This past week, President Donald Trump (still sounds weird) unveiled the White House Tax Reform plan and there’s quite a bit to it. I am a pretty big fan of tax reform. I believe the current tax code is complicated, expensive, and hard on low and middle income Americans. I also think it’s rough on business owners, independent contractors, and even large corporations. Needless to say, I was rather interested in what the current administration was going to put forward.
It does some good things, it does some dumb things, and it does a few mixed things for someone in my line of work. Those of us who are sole proprietors and make most of our money off of 1099 work continue to have a chance at seeing some relief from this tax policy, but more could be done.
I decided it would be a fun exercise to go through what has been currently released by the White House and detail how it helps, hurts, or does nothing to those of us who are 1099 workers. I’ll then put forward my ideas on how to balance out the plan so that we aren’t forgotten.
Because this is an inherently political post, I would like to mention that I’m a moderate. I have no political party affiliation and owe no loyalty to anyone.
Source for the Tax Plan: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/27/us/politics/document-Read-President-Trump-s-Tax-Proposal.html
Additional Information: https://www.thebalance.com/trump-s-tax-plan-how-it-affects-you-4113968
Here’s what’s being proposed for Individuals in general outline form.
- “Zero Tax Bracket”: Near doubling of the standard deduction from $6300 to $12,000 for single filers and from $12,700 to $24,000 for joint filing. These deductions basically work to create a larger ‘Zero Bracket’ by eliminating income tax on those who make under the new deductions (or by eliminating tax on the first $12k/$24K on income)
- Tax Rates: The current tax rate structure is an additive 10%, 15,%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%. This means you are taxed at 10% for the first $13,350, then 15% on any income between 13,351 and $50,800, and then any income above $50,801 to $131,200 is taxed at 25%, and so on. It’s complicated. The proposed brackets shrink to 3 brackets at 12%, 25%, and 35%. I do not know if they remain additive, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. There is mention of an additional top rate to the highest income tax payers (we’re talking high end 1%’ers here) but it isn’t mentioned what that rate would be and at what income level it would kick in. The breakdown of the brackets is also not mentioned.
- If the current brackets are applied to the Trump Plan, it looks like this:
- 12%: $0-37,000 Single (0-$75,000 Married)
- 25%: $37,501-112,500 Single ($75,001-$225,000 Married)
- 35%: $112,501+ Single ($225,000 Married)
- Enhanced Child Tax Credit and Middle Class Relief: This is pretty bare bones in the plan. In short, the Child Tax Credit will be expanded while exemptions for dependents will be removed. Congress will have to come up with additional Middle Class Relief options. I don’t know much about deductions relating to having kids or dependents so I have little else to add here.
- The Alternative Minimum Tax will be removed, as will most itemized deductions for individuals. Home Mortgage Interest and Charitable Contributions will remain.
- It doesn’t sound like any retirement deductions or credits will change, but you can never be sure with this administration.
- Death/Estate Tax will be removed. This benefits those inhering large estates (over 5 Million in net worth).
- State and Local Deductions are removed. This affects states with high income taxes more than low (or no) income taxes.
- Elimination of the Marriage Penalty as it relates to Child Tax Credits.
Here’s the business proposals in outline form:
- The maximum rate of taxation on Sole Proprietorship, Partnerships, LLC’s, and S Corporations will be 25%. They also suggest that Congress find ways to make sure that personal income cannot be re-characterized as business income so that wealthy individuals can’t skip out on the top 35% individual tax rate.
- Corporate rate is cut to 20% and corporate AMT is removed.
- Capital Investments can immediately be written off for 5 years (except for structures).
- Deduction for net interest expense incurred by C Corporations will be limited. I don’t really know what this means.
- Foreign Profits brought back to the US receive a 100% exemption. I think.
If you want the specifics, click the links above.
So, all in all I actually don’t think this is a super bad framework. Corporate taxes are rather high in the US and dropping them to 20% would encourage business growth. I also like the idea of doubling the standard deduction in favor of itemizing as an individual. It’s pretty rare that an individual who itemizes would beat the current deduction of $6300. Doubling that to $12,000 will drop a surprising amount of people into the 12% tax bracket, assuming the breakdown remains the same. (Keep in mind that you are taxed on your income after your deductions, so you could make around $49,000 a year and be taxed at 12% assuming the breakdown I list above).
What I do want to know is where the 25% and 35% rates on personal income kick in. Is it where they currently are? Do they move down the income ladder? To they move up? It’s a question that needs to be answered. I also don’t like the repeal of the Estate Tax and Alternative Minimum Taxes, although I could see an argument for re-working or removing the Alternative Minimum Taxes in favor of code simplification and removal of many deductions that the wealthy take.
How Current Sole Proprietor Taxes Work
Current Sole Proprietor taxes are rather interesting. As a 1099 worker, you are the business. You are also the individual. Most small businesses or Sole Proprietors are taxed in a ‘pass through’ fashion. This means that the tax liability is at the feet of the individual. Since most businesses are not C-Corporations, this means that most small business receive this pass though taxation (Sole Proprietors, LLC, S-Corps, Partnerships).
If you are a Sole Proprietor who has an excellent year, this means you could be subject to the 28%, 33%, or even 35% tax brackets. If you were a C-Corp, you would be subject to a lesser tax burden. Is it realistic to be a C-Corp when you have revenue under a half million dollars? No, there is far too much work involved. But I have an example below for fun. (taken from https://www.thebalance.com/corporate-tax-rates-and-tax-calculation-397647)
Oh and also, I’m not a Tax Professional so I apologize for any numbers and assumptions I screw up here.
- Lets say my tax liability after all is said and done is $250,000 as a Sole Proprietor. I would owe $46,643 plus $19,255. $46,643 is the base amount I owe, followed by 33% of my income above $191,650. We also can’t forget Self Employment Tax which is an additional 15.3%, or $38,250. Factor in the Self Employment deduction (-$6311) and the total tax liability is about $97,837 or about 39%.
- The Actual Self Employment Tax above would be a bit less as Social Security has a cap of about $118,000 at which no additional tax is collected. Consider this a simplified example.
- Let’s take the same assumptions and apply a business rate to it (assuming this is a C-Corp). The business would owe $22,250 plus $58,500 for a total of $80,750. The $58,500 is 39% of the amount over $100,000 in this case. Besides being simpler in raw math, this leaves $169,000 dollars left in the business which if I was a single member C-Corp (which again, highly unlikely), I’d be able to pay out to myself in a salary that would keep my personal tax liability low. This is when Payroll Taxes would be accounted for (about 8.05% total for the business entity and a separate 8.05% total for myself as an individual). This amount is also dependent on the W-2 paycheck I give myself, so it would benefit me to pay myself a fairly small salary in this scenario (between $35,000 and $50,000 more than likely). In short, not including Payroll taxes, the effective rate on the business is 32%.
As you can see from above, the Self Employment Tax is a pretty hefty burden. Like workers who are salaried at a company, Sole Proprietors need to pay into Social Security and Medicare. It’s our duty as Americans. Unlike salaried workers, Sole Proprietors have to cover the full cost. Payroll taxes, which fund Medicare and Social Security, are split between the company and the salaried worker. Each is responsible for half of the cost. Sole Proprietors bear the full brunt of that burden. The Self Employment Tax is 15.3% (combination of 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare). Social Security has a ceiling at which nothing is taxed above it (I want to say it’s around $118,000) while Medicare is always taxed at 2.9% no matter how much you make.
You do get to deduct half of the cost of this tax as a Sole Proprietor.
Once that’s figured out, you go through the rest of your business deductions (home office, expenses, meals, etc) to come to what the business of you made in a given tax year. That final income is then transferred over to your individual return, where you then claim any individual deductions if you itemize your taxes (or take the Standard Deduction and be done with it). This is an example of Pass Through Taxation.
How This works against Sole Proprietors
The biggest problem I think Sole Proprietors deal with tax wise is the Self Employment Tax. You immediately can lop off 15.3% of your income for the year. “But you can claim half of that as a deduction” you may say. Deductions are nice, but they aren’t enough. Deductions lower your taxable income, but they are calculated using the percentage of your marginal tax bracket. Lets say you end up with a $1000 dollar deduction because your Self Employment Tax was $2000. Your tax bracket is 25%. This means you save $250 in tax. (.25 x 1000 = 250). In a sense, you only save a quarter of your taxes. This is different from an employee, because their employer has paid HALF of the Social Security and Medicare Taxes for them.
This puts you immediately behind the 8-Ball when compared to other salaried Americans. Once you wrap up your individual taxes, you may find that you owe way more money than you thought you did.
This is one of the primary reasons people stop working for themselves. I’m sure a few of the contractors I worked with this past year will see their tax burdens and freak out in April. I try to plan the best I can for taxes by paying my quarterlies and saving money for April. I usually make it but it’s always by the skin of my teeth.
I would much rather take some of my Self Employment Tax and put it away in my IRA or in another retirement account. This is doubly true when you stop to think that my Social Security Benefits, even at 75, will more than likely be on the low side due to the system crumbling under the weight of our expanding life spans and the large generation that is starting to retire (BABY BOOMERS).
What needs to be Done?
I actually think the White House is off to a decent start for Sole Proprietors and other small businesses, if I understand correctly. For a Sole Proprietor, the maximum they could be taxed is 25%. So if you are an Sole Proprietor who has an excellent year and makes that $250,000 I mentioned earlier, you’ll still only be taxed at the 25% income bracket even if the individual rate is 35% at that income level.
I still think more needs to be done, specifically with the Self Employment Tax. If the small business is indeed the backbone of the economy, then the Self Employment Tax on Pass Through Businesses needs to be re-worked.
- I would suggest changing the deduction to a 66% credit for anyone who reports an income under $150,000. This provides more money than a deduction but still means SP’s are paying more than their employed counter parts into entitlement programs. I do think SP’s should pay a bit more since they are a business too.
- Another option I’m equally OK with is to cut the Self Employment Tax rate by 30% to 10.35% and to maintain the current split proportionally to Medicare and Social Security. This would remove the need for any Self Employment Deduction.
- I’m not ‘married’ to those numbers, they are just ideas. A 20% cut would be nice and helpful, or a 43% credit. I’m more than happy to compromise!
I also think the deduction available for Health Insurance needs to be expanded (perhaps another credit), or the cap for subsidies needs to rise for people operating a small business. Health Insurance is expensive, and with premiums rising (and let’s be real, they’re never going down) more and more Sole Proprietors will need help covering the cost. I’m a fan of increasing the caps on subsidy limits by another 10% of the poverty level, or re-writing the poverty level entirely.
All of this would help keep some extra money in the hands of Sole Proprietors to reinvest into themselves, which may I remind you is also their business. Eventually, this cash can help them grow into larger entities and pay more in taxes! This is often the argument used in favor of large corporate cuts, and while I am in favor of corporate cuts as well, they have less to gain from tax cuts than a small business owner.
How to keep this all Revenue Neutral
One of the big issues with tax reform is to keep everything revenue neutral. That usually means cuts or reforms. I could go on about cutting the military or reforming social security, but I will save it for another day.
The White House Plan relies on hitting magical growth rates (between 3-6% sustained GDP) for their tax plan to work. I don’t like leaping to assumptions that are relying on the best GDP growth that has ever been recorded in the history of the US. I am not going to try to fix the White House’s plan. I am going to try to address the lost revenue that my ideas for Pass Through Taxation bring with them.
First, I would suggest the top income earners pay an additional .25%-.5% (roughly) on top of whatever the special bracket for the highest income earners is mentioned in the White House Plan. That’s it. These would be the rich of the rich.
If that isn’t enough, I would add caps to the cuts to the Self Employment Tax. After you hit a high enough income limit, lets say $300,000, the Self Employment Tax flips back to 15.3%. No special math, it’s either either 10.35% or 15.3%, not a mix of the two.
This is Forward Thinking
A friend was contacted by a recruiter for a contract position in North Carolina a few months ago for a finance company. It would have paid very well if he took it.
I just rolled off of a contract with Bluepoint Games. I was a 1099 worker. All the work I do for clients is 1099 work.
Anyone who drives an Uber or Lyft is self employed, using a tool to do their work. They are 1099 workers.
The gig economy is growing, and more and more large business are taking advantage of shorter term labor. Contract workers are cheaper for business because they don’t have to cover health insurance, payroll taxes, sick days, and more. In the land of rising corporate profits, short term jobs, and more people striking it out on their own, 1099 work will eventually become the norm. It might be years away, but soon 1099 workers will be a norm in the economy.
That means more and more people will be their own businesses.
If done right, Sole Proprietors can make a lot of money and reinvest in themselves, growing themselves into a larger business they can control. These bigger business can thus pay more in taxes, funding the government. SPs need help to make that happen. The current tax code is centered around the old notion of salaried workers. That model of work is slowly dying. The entire internet makes working as an Sole Proprietor even more appealing than before by spreading out or eliminating costs of doing business. However, once that tax bill comes, people may decide they’d rather work for large corporations and play it safe potentially squashing an awesome idea or special skill. If the government wants to help Sole Proprietors and grow the speed at which small business can succeed, they need to work on reforming more than just personal income brackets. They need to change how SPs are taxed and plan for a future when Sole Proprietors transitioning to larger business entities are the norm in the economy.
Additional Sources Used: