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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) imposes a new limitation on deductions for business interest expense. This is a permanent change for tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond. Will your business be affected? Here’s what you need to know.two women collaborating

How Have the Rules Changed?

Under prior law, some corporations were subject to the so-called “earnings-stripping” rules. Those rules attempted to limit deductions by U.S. corporations for interest paid to related foreign entities that weren’t subject to U.S. income tax.

In general, other taxpayers could fully deduct business interest expense under prior law. But those deductions were subject to various other restrictions, such as the passive loss rules and the at-risk rules.

Under the TCJA, for tax years beginning after 2017, a taxpayer’s deduction for business interest expense for the year is limited to the sum of:

  • Business interest income,
  • 30% of adjusted taxable income (ATI), and
  • Floor plan financing interest paid by certain vehicle dealers.

The new interest expense deduction limitation is a permanent change that can potentially affect all types of businesses. Interest expense that’s disallowed under the limitation rules is carried forward to future tax years indefinitely and treated as business interest expense incurred in the carryforward year.

Thankfully, many small and medium-size businesses will be exempt from the new limitation. (See “3 Exceptions to the Interest Expense Limitation” listed below.)

What Is Business Interest Expense?

Business interest expense is defined as interest on debt that’s properly allocable to a trade or business. However, the term “trade or business” does not include the following:

  • Services performed as an employee,
  • Electing real property businesses,
  • Electing farming businesses, and
  • Businesses that sell electrical energy, water, sewage disposal services, gas or steam through a local distribution system, or transportation of gas or steam by pipeline, if the rates are established by a specified governing body.

What Is ATI?

The acronym “ATI” refers to taxable income adjusted for the following items:

  • Any item of income, gain, deduction or loss that isn’t allocable to a business,
  • Any business interest income or business interest expense,
  • Any net operating loss (NOL) deduction,
  • The new deduction for up to 20% of qualified business income from a pass-through business entity (such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company or S corporation), and
  • Any allowable deductions for depreciation, amortization and depletion for tax years beginning before 2022.

Forthcoming IRS regulations could require additional adjustments to ATI. Under a transition rule, deductions for depreciation, amortization and depletion are added back to taxable income when calculating ATI for tax years beginning before 2022.

For tax years beginning in 2022 and beyond, deductions for depreciation, amortization and depletion won’t be added back. That will often significantly increase the taxpayer’s ATI, resulting in a lower interest expense deduction limitation.

What Qualifies as “Floor Plan” Financing Interest?

Floor plan financing interest refers to interest on debt that’s used to finance motor vehicles that the taxpayer holds for sale or lease to customers and that’s secured by the motor vehicle inventory. For this purpose, motor vehicles include:

  • Any self-propelled vehicles designed for transporting people or property on public streets, highways or roads,
  • Boats, and
  • Farm machinery and equipment.

Because it’s added back in calculating the business interest expense limitation, floor plan financing interest is effectively exempt from the limitation. However, property used in a business that has floor plan financing debt isn’t eligible for first-year bonus depreciation.

3 Exceptions

Need Help?

The business interest expense limitation rules are among the most complex provisions of the TCJA. Fortunately, many businesses will be exempt from the limitation. We can help explain the rules, calculate your business interest deduction and provide supporting documentation if you qualify for an exception to the business interest expense limitation. We also may be able to suggest some tax planning strategies to minimize the adverse effects of this provision of the new law.

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