Increased Tax Bills Hitting Private Companies Big and Small
Private companies, both large and small, are feeling the tax pinch due to changes in the law. With rampant inflation, labor shortages, lingering supply chain issues, and increased borrowing costs due to rising interest rates, tax problems are the last thing struggling companies need to face.
While tax rates themselves remain largely unchanged, business taxable income is increasing due to changes in three main deduction areas: research and experimental (R&E) capitalization; interest expense deduction calculations; and a reduction in bonus depreciation. All of these provisions were made more liberal in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2018 but with a wind-down over a 10-year period.
Part of the problem is that these tax law changes can increase a business’s overall tax burden even though there have been no operational changes to the business, leaving less profits than prior years, with all other factors being equal. Below, we look at each of the three tax provisions, the changes coming, and the impact on businesses.
Stricter Interest Expense Limitations
Tax code section 163(j) limits the amount of business interest expense to 30 percent of adjusted taxable income. The 30 percent limit remains unchanged, but the basis of what constitutes “taxable income” as part of the calculation is becoming tighter.
From 2018 through 2021 year-end, businesses were allowed to add back depreciation, amortization, and depletion in coming up with their adjusted taxable income that underlies the calculation. As a result, for 2022 and onward, without these add-backs, the taxable income on which the 30 percent limit is applied will be lower, resulting in smaller interest deductions.
Given that borrowing rates have gone up substantially with increases by the Federal Reserve over recent years, businesses are now hit from two sides at once. They are likely to have higher interest costs but can take less as a deduction.
Research and Experimental Capitalization
At one point, business investments in research and experimentation under the TCJA were 100 percent deductible. Starting with 2022 and after, they need to be capitalized over a five-year period (15 years for foreign R&E).
Bonus Depreciation Decreases
Under the TCJA, bonus depreciation allowed immediate expensing and deduction of qualified investments in property and equipment up through the taxable year-end of 2022. Starting with property and equipment investments placed in service in 2023, however, bonus depreciation is reduced from 100 percent down to 80 percent and decreases by an additional 20 percent each year until the taxable year 2027. From 2027 onward, there will be zero bonus depreciations available. This will not only increase taxes, but it will also put a hamper on capital investments, rippling through the economy.
There is already chatter about extending some of these provisions, especially regarding bonus depreciation. Optimism on changes or extensions of these tax provisions should be taken cautiously, however. Many predicted that tax bill extenders would be in place before the end of 2022, but that never came to fruition. Right now, businesses are in a wait-and-see situation, with the threat of materially higher tax bills unless Congress does something.