behind the curtain calculations that may result in an unpleasant tax surprise.
For illustration purposes:
A married taxpayer filing jointly has investment income from various sources of $875,000. She also has aggregate business losses of $1.2 million. The taxpayer’s excess business loss is $700,000 ($1.2 million aggregate loss - $500,000 threshold). This excess business loss may not be deducted in the year created. It will instead be treated as part of a net operating loss carryforward to later years. As a result, the taxpayer’s gross income for 2018 is $375,000 ($875,000 investment income - $500,000 limited business loss.)
This illustration demonstrates how the new law could limit a taxpayer’s ability to offset his other income with his business losses and result in a tax liability. Under prior law, the taxpayer’s business losses would have been deducted in full. For taxpayers that anticipate aggregate business losses above the threshold amount, they may need to engage in further tax planning.
As with other aspects of the new tax law, we await further IRS guidance and explanations about some of the technical aspects of this provision. We also are aware that further guidance may never be received.
Credit given for some ideas, concepts and excerpts from Tax Reform – The New Overall Loss Limitation February 20, 2018 – Aimee Reaving
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