Preparing for 2021: Tax Planning Strategies for Small Business Owners

Preparing for 2021: Tax Planning Strategies for Small Business Owners

  • Find out how changing to a different type of tax structure could benefit you.
  • Learn about an important tax break (and its restrictions) for pass-through businesses.
  • Learn about the penalties associated with not paying your taxes on time.
  • Find out how the safe harbor rule can help you avoid penalties.
  • Discover how different accounting methods could benefit your company.
  • Find out how contributions to retirement accounts can lower your taxable income.
  • Learn the latest about PPP loans and whether or not yours will be forgiven.

If you are a small business owner, every penny of your income counts. This means that you not only want to optimize your revenue but also minimize your expenses and your tax liability. Unfortunately, far too many entrepreneurs do not know the tricks and tools available to them. Hence, they end up paying far more than they need to. You don’t need an accounting degree to take advantage of tax-cutting tips. You just need Fiducial. Here are a few of our favorite tricks and tools.

Think about changing to a different type of tax structure

When you started your business, you had many questions to answer. For example, did you want to operate as a sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, S corporation or C corporation? But as more time goes by, your initial reasons for structuring your business as you did may no longer apply. Or they may not work for your best interest from a tax perspective. There is no requirement that you stick with the business structure you initially chose.

Ever since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) changed the highest corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%, sole proprietorships, LLCs, partnerships and S corporations can realize significant tax savings by electing to be taxed as a C corporation. This simple change can make sense if the owner of these pass-through businesses is in a higher tax bracket. If so, just fill out and file Form 8832. Before doing so, make sure your tax savings are a good tradeoff for your original structure.

Pass-through businesses can get a 20% tax break

One of the most impactful changes that the TCJA made for pass-through businesses whose income is passed through for taxation as their owners’ personal income is a valuable tax break known as the qualified business income (QBI) deduction. For those eligible, this deduction is worth a maximum 20% tax break on their income from the business. However, determining whether or not you are eligible can be a challenge.


There are several restrictions on taking advantage of the deduction, particularly with reference to specified service trade or businesses (SSTBs) whose owners either earn too much income or rely specifically on their employees’ or owners’ reputation or skill. Though architecture and engineering firms escape this limitation, other business models fall into this category. The businesses in this category lose out on the deduction if their income is too high. These businesses include medical practices, law firms, professional athletes and performing artists, financial advisors, investment managers, consulting firms and accountants.

In 2019, single business owners of SSTBs began phasing out at $160,700 and are excluded once their income exceeds $210,700. Those married and filing a joint return phase out at $321,400. They are excluded at $421,400. To calculate the deduction, use Part II of Form 8995-A.

Businesses that are not SSTBs are eligible to take the deduction even when they pass the upper limits of the thresholds but only for either half of the business owners’ share of the W-2 wages paid by the business or a quarter of those wages plus 2.5% of their share of qualified property.

These limitations and specifications for what type of business is and is not eligible are head-spinning, and though it is tempting to simply take the deduction, it’s a good idea to confirm whether you qualify and how to claim it with your Fiducial rep before moving forward.

Know how you’re going to pay your taxes

It is incredibly rewarding to live the dream of owning your own small business. However, the hard work required to generate revenue makes paying taxes extra painful. This is especially true because of the “pay as you go” tax system that the United States uses, which asks business owners to make quarterly estimated payments. While employees pay their taxes ahead via payroll deductions withheld by their employers, no such automatic system exists for small business owners. This leaves many with the temptation of delaying making payments in order to maintain liquidity.

Unfortunately, failing to pay taxes quarterly can put you in the uncomfortable position of still having to pay at some point. You will also have the additional burden of penalties and interest as a result of your delay. Setting aside the money to pay taxes requires discipline. And doing so will save you from the penalties charged by the IRS. The IRS calculates these penalties based on the amount you should have paid each quarter multiplied by both your shortfall and the effective interest rate during the specific quarter (established as 3 percent over the federal short-term rate – C corporations pay a different rate).

Safe harbor rule

Even if you don’t calculate your quarterly estimated rates correctly, the safe harbor rule allows small businesses to pay the lower amount of either 90% of the tax due on your current year return or 100% of the tax shown on your last filed tax return. For those whose AGI was over $150,000 in the previous tax year, the safe harbor percentage is 110% of the previous year’s taxes.

It is always a good idea to increase the amount you send in if you are having a higher-income year. However, by doing a simple calculation of your safe harbor number and dividing it by four, you have a reasonable quarterly payment that you can safely send in on the due dates (April 15th, June 15th, September 15th and January 15th of the following year).

By setting aside the appropriate percentage that you will owe from each payment you receive, you can easily set aside the money you will need to pay and entirely avoid concerns about penalties or interest. The easiest way to submit your payment is by using the online link for IRS Direct Pay. However, many people opt for sending in the paper vouchers for IRS Form 1040-ES, along with a check. There is also an EFTPS system available for C Corporations’ use.

Choose your accounting method carefully

Each small business owner calculates their income and revenue differently. Many use a method of accounting based on when they receive money rather than when customers place orders. They may also count expenses when they receive payment rather than when they receive orders. We call this the cash method of accounting.

Whatever method of accounting you use, smart business owners can strategically adjust their approach, reporting their annual income based on cash receipts in order to reduce their end-of-year revenues, especially if there is reason to believe that next year’s income will be lower or, for some other reason, they anticipate being in a lower tax bracket.

An example of how this approach would be helpful can be seen in the case of a business that expects to add new employees in the new year. Between that expense and other improvements planned, it makes sense to anticipate that net income will decrease and the business’ tax bracket will be lower. So, they will account for any work done or orders placed towards the end of the current tax year when payments arrive. This way, they will have a lower tax rate on income.

In some cases, it makes sense to try to collect monies for work done in the current year early; for example, if you anticipate your business revenue will increase and you will move into a higher tax bracket in the new year. In this way, you can take advantage of your current, lower tax rate. You may do the same for business expenses such as office supplies and equipment. You may defer and accelerate these in the same way and take advantage of tax deductions in the most advantageous way.

Learn more about tax planning for small businesses.

Establish or make deposits into a 401(k) or SEP

One of the smartest ways to lower your taxable income is to contribute to a retirement account. Not only does doing so lower your business’ tax liability, it also ensures a more secure future. Either a 401(k) plan or a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan will do the trick and benefit both you and your employees in the future.

While a 401(k) that is established prior to year-end will let you deduct any contributions you make (with contributions limited to the lower of $57,000 or the employee’s total compensation), business owners who fail to set up this type of plan by December 31st can still turn to the SEP as an alternative. Though SEP contributions are restricted to 25% of the business owner’s net profit less the SEP contribution itself (technically 20%), an SEP can be established and contributions made up until the extended due date of your return. If you obtain an extension for filing your tax return, you have until the end of that extension period to deposit the contribution, regardless of when you actually file the return.

If you took out a PPP loan, plan on having it forgiven

Many small businesses took advantage of the PPP loans offered by the government in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. These loans were attractive because they are forgivable and gave businesses a chance to survive dire circumstances. However, in April of 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-32. This indicated that, despite the fact that you may exclude the forgivable loans from gross income, you cannot deduct the expenses associated with the monies received. This effectively erases the tax benefit initially offered because losing the employee and expense deduction increases the business’ income and profitability.

There is some chance Congress will resolve this issue. It clearly contradicts the original intent of the tax benefit that accompanied the PPP funds. However, Congress has not yet taken that action. Talk to your Fiducial rep about this as soon as possible. Having to pay taxes on expenses incurred may be very difficult in the current pandemic. Staying financially prepared to pay more taxes than you originally intended may hurt; however, you do not want to pay penalties and interest by failing to pay what the government says you owe.

Next steps in your tax planning

Though all of these strategies can be helpful, they may not all be appropriate for your situation. Keep them in mind as you go into the end of the year. Ask questions to determine which apply to you when you speak with your Fiducial rep. Want to discuss tax planning for your business today? Call Fiducial at 1-866-FIDUCIAL or make an appointment at one of our office locations.

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For more small business COVID-19 resources, visit Fiducial’s Coronavirus Update Center to find information on SBA loans, tax updates, the Paycheck Protection Program, paid sick and family leave, and more.