Over the Fiscal Cliff for Tax Savings (Part 1)


Fiscal cliff image
(Photo: © iStockphoto/DNY59)

Mark E. Battersby |

ARDMORE, Pa. — The so-called “fiscal cliff” tax package recently signed into law renewed more than 50 temporary tax breaks through 2013, saving individuals and businesses an estimated $76 billion. For the owners and operators of small- and medium-sized dry cleaning businesses, there is good news and bad news contained in the fiscal cliff tax laws.

First, the good news: greater certainty in taxes. The owners and operators of dry cleaning businesses have grown used to many longstanding tax breaks but they also have had to get used to the uncertainty of whether they will be renewed each year.

On the downside, in addition to a 3.8% Net Investment Income (NII) tax and a 0.9% Additional Medicare tax that, thanks to the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, began in 2013, many dry cleaners and laundry owners discovered they are subject to new taxes. Single individuals with incomes above the $400,000 level and married couples with income higher than $450,000 will pay more in taxes in 2013.


The American Taxpayer Relief Act extended through 2013 the Tax Code’s Section 179 first-year expensing write-off for equipment and business property purchases. Now, the higher expensing limits in effect in 2011 have been reinstated for 2012 and extended for expenditures made before Dec. 31, 2013. Thus, a dry cleaning business can expense or immediately deduct up to $500,000 of expenditures in 2012 and 2013, subject to a phase-out if total capital expenditures exceed $2 million.

The election to expense the off-the-shelf computer software used by so many dry cleaners under Section 179 has also been extended and applies to expenditures made before Dec. 31, 2013.

The tax break that allows profitable dry cleaning businesses to write off large capital expenditures immediately—rather than over time—has long been used as an economic stimulus by our lawmakers. While 100% “bonus” depreciation expired at the end of 2011, today the new law allows 50% bonus depreciation for property placed in service through 2013.

Some transportation and longer-lived property are even eligible for bonus depreciation through 2014. If bonus depreciation had not been extended, the 2012 tax year would have been the final year in which substantial first-year write-offs for buyers of business automobiles and light trucks were available.

To be eligible for bonus depreciation, property must be depreciable under the standard MACRS (Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System) and have a recovery period of less than 20 years. Section 179 first-year expensing remains a viable alternative, especially for small businesses. Property qualifying for the Section 179 write-off may be either used or new, in contrast to the bonus depreciation requirement that the taxpayer be the “first to use.”

Leasehold improvements and building improvements generally must be depreciated over 39 years. The tax law provides a special 15-year, straight-line depreciation break for qualified leasehold improvements, restaurant property, and retail improvements. Naturally, there are quite a few restrictions, such as the lease must between unrelated parties.

Qualified leasehold improvements also qualify for the 50% bonus depreciation. In fact, qualified leasehold improvements, restaurant property, and retail improvements up to $250,000 may qualify for Section 179 expensing. And, best of all, these provisions have been extended for property placed in service before Jan. 1, 2014.


The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which rewards employers that hire individuals from certain target groups, has extended to Dec. 31, 2013, and applies to individuals who begin work for the employer after Dec. 31, 2011. Under the revised WOTC, dry cleaning businesses hiring an individual from within a target group are eligible for a credit generally equal to 40% of first-year wages up to $6,000.

An S corporation is a pass-through entity and not usually subject to income taxes. It is, however, liable for the tax imposed on built-in gains or capital gains. The tax on built-in gains is a corporate-level tax on S corporations that dispose of assets that appreciated in value during the years when the operation was a regular C corporation.

The new law extends a relaxed version of the provision limiting the “recognition period” to five years, but only for “built-in gains” recognized in 2012 and 2013. Thus, if a dry cleaning business elected S corporation status beginning Jan. 1, 2007, it will be able to sell appreciated assets it held on that date without begin subject to a hefty tax bill.

Check back Wednesday for the conclusion!

Information in this article is provided for educational and reference purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or individual recommendations. Consult a financial adviser for advice regarding your particular situation.

About the author

Mark E. Battersby

Freelance Writer

Mark E. Battersby is a freelance writer specializing in finance and tax topics. He is based in Ardmore, Pa.


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