Ahead of the extender deadline, S-Corp was on the Hill testifying yesterday that Congress needs to act to end the extender roller coaster and make permanent these provisions, including the built-in gains relief that affects so many of our S corporations. At a hearing hosted by the House Small Business Committee entitled “Tax Extenders and Small Businesses as Employers of Choice” S-Corp was represented by Tom Nichols, Chairman of our Board of Advisors.
Tom opened his remarks by highlighting the important role pass-through businesses play in employment and job creation, and then focused on a number of specific actions Congress could take this month to ensure they continue in this role, including making permanent the shorter, five-year holding period for the built-in gains tax. As Tom noted:
Delaying confirmation of the five year built-in gains tax period has similarly destructive consequences. In the past several years, small business owners have asked me repeatedly whether the five-year or ten-year period will apply. The only response I could give them is that the final built-in gains period will “probably” be five years, but that they can’t count on it.
This has created a number of excruciatingly difficult situations for my clients. For example, several of my farming clients were attempting to sell agricultural land – either to raise capital or to finance their pending retirement – while farmland prices were at their peak. Unfortunately, for those in the critical 6 to 10-year “limbo” period, this uncertainty constituted a huge stumbling block, and now it appears that the optimal time for selling is gone.
I had another client who wanted to sell his business, but could ill afford to do so if the double-tax built-in gains regime was applicable. I recommended that he and the buyer reach agreement and have all the documents prepared, but wait until actual passage of the extenders legislation to sign and close the deal. His response was that he was in poor health and may not be able to wait.
As with expensing, a five-year period for the built-in gains tax is well supported by policy considerations. The built-in gains tax was originally enacted in the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and was intended to prevent C corporations from converting to S Corporation status and selling some or all of their business subject only to the single-tax S Corporation regime. To be honest, I have never understood why paying only one tax upon the sale of a business was considered a loophole to be closed. Regardless, it is generally recognized that a ten-year waiting period is much longer than necessary in order to achieve the initial policy goal. Given the uncertainties and vagaries of conducting business, business owners are extremely unlikely to elect S Corporation status with concrete plans to sell after waiting for a period of five or more years.
You can read Tom’s written analysis here. Small and closely-held businesses play an invaluable role in creating jobs where they are most needed, despite all of the unnecessary obstacles imposed on them by Washington. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Failing to make business extender items like built-in gains permanent is a wholly unforced error that this Congress has the ability to fix. Talks are going on right now. Let’s hope they come to a happy conclusion.
Pass-Through Tax Rates
More on the effective tax rates pass-through employers pay. Sitting next to Tom at yesterday’s hearing was Todd Kriegel, the CEO of Global Precision Parts. Todd’s company has a profile that many S-Corp members will find familiar—a family-owned, S corporation manufacturer with 200 employees split across three locations in Indiana and Ohio.
Also familiar to S-Corp readers is how the Fiscal Cliff resulted in a massive tax hike on Todd’s business:
GPPs current federal effective tax rate is 39.4%, far higher than our C-Corp counterparts, not to mention the Chinese companies who we really are competing against. In 2008, we had a 28.07% effective federal tax rate with the Alternative Minimum Tax. That 11.33% jump in our tax liability cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars we could have used to hire more workers for the machines we would have purchased.
Just last April, S-Corp Board member Dan McGregor of McGregor Metalworking gave similar testimony on how the effective rate on his metal-working business jumped from 33 to 42 percent as a result of the fiscal cliff!
Following the resolution of the fiscal cliff, the top tax rate on my shareholders increased to approximately 41.4 percent due to the higher 39.6 percent marginal rate plus, where applicable, the new 3.8 percent Affordable Care Act tax and the effect of the reinstatement of the Pease limitation on itemized deductions. As a result, today we have to distribute approximately 42 cents of every dollar earned so our shareholders can pay the federal, state and local S corporation tax.
Dan and Todd employ hundreds of well-paid manufacturing workers in communities — like Springfield, Ohio and Wabash, Indiana — that desperately need jobs. And they are being forced to compete not only with Chinese companies that play by an entirely different set of rules, but also with domestic C corporations that enjoy significantly lower tax rates. The CEO of Pfizer complains about his 25 percent effective rate? We’re guessing Dan and Todd would swap with him in a second.
Any reform of how we tax business income needs to begin with Main Street businesses.