At the end of last year, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 was signed into law. Known as the PATH Act, it does more than just extend expired and expiring tax provisions for another year. The new law makes many temporary tax breaks permanent. This provides some stability in planning. When it comes to certain deductions and credits, taxpayers will no longer have to wait for Congress to pass a temporary tax extenders law — often at the end of the year — in order to plan tax-saving strategies. We have also included a note on applicable Minnesota state tax law to section 179 deduction and bonus depreciation, a fairly common question we get from our clients.

 

Here’s an overview of how businesses can benefit from the latest tax package:

 

Section 179 deduction

Tax law allows businesses to elect to immediately deduct — or expense — the cost of certain tangible personal property acquired and placed in service during the tax year. The Section 179 deduction is in lieu of recovering the costs more slowly through depreciation deductions. Keep in mind the election can only offset net income — it can’t reduce it below $0 to create a net operating loss. There are also other restrictions.

The election is also subject to annual dollar limits. For 2014, businesses could expense up to $500,000 in qualified new or used assets, subject to a dollar-for-dollar phaseout once the cost of all qualifying property placed in service during the tax year exceeded $2 million. Without the PATH Act, the expensing limit and the phaseout amounts for 2015 would have sunk to $25,000 and $200,000, respectively.

The new law makes the higher limits permanent and indexes them for inflation beginning in 2016. It also makes permanent the ability to apply Sec. 179 expensing to qualified real property, reviving the 2014 limit of $250,000 on such property for 2015 but raising it to the full Sec. 179 limit beginning in 2016. Qualified real property includes qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property.

Finally, the new law permanently includes off-the-shelf computer software on the list of qualified property. And, beginning in 2016, it adds air conditioning and heating units.

Minnesota has historically not followed Federal rules relating to the increase in allowed Section 179 deductions.  Minnesota continues to use the old limits of $25,000 and $200,000, it also requires that 80% of any excess deduction be added back to income in the year the deduction is claimed.  This addback is then allowed as a deduction over the next 5 years.

Bonus depreciation

Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming bonus first-year depreciation for qualified assets. It’s been extended, but only through 2019 and with declining benefits in the later years. For property placed in service during 2015, 2016 and 2017, the bonus depreciation percentage is 50%. It drops to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019.

The provision continues to allow businesses to claim unused AMT credits in lieu of bonus depreciation. Beginning in 2016, the amount of unused AMT credits that may be claimed increases.

This is another provision that Minnesota as not historically followed.  As with the Section 179 deduction Minnesota requires that 80% of any bonus depreciation claimed to be added back as income in the year the deduction is claimed and deducted over the following 5 years.

Qualified assets include new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment), off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified leasehold-improvement property. Beginning in 2016, qualified improvement property doesn’t have to be leased to be eligible for bonus depreciation.

Accelerated depreciation of qualified real property

The PATH Act permanently extends the 15-year straight-line cost recovery period for qualified leasehold improvements (building alterations to suit the needs of a tenant), qualified restaurant property and qualified retail-improvement property. These expenditures are now exempt from the normal 39-year depreciation period.

This is beneficial for restaurants and retailers because they tend to remodel periodically. If eligible, they may first apply Section 179 expensing and then enjoy this accelerated depreciation on qualified expenses in excess of the applicable Section 179 limit.

Research credit

This valuable credit provides an incentive for businesses to increase their investments in research. However, the temporary nature of the credit deterred some businesses from pursuing critical innovations.

The PATH Act permanently extends the credit. Additionally, beginning in 2016, businesses with $50 million or less in gross receipts can claim the credit against AMT liability, and certain start-ups (generally, those with less than $5 million in gross receipts) that haven’t yet incurred income tax liability can use the credit against their payroll tax.

Work Opportunity tax credit

Employers that hire individuals who are members of a “target group” can claim this credit, which has been extended through 2019. The new law also expands the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers that hire qualified individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.

The credit amount varies depending on:

  • The target group of the individual hired;
  • Wages paid to the employee; and
  • Hours worked by the new hire during the first year of employment.

The maximum credit that can be earned for each qualified adult employee is generally $2,400. The credit can be as high as $9,600 per qualified veteran. Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire.

You must obtain certification that an employee is a member of a target group from the appropriate State Workforce Agency before claiming the credit. The certification must be requested within 28 days after the employee begins work. For 2015, the IRS may extend the deadline as it did for 2014, when legislation reviving the credit for that year wasn’t passed until late in the year — meaning that the 28-day period had already expired for many covered employees hired in 2014.

Food inventory donations

The PATH Act makes permanent the enhanced deduction for contributions of food inventory for non-corporate business taxpayers. Under the enhanced deduction (which is already permanently available to C corporations), the lesser of basis plus one-half of the item’s appreciation or two times basis can be deducted, rather than only the lesser of basis or fair market value. Beginning in 2016, the limit on deductible contributions of inventory increases from 10% to 15% of the business’s AGI per year.

S corporation recognition period for built-in gains tax

S corporation income generally is passed through to its shareholders, who pay tax on their pro-rata shares. If a C corporation elects to become an S corporation, the newly created S corporation is taxed at the highest corporate rate (currently 35%) on all gains that were built-in at the time of the election and recognized during the “recognition period.”

Generally, this period is 10 years. But, under the new law, it’s only five years, beginning on the first day of the first tax year for which the corporation was an S corporation.

Commuting benefits

The PATH Act makes permanent the provision that established equal limits for the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes for parking fringe benefits and van-pooling / mass transit benefits. The limits for both types of benefits are now $250 per month for 2015. Without the parity extension, the limit for van-pooling / mass transit would be only $130.

 

Tax Planning with More Certainty

Many of these tax breaks may seem familiar, because they’re continuations from previous years. Under the PATH Act, there are now significant tax planning opportunities for businesses. The permanent extensions of some valuable tax breaks will make it easier for taxpayers to plan ahead. Keep in mind that this article only touches on some of the new law’s provisions. There may be extensions and enhancements that can benefit your company if you’re a business owner or executive. Contact your tax advisor to determine how you can make the most of this tax relief.