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How Some High-Income Taxpayers Can Maximize the New 20% Pass-through Business Deduction

Article Highlights:

  • 20% Sec. 199A Pass-through Deduction 
  • Specified Service Business Limitations 
  • Taxable Income Limitations 
  • Wage Limitations 
  • Benefits of Being Organized as an S Corporation 
Taxpayers with higher 1040 taxable incomes who are self-employed but are not “specified service businesses” may find it beneficial to structure new businesses, or restructure an existing business, as an S corporation to avoid taxable income limitations that apply to the new 20% Sec. 199A pass-through deduction.

To make up for the tax reform’s reduction of the C corporation tax rate to 21%, from which other forms of business activities do not benefit, Congress created a new deduction and code section: 199A. The 199A deduction is for taxpayers with other business activities – such as sole proprietorships, rentals, partnerships and S corporations – since, unlike C corporations, which are directly taxed on their profits, the income from the other business activities flows through to the owner’s tax return and is taxed at the individual level, i.e., at the individual’s tax rate, which can be as high as 37%.

This new Sec. 199A deduction is 20% of the pass-through income from these business activities. But not every owner of these flow-through businesses will benefit from this deduction because, as in all things tax, there are limitations.

Whether or not a taxpayer will benefit from the deduction will depend in great part upon the taxpayer’s 1040 taxable income figured without the Sec. 199A deduction. Married taxpayers with a taxable income below $315,000 (or below $157,500, for others) will benefit from the full 20% deduction.

However, limitations begin to apply when a taxpayer’s 1040 taxable income exceeds those amounts. The most restrictive limitation is the one placed on “specified service businesses.” Once married taxpayers filing jointly have a 1040 taxable income exceeding $415,000 (or above $207,500, for others), they receive no Sec 199A deduction benefit from any pass-through income derived from a specified service business. Specified service businesses include trades or businesses involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, or brokerage services or any trade or business in which the principal asset of the trade or business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees or owners. Note that an engineering or architecture business is not a specified service business for this deduction.

On the other hand, a taxpayer can still benefit from pass-through income from other business activities, even when the taxpayer’s 1040 taxable income exceeds the $415,000/$207,500 limits, provided the business activity pays wages and/or has qualified business property, the combination of which make up what is referred to as the wage limitation. Without getting too complicated, the Sec. 199A deduction is the lesser of 20% of one’s pass-through income or the wage limitation. If the wage limit is zero, then the Sec. 199A deduction would also be zero for these high-income taxpayers. The wage limitation itself is the greater of 50% of the wages paid by the business activity or 25% of the wages paid plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified business property. Perhaps this is best explained by example. 

Example #1: Peter and his wife have a 1040 taxable income of $475,000. Peter has a self-employed business (not a specified service business), from which he has a net profit of $300,000, and his tentative 199A deduction is $60,000 (20% of $300,000). However, because his taxable income exceeds $415,000, his Sec. 199A deduction is the lesser of $60,000 or the wage limit. Peter has no employees or qualified business property, so his wage limitation is zero; thus, his Sec. 199A deduction is also zero.

Example #2: Same as example #1, except Peter’s business is organized as an S corporation. Of his net profit of $300,000, it is determined that a reasonable compensation (wage) for the services Peter provides to the S corporation is $150,000, which the S Corporation pays as a salary to Peter. The other $150,000 is pass-through income. Now, Peter’s Sec. 199A deduction is the lesser of 20% of the pass-through income – $30,000 (20% of $150,000) – or the wage limitation, which is 50% of the wages paid by the S Corporation or $75,000 (50% of $150,000).

This demonstrates how a business activity can benefit from being organized as an S corporation, since S corporations are required to pay working shareholders a reasonable wage for their services provided in operating the business. They are able to divide the pass-through income between reasonable wages and pass-through income to enable a 199A deduction for a higher-income taxpayer. Other business entities do not provide this option, which is the reason why high-taxable-income taxpayers might explore the benefits of organizing new businesses as, or reorganizing their existing businesses into, an S corporation.

Of course, there are other issues involved as well, and some sole proprietors may not find it worth the expense or effort to switch to a different type of business entity. However, the higher the taxpayer’s income, the more beneficial it becomes. The same issues also apply to partnerships. To see if organizing or reorganizing your business activity into an S corporation can reduce your tax liability, call this office for an appointment.



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