Once we have the new tax laws in place, the IRS would need time to develop the official tax forms, create instructions and worksheets, distribute that information to the tax software providers and update their computer systems.
This happened once before, when tax season was delayed in 2010. We were not able to file most tax returns that year until mid-February because the IRS needed time to implement the changes that Congress waited to make in mid-December of the prior year, when they passed tax extender legislation. If, this time, the final tax provisions are not decided until late January, it could be mid-March before we’re able to file our tax returns.
What You Can Do In 2012
The following is based on what we know for sure, which isn’t much. I cannot address any tax changes made after the writing of this article (early November), in the final six weeks of the year, if Congress indeed decides to act. Here’s what you can do based on what we know at this point in time:
- Do not defer income until next year — taxes are going up. This is the opposite of what we usually preach, but this year is unprecedented.
- Accelerate payment of deductible expenses. Purchase any equipment or supplies in December you were planning to buy early next year, even if you have to charge it on your credit card. Even though you may save a little by taking the deduction next year when taxes are higher, by doing this before the end of the year, you are able to accelerate your tax deduction a year early. Expenses paid on credit before the end of the year are deductible for the current year even though the bill is to be paid next year.
- Consider incorporating if you are a sole proprietor or partnership. By doing so, you may be able to save a substantial amount in self-employment taxes, if your corporation is set up properly. You will need to run the numbers with your tax consultant (or contact us) to see if this strategy works for you. Also, consider the fact that sole proprietorships are audited by the IRS at a rate of about 30:1, more often than the rate for corporations.
- Fund your IRAs or set up a self-employed retirement plan. This may save you a few dollars now with the tax deduction, but if taxes are high when you take distributions in the future, your tax savings could be minimal — but, at least, you will have the funds for your retirement years. Roth IRA contributions are not deductible, but your money will compound tax-free.
- Consider setting up a Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan (MERP). Many small business owners already deduct their health insurance premiums as a self-employed health insurance deduction, but a MERP can allow you to convert your medical expenses into pre-tax benefits as well, if you qualify. It is pre-tax for both income tax and self-employment tax purposes. (This is not the best plan for S-corporation owners).
- A Health Savings Account (HSA) can be a great plan for those who are not eligible for the MERP, such as the S-corporation owner. HSAs can reduce income taxes, but there’s no self-employment tax advantage, like there is with the MERP.
- Sell appreciated assets. Because capital gains rates are scheduled to increase, you may save some money by selling appreciated assets now to lock in the gains at the lower rate. Consider holding onto some of your loser investments for a couple of months to sell early next year, thereby offsetting the higher capital gains amount.
Well, I hope the best for all of us who are small business owners as our politicians wrestle with the deficit. A little fiscal responsibility on their part would be nice. Hopefully when they are through tinkering with the tax laws, we will be left with enough money to run our businesses and provide for our households.
EDITOR’s NOTE: The preceding is intended to provide general information, not specific tax or legal advice. For specific advice you should contact your tax adviser.
Randy Roth is a tax, estate and business consultant with Incompass Tax, Estate & Business Solutions. His practice concentrates in the areas of tax preparation and planning for individuals, businesses, estates, trusts and nonprofit organizations. He is knowledgeable in the issues affecting contractors and compliance requirements for the trades businesses, as well as real estate matters.