The Deep Dive: Pass-Through Income Deduction

Nick HopkinsBy Nick Hopkins, CPA, CFP®
Partner, Director of Tax Services

Each Thursday for the next few weeks, Sponsel CPA Group will present The Deep Dive, a closer look at individual aspects of the new tax reform and how they might affect you or your business.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act introduced a new tax deduction taking effect for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017 and before January 1, 2026 that should provide a substantial tax benefit to individuals with “qualified business income” from a partnership, S corporation, LLC or sole proprietorship. This income is commonly referred to as “pass-through” income.

The deduction is 20% of a taxpayer’s combined “qualified business income (QBI)” from a partnership, S corporation or sole proprietorship, which is defined as the net amount of items of income, gain, deduction and loss with respect to a taxpayer’s trade or business. The business must be conducted within the U.S. to qualify, and specified investment-related items are not included, e.g., capital gains or losses, dividends, and interest income (unless the interest is properly allocable to the business).

The trade or business of being an employee does not qualify. Also, QBI does not include reasonable compensation received from an S corporation, or a guaranteed payment received from a partnership for services provided to a partnership’s business.

The deduction is taken “below the line,” i.e., it reduces a taxpayer’s taxable income but not their adjusted gross income. In general, the deduction cannot exceed 20% of the excess of a taxpayer’s taxable income over net capital gain. If the net amount of qualified income, gain, deduction and loss relating to qualified trade or businesses of the taxpayer for any tax year is less than zero, the amount is treated as a loss from a qualified trade or business in the succeeding tax year.

Rules are in place (discussed below) to deter high-income taxpayers from attempting to convert wages or other compensation for personal services into income eligible for the deduction.

For taxpayers with taxable income above $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), an exclusion from QBI of income from “specified service” trades or businesses is phased in. These are trades or businesses involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, consulting, athletics, financial or brokerage services, or where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more employees or owners.

Here’s how the phase-in works: If your taxable income is at least $50,000 above the threshold, i.e., $207,500 ($157,500 + $50,000), all of the net income from the specified service trade or business is excluded from QBI. (Joint filers would use an amount $100,000 above the $315,000 threshold, viz., $415,000.) If your taxable income is between $157,500 and $207,500, you would exclude only that percentage of income derived from a fraction the numerator of which is the excess of taxable income over $157,500 and the denominator of which is $50,000.

So, for example, if taxable income is $167,500 ($10,000 above $157,500), only 20% of the specified service income would be excluded from QBI ($10,000/$50,000). (For joint filers, the same operation would apply using the $315,000 threshold, with a $100,000 phase-out range.)

Additionally, for taxpayers with taxable income more than the thresholds listed above, a limitation on the amount of the deduction is phased in based either on wages paid or wages paid plus a capital element.

Here’s how it works: If your taxable income is at least $50,000 above the threshold, i.e., $207,500 ($157,500 + $50,000), your deduction for QBI cannot exceed the greater of (A) 50% of your allocable share of the W-2 wages paid with respect to the qualified trade or business, or (B) the sum of 25% of such wages plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition of tangible depreciable property used in the business (including real estate).

So, if your QBI were $100,000, leading to a deduction of $20,000 (20% of $100,000), but the greater of (A) or (B) above were only $16,000, your deduction would be limited to $16,000, i.e., it would be reduced by $4,000. And if your taxable income were between $157,500 and $207,500, you would only incur a percentage of the $4,000 reduction, with the percentage worked out via the fraction discussed in the preceding paragraph.

(For joint filers, the same operations would apply using the $315,000 threshold, and a $100,000 phase-out range.)

Other limitations may apply in certain circumstances, e.g., for taxpayers with qualified cooperative dividends, qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends or income from publicly traded partnerships.

This material is adapted from Thomson Reuters/Tax & Accounting and is used with permission.

If you have any questions about tax reform changes, please call Nick Hopkins at (317) 608-6695 or email


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