How the ‘fiscal cliff’ deal affects entrepreneurs and small businesses


The House voted 257 to 167 to approve the Senate compromise to avert the fiscal cliff. (LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)
January 2, 2013

One day after the nation started sliding down the fiscal cliff, Congress on Tuesday approved a stop-gap measure to raise rates on the wealthy, extend unemployment benefits and avert a sweeping round of tax increases and government spending cuts.

But is the deal a win for the country’s smallest employers? On first look, it appears the deal will garner the same type of mixed reactions from the small businesses community that it has from many of the lawmakers who approved it, as the compromise includes provisions likely to both help and hinder entreprenuers going forward.

Here’s a look at some of the measures that will have the greatest impact on start-ups and small businesses.

Top rates raised: Tax rates will permanently increase for families with income above $450,000 and individuals above $400,000, meaning that a small sliver of small business owners with pass-through income above those thresholds will pay higher taxes. The Bush-era cuts remain in place for the rest of the tax brackets.

R&D credit continued: The Research and Development (R&D) tax credit was extended for another year and reinstated retroactively for 2012, though lawmakers stopped short of making it permanent. Employers can now continue to get tax breaks for between roughly 6 percent and 14 percent of their R&D expenditures.

Section 179 continued: Congress renewed for another year the maximum deduction levels for bonus depreciation and Section 179, which give tax breaks to businesses that purchase or lease software and equipment — both provide a boost for small employers planning to invest back into their firms in 2013.

More targeted breaks continued: The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), a tax incentive for firms that hire widely underemployed groups like youths and veterans, as well as breaks for renewable enegery technologies and retail/restaurant improvements were extended through 2013.

Payroll taxes increased: Lawmakers did not save the payroll tax cuts, instead allowing rates to jump back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent for all Americans. Economists warned the move could cripple consumer spending — a bad sign for small businesses who have already been complaining of low customer demand.

Capital gains rates increased: While dividend rates didn’t tick up nearly as much as the White House had hoped, capital gains and dividends did nudge slightly higher to 20 percent for high-income earners, which entre­pre­neur­ship advocates fear could deter some investments in new and growing firms.

Sequestration delayed: An unprecedented round of government spending cuts set to take place at the start of the year were put off for an additional two months, prolonging the wait for federal contractors of all sizes, many of whom would take a major hit if lawmakers cannot strike a deal to avert those automatic cuts by March.

How will your business respond to the fiscal cliff deal? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.
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