Does Your Small Business Qualify For The 20% Deduction?
February 26, 2018
Does Your Small Business Qualify For The 20% Deduction?

By Cliff Ennico

If you're like most small business owners, you are scratching your head trying to figure out the new small business tax deduction.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which went into effect January 1, offers a 20% deduction for "pass-through" entities such as partnerships, limited liability companies and subchapter S corporations.      

Like all tax benefits, the deduction is designed to accomplish "social engineering" goals as well as raise tax revenue for the Government.


  • The current Administration wants to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. so such businesses will have the easiest time qualifying for the deduction

  • The current Administration wants to encourage small businesses to hire more people as employees, so small businesses who do so will have an easier time qualifying for the deduction than others.

Here are the five questions you will have to ask to determine if you qualify for the 20% deduction.

Step # 1:  Is Your Business a Pass-Through for Tax Purposes?

The 20% deduction applies only to pass-through entities, which are basically anything (including a sole proprietorship) other than a C corporation.  Hey, those guys got a HUGE reduction in their federal income tax rate, so don't feel too sorry for them.

Step # 2: Is Your Business Engaged in a "Specified Service Trade or Business"?

The 20% deduction applies only to small businesses engaged in manufacturing, retail, nonprofessional services (think restaurants and lawn care), and SOME professional services (such as architecture and engineering).  Congress did not want the new deduction to enrich accountants and lawyers (but no fear - the extra fees they will earn from helping clients figure the deduction out will more than make up for not having the deduction).

A "Specified Service Trade or Business" is defined as health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, or "any trade or business where the principal asset of such trade or business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees".  So, if you are a barber or hair stylist, are you a specified service trade or business ineligible for the deduction?

The new law doesn't offer any guidance, but here are two "rules of thumb":
  • If your state requires or permits you to form a "professional corporation" or "professional limited liability company" in lieu of a regular corporation or LLC, you probably are engaged in a "specified service trade or business" (ask your lawyer about this).

  • If your state requires you to obtain a "professional license" (as opposed to an occupational license) to do whatever you do, you probably are engaged in a "specified service trade or business."

Step # 3: Do You Make Less Than the Minimum Income Thresholds?

If you have less than $157,500 in taxable income (for a single taxpayer) or $315,000 in taxable income (for a married taxpayer filing jointly), then you can take the 20% deduction even if you are engaged in a "specified service trade or business". 

Although if you are a doctor making less than $157,500 a year, I'm wondering how good a doctor you are.

If you are a shareholder in an S corporation, your taxable income is based on what is distributed to you each year as an owner/partner in the business, not the amount you take out in salary for the services you render to the corporation.

Question:  if you are slightly over the taxable income threshold, can you increase your deductions to bring your taxable income below the threshold - for example, by leasing a car through your company?  You bet you can, as long as the deduction qualifies as an "ordinary and necessary" business deduction (forget the personal masseuse, unless you are a Hollywood actor).

Step # 4: Does the Deduction Exceed Certain Caps?

Whether or not your taxable income exceeds the minimum income thresholds, your deduction cannot exceed 20% of the excess of your taxable income over your "net capital gains".     

If you are NOT engaged in a "specified service trade or business" AND your taxable income exceeds the minimum income threshold ($157,500 for a single taxpayer, $315,000 for a married taxpayer filing jointly), you can still take the 20% deduction.  The bad news is that your deduction is further limited or "capped" to the greater of:
  • 50% of all wages paid to W-2 employees of the business

  • 25% of all wages paid to W-2 employees plus 2.5% of the "unadjusted basis

(i.e. before any depreciation deductions) of tangible depreciable property that your company owns as determined at the end of the tax year. 

Step # 5:  Hire a Tax Professional.

Got all that?  I didn't think so.  Unless you are trained in accounting, you probably will need the help of a qualified tax professional to determine whether or not your business qualifies for the 20% deduction.  This should really be Step # 1.

Pay them well.  After all, they don't get the deduction.     

Cliff Ennico ( is a syndicated columnist, author, and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at  COPYRIGHT 2017 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on

Posted by Staff at 11:55 AM