|Business Management Daily|
The deduction is essentially limited to small and midsize companies. It begins phasing out when a company spends more than $2 million a year on qualifying purchases, and is eliminated entirely for those that spend more than $2.5 million.
The deduction works like this: If a company has a $90,000 profit and decides to spend $50,000 of it on new computers, the company would normally write off the cost of the equipment gradually, deducting a portion of it each year over the span of the computers’ useful life. But Section 179 allows the business to deduct the entire $50,000 cost at once in the year the equipment is purchased, reducing the company’s taxable profit to $40,000. (The deduction cannot exceed a business’s total net income.)
Section 179 was once a fairly limited tax break, with an annual cap of $25,000 or less. But in 2003, Congress temporarily raised the limit to $100,000, and in 2008, as the recession set in, it raised the cap again to $250,000. In 2010, hoping to stimulate more spending, Congress increased the limit to $500,000, allowing businesses to use the deduction toward expensive items like factory machinery and trucks.
But each increase was a temporary measure requiring annual reauthorization to prevent the cap from returning to $25,000 — and Congress developed a habit of waiting until the very last days of the year to make a decision. In 2012, it missed the calendar deadline completely and passed legislation on Jan 1, 2013, retroactively raising the deduction limit for equipment business owners had purchased the previous year.
“The uncertainty drives my clients up a tree,” said Paul Neiffer, an accountant with CliftonLarsonAllen in Yakima, Wash., who specializes in the agricultural industry. “Not knowing each year if it will be extended prevents a lot of our farmers from pulling the trigger on buying equipment.”
From now on, they will know. Signed on Friday by President Obama, the 233-page tax deal includes in its myriad tax breaks one that permanently sets the Section 179 cap at $500,000, subject to inflation adjustments.
Mr. Kortesmaki said he was confident enough that Congress would once again lift Section 179’s cap to go ahead this year with his planned capital purchases, even before the legislation was passed. But other business owners held off — and this year, the deal came too late for some, Ms. Wuebben thinks.
“You can’t plan to spend that kind of money with just two weeks left in the year,” she said. “We might see some activity this year, but the real benefit for us will come next year, when customers can plan ahead for it.”
Some companies do try to jam in qualifying purchases before the calendar year ends. Last year, Congress raised the Section 179 limit for the year on Dec. 16. The next day, the prices farm machinery sold for at auctions increased compared with just a few days earlier, according to Greg Peterson, the owner of Machinery Pete, a site that tracks equipment auction prices.
“The response is nearly Pavlovian at this point,” he said. “The farm audience had grown so used to this annual silly dance of wait-and-see on our friends in Washington.”
Making Section 179’s higher limit permanent will cost taxpayers $77 billion in foregone revenue over the next 10 years, according to a government estimate. The tax break’s aim is to stimulate spending — but does it work?
An analysis by the Congressional Research Service found that expensing allowances like Section 179 appear to “have a minor effect at best” on how much businesses spend on capital goods. Expectations for future sales growth, not tax considerations, motivates most of the investment in the kinds of assets eligible for expensing.
The main advantage of expensing allowances, the report suggests, comes from simplifying the tax accounting business owners face on their capital purchases.
Still, owners like Mr. Kortesmaki see the tax break as a crucial one for helping their small business grow a bit bigger.
“I’d rather invest that money in my business than pay taxes on it,” he said. “Having this become permanent makes my business planning for the next few years a whole lot easier.”
Small Business Gets Tax Break