On December 22nd, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, finalizing a once-in-a-generation overhaul of the existing Code and leaving the once-burdensome tax law so simple, we’ll all be preparing our returns on postcards come the spring of 2019.
Simple. That’s rich. I’ll make a deal with you: how about we spend some time diving into just one aspect of the bill — the new deduction bestowed upon owners of sole proprietorships, S corporations, and partnerships — and then you decide for yourself just how simple this all will be?
For those of you who are familiar with the format of a “Tax Geek Tuesday,” you know what to expect. For those of you who are new to this space, what we do here is beat the heck out of a narrow area of the tax law. In great, painstaking, long-form level of detail. The hope, of course, is that we can accomplish what Congress can’t: making the law more manageable for those who need to apply it. Let’s get to it.
Entity Choice Under Current Law
If you want to operate a business, there are four main choices for doing so:
- C corporation
- Sole proprietorship
- S corporation partnership
Owners of a “C corporation” are subject to double taxation. When income is earned by the corporation, it is first taxed at the business level, at a top tax rate of 35% under current law. Then, when the corporation distributes the income to the shareholder, the shareholder pays tax on the dividend, at a top rate of 23.8%. Thus, from a federal tax perspective, owners of a C corporation pay a combined total rate on the income earned by the business of 50.47% (35% + (65% * 23.8%)).
Of course, you don’t have to operate as a C corporation. Instead, you can operate a business as a sole proprietorship. Or as an S corporation. Or as a partnership. And what do these three business types have in common? They all offer a single level of taxation: when income is earned at the business level, it is generally not taxed at that level; rather, the income of the business is ultimately taxed only once, at the individual level.
Authored by Tony Nitti, Withum Partner and writer for Forbes.com.