Can a Small Business Get a Tax Refund?

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Everyone likes tax refunds. If you have a small business, you may be wondering how to get one. The trick is to know how tax refunds work for businesses and how to increase your business deductions to decrease your business income.

Tax Law Changes You Need to Know About

Recent changes in the tax law (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) have reduced income tax rates for both individuals and corporations. A new small business tax deduction has been added (see below) and depreciation deductions for buying new equipment and vehicles have been increased. On the other hand, the entertainment deduction has been eliminated, and other deductions have been cut or changed.

Various COVID-19-Related laws might affect your taxes and increase your chances of getting a business tax refund. Some of the changes were one-time assistance, like Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness and employee retention credits. If you were self-employed and taking unemployment benefits, remember that these payments are taxable

If you took unemployment benefits as a self-employed individual in 2020, remember that these benefits are taxable to you in 2020. If you didn't withhold taxes, you may need to make an estimated tax payment to avoid penalties.

New Business Income Deduction

Business owners (not corporations) in sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and S corporations can get an additional 20% Qualified Business Income Deduction on their business net income each year. This deduction is in addition to your normal business tax deductions, and it's calculated and included in your personal tax return. There are limitations and qualifications, of course, so check with your tax professional about this.

How Business Tax Refunds Work

The trick to getting a business tax refund is to pay the IRS more during the year than your total tax bill. That means you must be able to estimate the amount of tax you might owe during the year and pay that amount plus more.

For most business owners, your business income is just a part of your total taxable income, so you must factor in all income sources. This means adding estimated business income and self-employment tax to other income to get a total of all income and taxes due.

Tax Refunds for Business Types

How you get your small business tax refund depends on your business type and your ownership in the business. There are two basic types of businesses when it comes to getting refunds:

Pass-through Businesses. Most small businesses pay their business income tax through their personal tax return. Sole proprietors and one owner LLC's complete a Schedule C - Profit and Loss for Business as part of the owner's 1040.

Partners in partnerships, owners of multiple-member LLCs, and S corporation owners also have their share of business income included on their personal tax returns. The partnership or LLC files an information tax return, and the owners are given a Schedule K-1 form showing their share of the income.

Corporations. If you are the owner of a corporation, you might pay on your income in one of two ways. Corporate owners are shareholders, who receive dividends paid out by the corporation. Dividends are taxed to shareholders when they are received. If you work for the corporation as an employee, you are taxed on your annual earnings in the same way as other employees. The corporation itself pays income taxes, and the shareholders pay tax on dividends received.

Any income from your pass-through business, your corporate dividends, or your earnings as a corporate employee is included in your personal tax return, along with any other income.

Tax Refunds for New Businesses

If you started a business during the year, you may be able to take some additional tax deductions for your startup expenses. The IRS considers startup costs as capital expenses, which means they must be spread out over several years. But you can deduct some expenses in the first year: up to $5,000 of startup costs and up to $5,000 or organization expenses (paying an attorney to create your business document, for example)

Withholding, Estimated Taxes, and Tax Refunds

Employees, including corporate executives who are employees, have federal and state income taxes withheld from their pay. But other business owners aren't employees and they don't have withholding taken from payments they receive as owners.

Because business owners don't have income taxes withheld during the year, they must pay their income tax bill periodically during the year through estimated taxes. The dates these estimated taxes are due are based on income from the previous three months. The due dates are April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year.

It's not a good idea to skip paying estimated taxes and to wait until tax time to pay. The IRS can charge you fines and penalties for underpayment.

Don't Forget Self-employment Tax

If you own any of the pass-through businesses described above, you must pay self-employment taxes on your business income, in addition to income tax. Self-employment tax is for Social Security and Medicare, and it's paid at 15.3% of your share of the business net income, or the entire business net income if you are a solo business owner.

If you want to get a tax refund you must consider paying enough during the year through estimated taxes or withholding on other income to cover both your estimated income tax liability and your self-employment tax.

The CARES Act of 2020 has a provision that allows business owners to delay paying 50% of the Social Security portion of their self-employment tax for part of 2020 (from March 27 through December 31). You must pay back the amount over the next two years. This is a deferral of the tax, not a refund, so you can't get a direct refund if you already paid this tax, but it may reduce your overall taxable income.

How to Get a Small Business Tax Refund

Here are some ways to improve your chances of getting a tax refund:

Work with a tax professional who can sit down with you on a quarterly basis and look at your business and personal income for the year and plan the amounts of your quarterly estimated payments.

Tax preparation software companies also may give you some help in estimating your total income tax liability, including both your business and personal taxes. The top tax preparation providers like TaxAct, H&R Block, and Turbotax have experts that can review your business and personal tax return for items you might have missed.

If you want to calculate estimated taxes yourself, the IRS has an estimated tax calculation worksheet on Form 1040-ES. Or see this article by The Balance on how to calculate estimated taxes.

The Drawback of Tax Refunds

Many people use tax refunds as a forced saving, and they over-estimate the amount of tax they must pay in order to get a hefty refund in April. But the drawback is that you don't have the use of that money during the year, and you don't get any interest on it. The IRS is using your money for up to 12 months.

It's a balancing act–– trying to pay enough in estimated taxes and withholding to avoid fines and penalties, and not paying so much that you have a huge tax refund but not being able to use the money during the year.

One Final Tip: File Soon to Get Your Refund Fast

The sooner you start working on your 2020 tax return, the better. Learn more about the best time to file to get your refund quickly.