Despite borrowing massive amounts of money, the government still needs to find ways to raise revenue to pay for new programs and spending. The current democratically controlled Congress is considering implementing new social programs and a climate bill. As a way of funding these initiatives, they have floated the idea of an expansion of the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT).
The NIIT is proposed to raise revenue since it is seen as politically more palatable, given that it typically only impacts a small group of wealthier taxpayers. Critics, however, say the plan in its current form would also hurt small family businesses.
Who Pays the NIIT Now?
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the NIIT applied a 3.8 percent tax on investment income. Investment income includes both passive sources like dividends, capital gains, interest, royalties, and rents as well as passive business income. Under the ACA, the NIIT applied only to single taxpayers earning $200k or more and joint filers with $250k or more in earnings.
When it comes to the taxability of business income under the NIIT, because the law only captures passive business income, most owners of pass-through entities must pay the NIIT; however, active owners of S-corporations are exempt. Likewise, if someone qualifies as a real estate professional, their income is considered active and so their rental income is also exempt.
Who Would Pay Under the Proposed New Law?
The current version of the House bill makes two major changes. First, the NIIT expands to capture all business income. Essentially, S-corporation shareholders, limited partners, and pass-through entity owners that are currently exempt would be impacted.
Second, when it comes to removing the exemption on this business income, the income threshold rises from $200k to $400k for single filers and $250k to $500k for taxpayers filing jointly. The effect of this would be to exclude most business owners from the tax, but make filing more complex for those impacted.
Under the new rules, the Tax Policy Center projects that in 2023 the tax hike would fall on those in the top 1 percent of household incomes or those making approximately $885k or more. Further, even among the top 1 percent, more than 50 percent of the tax increase would be borne by the top 0.1 percent for those making $4 million and up.
Impact No Small Businesses
Overall, about 14 percent of taxpayers report some form of business income on their federal tax returns. The amount reported, however, is usually not a material amount for most as a percentage of their income. For example, only approximately 5.5 percent of taxpayers with a reported business income had this as the source of 50 percent or more of their total income. As a result, the impact will be mostly on a small percentage of small businesses. At the same time, as business income is far more variable than employment income, someone could easily fall in and out of the tax range.
Overall, the House bill looks to raise the threshold of where the NIIT expansion applies by the type of income it captures. We will have to wait and see if there are changes as the bill makes its way through – if it even passes at all. No matter what happens, there will certainly be tax increases of some kind.