Maximizing Small-Business Tax Deductions

Maximizing small-business tax deductions

How small-business owners can take advantage of Section 199A

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in December 2017 offers a wealth of opportunities to small-business owners. Among the most notable provisions is Section 199A, which provides for qualified business income (QBI) deductions. These deductions are available to taxpayers who are not corporations, including S corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships and rental properties.

While Section 199A provides a huge tax break for small-business owners, determining who is qualified can be complicated. In addition to eligibility requirements, there are income thresholds after which deductions are phased out. Here’s a look at who is eligible to use Section 199A, as well as strategies business owners above phase-out thresholds can use to recapture QBI deductions. 

Are you eligible?           

In general, small-business owners may qualify for QBI deductions if they meet one of the following criteria:

  •  No matter the type of business, if a business owner’s taxable income falls below $157,500 for single filers or $315,000 for joint filers, that business owner is eligible for a QBI deduction. That deduction is equal to the smaller of 20% of their qualified business income or 20% or their taxable income.

  • Businesses that offer specified service—such as lawyers, accountants, athletes, financial services, consultants, doctors, performing artists, and others with jobs based on reputation or skill—may have deductions phased out if they make too much money. If your income is above $207,500 for single filers or $415,000 for joint filers, you can no longer claim the QBI deduction.

  • If you own a business that is not a service business or a specialized trade, the QBI deduction is partially phased out if your taxable income is above $157,500 for single filers or $315,000 for joint filers. The deduction is limited to the lesser of either 20% of qualified business income or the greater of the following: 50% of W-2 wages paid, or the sum of 25% of W-2 wages paid by the business generating the income plus 2.5% times the cost of depreciable assets

The retirement solution

If your income is above the phase-out limits, you can preserve your full deduction by making smart use of retirement plans. Here’s a look at a few examples of ways to strategically employ retirement plans to reduce your income and recapture a QBI deduction:

Example 1: A couple, age 50, with a specified service business

A couple, each 50 years old, has a specific service business in the form of an S corp that pays W-2 wages of $146,000 and pass-through income of $254,000, for a total income of $400,000. The couple claims the standard deduction of $24,000, making their adjusted gross income $376,000. Because of their high earnings, the couple’s QBI deduction is only $19,812 due to QBI phase-outs. Their total income is  $356,188.

The couple can capture their full QBI deduction by setting up and funding a 401(k) plan. They can set up an individual 401(k) plan, deferring $24,500 as an employee contribution and contributing 25% of salary, or $36,500, as a profit sharing contribution. The deferral and profit sharing max out their individual 401(k) plan with a total contribution of $61,000. In this way, their W-2 wages are reduced to $121,500, and their pass-through income is reduced to $217,500 after the profit sharing contribution. Their total income after the standard deduction is $315,000.

As a result, the couple can claim their full QBI deduction of $43,500 (20% of 217,500), and their income is now $271,500. With a $61,000 contribution to a 401(k), the couple was able to effectively reduce their income by $84,688. In other words, this couple was able to get 1.39 times the income reduction for every dollar they contributed to a retirement plan. 

Example 2: A couple, age 55, with a higher-income specified service business,

Business owners who earn higher income may need to deploy additional retirement plans to capture their QBI deduction. Consider an S corp that pays W-2 wages of $146,000 to the couple, and pass-through income of $317,500 for a total income of $463,500. They claim the standard deduction of $24,000 and their adjusted gross income becomes $439,500. The couple does not receive a QBI deduction because their high income results in a complete phase-out. Their total income therefore remains $439,500.

However, this couple can still take advantage of a QBI deduction by setting up an individual 401(k) plan and deferring $24,500 as an employee contribution. They also can add a defined benefit (DB) plan or a cash balance (CB) plan and contribute even more to a retirement plan. Suppose they set up a DB or a CB plan and the actuaries calculated they could contribute $100,000 to the plan for a total combined contribution of $124,500. In this case, their W-2 wages are reduced to $121,500 and their pass thru income is $217,500.

The couple’s total income after the standard deduction is $315,000. Their QBI deduction is $43,500 (20% of $217,500) and their income is now $271,500. With $124,500 in contributions to their individual 401(k) plan and DB or CB plan the couple received a $168,000 income reduction. This couple was able to get 1.35 times of income reduction for every dollar they contributed to a retirement plan.  

This material is for educational purposes and is not intended to provide tax advice. Talk to your tax professional to find out how QBI deductions may apply to your financial situation.

To learn more about how to maximize your QBI deduction, please email us at or call (303) 440-2906.

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail

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