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2021 Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

As the U.S. entered 2021, many assumed that newly elected President Joe Biden along with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate would swiftly enact tax increases on both corporations and individuals to pay for the cost of proposed new infrastructure and social spending plans, potentially using the budget reconciliation process to do so. Since then, various versions of tax and spending measures have been negotiated and debated by members of Congress and the White House. As 2021 heads to a close, tax increases are still expected, but the timing and content of final changes are still not certain.

On November 5, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives delayed voting on its version of the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), a package of social spending measures funded by tax increases. The delay allows members more time to review the budget impact of the provisions in the bill. Some of the legislation’s major tax proposals, which mainly target large profitable corporations and high-income individuals, include:

At the time of writing, the House had not yet voted on the Build Back Better Act. Once the House votes, the legislation will be taken up by the Senate. If enacted in its current form, the legislation would generally be effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2021; however, many of the corporate and international proposals affecting businesses would apply for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2022 – i.e., they would be deferred for one year.

The information contained in this article is based on tax proposals as of November 4, 2021 and is subject to change based on final legislation. Businesses should continue to track the latest tax proposals to understand the impacts of possible new legislation, particularly when engaging in tax planning. Despite the delays and uncertainty around exactly what tax changes final legislation will contain, there are actions that businesses can consider taking to minimize their tax liabilities.


Consider tax accounting method changes and strategic tax elections

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) lowered the regular corporate tax rate to 21% and eliminated the corporate alternative minimum tax beginning in 2018. The current version of the proposed Build Back Better Act would leave the 21% regular corporate tax rate unchanged but, beginning in 2023, would create a new 15% corporate alternative minimum tax on the adjusted financial statement income of corporations with such income over $1 billion. Companies with adjusted financial statement income over $1 billion, therefore, should take into account the proposed 15% corporate alternative minimum tax when considering 2021 tax planning actions that could affect future years.

Companies that want to reduce their 2021 tax liability should consider traditional tax accounting method changes, tax elections and other actions for 2021 to defer recognizing income to a later taxable year and accelerate tax deductions to an earlier taxable year, including the following:

Is “reverse” planning better for your situation?

Depending on their facts and circumstances, some businesses may instead want to accelerate taxable income into 2021 if, for example, they believe tax rates will increase in the near future or they want to optimize usage of NOLs. These businesses may want to consider “reverse” planning strategies, such as:


Tax accounting method changes – is a Form 3115 required and when?

 Some of the opportunities listed above for changing the timing of income recognition and deductions require taxpayers to submit a request to change their method of tax accounting for the particular item of income or expense. Generally, tax accounting method change requests require taxpayers to file a Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, with the IRS under one of the following two procedures:

Only certain changes may be implemented without a Form 3115.


Write-off bad debts and worthless stock

Given the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses should evaluate whether losses may be claimed on their 2021 returns related to worthless assets such as receivables, property, 80% owned subsidiaries or other investments.


Maximize interest expense deductions

The TCJA significantly expanded Section 163(j) to impose a limitation on business interest expense of many taxpayers, with exceptions for small businesses (those with three-year average annual gross receipts not exceeding $26 million ($27 million for 2022), electing real property trades or businesses, electing farming businesses and certain utilities.


Maximize tax benefits of NOLs

Net operating losses (NOLs) are valuable assets that can reduce taxes owed during profitable years, thus generating a positive cash flow impact for taxpayers. Businesses should make sure they maximize the tax benefits of their NOLs.


Defer tax on capital gains

Tax planning for capital gains should consider not only current and future tax rates, but also the potential deferral period, short and long-term cash needs, possible alternative uses of funds and other factors.

Noncorporate shareholders are eligible for exclusion of gain on dispositions of Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS). The Build Back Better Act would limit the gain exclusion to 50% for sales or exchanges of QSBS occurring after September 13, 2021 for high-income individuals, subject to a binding contract exception. For other sales, businesses should consider potential long-term deferral strategies, including:

Businesses engaging in reverse planning strategies (see Is “reverse” planning better for your situation?  above) may instead want to move capital gain income into 2021 by accelerating transactions (if feasible) or, for installment sales, electing out of the installment method.


Claim available tax credits

The U.S. offers a variety of tax credits and other incentives to encourage employment and investment, often in targeted industries or areas such as innovation and technology, renewable energy and low-income or distressed communities. Many states and localities also offer tax incentives. Businesses should make sure they are claiming all available tax credits for 2021 and begin exploring new tax credit opportunities for 2022.


Partnerships and S corporations

The Build Back Better Act contains various tax proposals that would affect partnerships, S corporations and their owners. Planning opportunities and other considerations for these taxpayers include the following:


Planning for international operations

The Build Back Better Act proposes substantial changes to the existing U.S. international taxation of non-U.S. income beginning as early as 2022. These changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

Businesses with international operations should gain an understanding of the impacts of these proposals on their tax profile by modeling the potential changes and considering opportunities to utilize the favorable aspects of the existing cross-border rules to mitigate the detrimental impacts, including:


Review transfer pricing compliance

Businesses with international operations should review their cross-border transactions among affiliates for compliance with relevant country transfer pricing rules and documentation requirements. They should also ensure that actual intercompany transactions and prices are consistent with internal transfer pricing policies and intercompany agreements, as well as make sure the transactions are properly reflected in each party’s books and records and year-end tax calculations. Businesses should be able to demonstrate to tax authorities that transactions are priced on an arm’s-length basis and that the pricing is properly supported and documented. Penalties may be imposed for non-compliance. Areas to consider include:


Considerations for employers

Employers should consider the following issues as they close out 2021 and head into 2022:


State and local taxes

Businesses should monitor the tax rules in the states in which they operate or make sales. Taxpayers that cross state borders—even virtually—should review state nexus and other policies to understand their compliance obligations, identify ways to minimize their state tax liabilities and eliminate any state tax exposure. The following are some of the state-specific areas taxpayers should consider when planning for their tax liabilities in 2021 and 2022:

State pass-through entity elections

The TCJA introduced a $10,000 limit for individuals with respect to federal itemized deductions for state and local taxes paid during the year ($5,000 for married individuals filing separately). At least 20 states have enacted potential workarounds to this deduction limitation for owners of pass-through entities, by allowing a pass-through entity to make an election (PTE tax election) to be taxed at the entity level. PTE tax elections present state and federal tax issues for partners and shareholders. Before making an election, care needs to be exercised to avoid state tax traps, especially for nonresident owners, that could exceed any federal tax savings. (Note that the Build Back Better Act proposes to increase the state and local tax deduction limitation for individuals to $80,000 ($40,000 for married individuals filing separately) retroactive to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020. In addition, the Senate has begun working on a proposal that would completely lift the deduction cap subject to income limitations.)


Accounting for income taxes – ASC 740 considerations

The financial year-end close can present unique and challenging issues for tax departments. Further complicating matters is pending U.S. tax legislation that, if enacted by the end of the calendar year, will need to be accounted for in 2021. To avoid surprises, tax professionals can begin now to prepare for the year-end close:


Begin Planning for the Future

Future tax planning will depend on final passage of the proposed Build Back Better Act and precisely what tax changes the final legislation contains. Regardless of legislation, businesses should consider actions that will put them on the best path forward for 2022 and beyond. Business can begin now to: