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What Congress’s Last-Minute Tax Extender Deal Means for Small Businesses

There’s the Tiny Tim way of looking at one of Congress’s final deals of the year — that is, small businesses can give thanks for a move that reinstates dozens of expired tax breaks they have relied on for years.

Then there’s the Ebenezer Scrooge way of looking at it — that the breaks were restored only to expire again in two weeks, leaving employers heading into the new year with the same sense of tax-related uncertainty they have waded through for most of this year.

In the latest chapter of Washington’s temporary tax breaks saga, federal lawmakers have approved another short-term deal restoring for this year an array of credits and deductions that expired at the end of 2013. The legislation could save businesses and individuals billions as they file their current year’s taxes over the coming months.

Still, it’s a bittersweet resolution for many employers, as congressional leaders earlier this month neared an agreement that would have made some of the most popular business provisions permanent. Under threat of veto from the White House, those more ambitious negotiations collapsed, paving the way for this short-term solution. It also paves the way for Republicans, who will soon take control of both chambers of Congress, to take a fresh look at which extenders to make permanent — and which ones to eliminate — sometime next year.

“While this short-term fix is a step in the right direction, we need a long-term extension of tax credits that are vital to small businesses,” John Arensmeyer, the top executive at the lobbying and advocacy group Small Business Majority, said in a statement following House passage of the bill. “We hope lawmakers can come together on a long-term plan soon that will give entrepreneurs the certainty they need to plan for the future.”

In the meantime, the current deal includes a number of credits and deductions intended to benefit individuals, large corporations and small businesses. Here’s a look some of the most important ones for that latter group.

Section 179 expensing

Under Section 179 of the tax code, small companies are allowed to deduct the cost of investments in large assets like equipment, property and software at the time of purchase, rather than over many years. That allows employers to see a more immediate tax windfall.

However, a temporary expansion of the program expired last year, dropping the expensing limit for businesses from $500,000 to $25,000. Under the new deal, that cap returns to the half-million-dollar mark, but only until the end of the year. The proposed long-term deal that fell through would have made the higher limit permanent.

Research and development credit

An oft-used research and development credit expired completely at the end of 2013. Open to companies of any size (and thus a darling of many a large corporation), the provision offers tax credit covering as much as 20 percent of the cost of research or experimentation related to creating new products or improving existing manufacturing processes.

Considered for permanent status, as well, the research and development credit was instead restored through the end of this year.

Renewable energy credits

Last year, business owners who built or renovated property featuring renewable energy technology — such as solar panels or “green” lighting equipment — could take advantage of a special tax deduction. Until this week, the deduction could only be claimed on property placed in service before the end of 2013. Now, any such property opened this past year would qualify for the deduction, as well.

Credits for hiring military veterans

Under the tax extender bill, companies can again apply for tax credits if they hire military veterans and active reservists. An even larger credit is available to small businesses that hire long-unemployed or service-disabled veterans.

Other hiring-related provisions that were restored this year include credits for companies that hire qualified ex-felons, qualified summer youth employees, and individuals who receive supplemental security income or long-term family assistance.

December 17, 2014

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.
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