The qualified business income (QBI) deduction can save owners of businesses whose income passes through to their personal returns up to 20% on their taxes. Find out how this pass-through deduction works below.
One of the newer tax rules that business owners should be aware of is the Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBI). The deduction, also called Section 199A, is a 20% deduction available for qualifying pass-through businesses such as sole proprietorships, S corporations, and partnerships (not C corporations). By default, limited liability companies (LLCs) are taxed as pass-through business entities, so they may also be able to take advantage of the QBI deduction, unless they choose to be taxed as a C corporation.
Like many tax rules, this deduction is more complex than it sounds at first, so let’s start with the basics and then delve a little deeper for those of you who want to take a closer look at the potential savings.
Here are three facts to know about the pass-through deduction and what it applies to:
- It’s not based on the definition of business income as most of us are used to. Instead, it uses “qualified business income” (QBI) to calculate any deduction to which you may be entitled.
- There’s an income-based limitation on the amount of the deduction.
- Some types of businesses, referred to as a Specified Service Trade or Business (SSTB) in the new tax law, are not eligible for the deduction once certain income thresholds are met.
Let’s look at each of these rules as it applies to a freelance business:
- QBI, from the IRS’s standpoint, is equal to the income you derive from your pass-through business minus any net capital gains or short-term capital losses. (A pass-through business is one in which the business income is reported and taxed on the owner’s individual tax return.) In addition, QBI does not include pass-through income from W-2 wages received from an S-corporation or from the guaranteed payments received from a partnership.
The amount you can deduct is also subject to caps of either 50% of the wages your business pays its employees or 25% of wages plus 2.5% of the basis of the business’s qualified property — whichever is higher. These calculations must be compared to the 20% of your QBI; then you may deduct whichever amount is less. This limit also phases in over the same $321,400 and $421,400 taxable income range for joint filers.
- The income-based limitation applies to non-corporate taxpayers who exceed the $321,400 income threshold. If you own a personal service business (called a specified service business), the amount of your QBI is phased-out on a pro-rated basis when your total taxable income hits $421,400. At this income level and above, you no longer qualify for the benefit of the 20% deduction. Businesses that are not specific service businesses are still eligible for the deduction.
- A specific service trade or business defined by the IRS is any trade or business providing services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, and other industries. Also included are any trades or businesses involving investing and investment management, trading, or dealing in securities. Engineers and architects are not defined as a specific service trade or business and thus are excluded from this limitation.
- Businesses that are capital intensive were taken into account under the new law with an increase in the wage limit to include a qualified property calculation. According to the IRS, qualified property is tangible depreciable property that is used by your business to earn QBI. These deductions can be taken on your individual return and the calculations would apply to each business that you operate separately.
So how should business owners calculate the QBI 20% pass-through deduction?
You should first determine if your business is an SSTB as mentioned above. The first two examples below assume that your business is not an SSTB. In both of these cases, you would calculate the Qualified Business Income (QBI) from your business. This is simply the net income of your business excluding any salary, wages, or payments made to you, the owner. If you have a sole proprietorship, this would be your Schedule C income.
- If your business is under the income phase-out threshold described above, then you simply calculate 20% of the pass-through income from your business(es) and take the deduction as long as it is less than 20% of your taxable income excluding net capital gains.
- If your business is not an SSTB and you’re over the maximum income threshold amount, then your calculation is more complex in order to account for the deduction phasing out.
You’ll need to determine the ratio of the income you may have over the threshold limitation of $160,700 for single taxpayers and $321,400 for married filing jointly taxpayers.
Keep in mind also that if your taxable income reaches $210,700 (single filer) or $421,400 (married joint filer), the QBI deduction is limited to 50% of your W-2 wages from that business or the sum of 25% of W-2 wages from the business, plus 2.5% of any qualified property. Then, using the income threshold stated above and the phase-out amount of $210,700/$421,400 to calculate the limitation on a prorated basis.
Here’s an example of how to do it assuming:
- You have $425,000 in taxable income (married, joint filing), including $300,000 in QBI earned through a non-SSTB LLC.
- You paid two employees a total of $100,000 in W-2 wages.
- You own the building where your office is located, which has an unadjusted acquisition basis of $250,000.
Given this hypothetical situation, your maximum pass-through deduction is 20% of your $300,000 QBI, which equals $60,000. With your taxable income being over $421,400, any pass-through deduction you claim is limited to the greater of (i) 50% of the W-2 wages paid to your employees, or (ii) 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of your office building’s $250,000 basis. (i) is $100,000 (50% x $100,000) = $50,000; (ii) is (2.5% x $250,000) + (25% x $100,000) = $31,250. Since (i) is greater than (ii), you would have to take the lesser amount of $31,250 as the pass-through deduction.
A non-specified service trade or business would calculate the deduction this way:
For our example, assume:
- You’re a consultant (one of the service provider categories subject to the phase-out limits) and a single taxpayer with a taxable income of $233,015.
- Your taxable income is $72,315 or 45% over the single filer income threshold.
- You paid your employees $60,000 in wages.
To calculate, multiply your deduction prior to the phase-out — in this case, it’s limited to 50% of the W-2 wages you paid since there is no qualified property. This is equal to $30,000 (50% x $60,000 W-2 wages = $30,000). With your phase-out percentage being 45%, you get 55% of the full deduction, which is equal to 55% x $30,000 = $16,500.
This new pass-through deduction may offer significant tax savings for your business, but it’s also somewhat complicated. Could it save you 20%? Maybe — it depends on how the specific rules of this deduction apply to your situation. This is where enlisting a tax professional to do some tax planning and calculations may be helpful. Whether you choose to work with a tax pro or to go it alone, it’s worth considering whether this tax deduction will impact this year’s tax bill.
The pass-through deduction is in effect through the tax year 2025.
Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.
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