Tax Moves for Truckers to Make before Year End

Updated: May 5

2020 is almost over which means it’s time to make sure you have minimized your tax bill for the year. There are many things you can begin doing now to make filing your tax return as easy as possible and reduce the amount you owe. Let’s take a look at a few of the most important tax moves to make before 2020 comes to an end.

1. Buy Assets - ONLY if you Need Them

If you are in need of a new truck or piece of equipment for your business, it may be worth purchasing it before the year ends. Purchasing equipment for your business could allow you to reduce your tax liability because of the depreciation rules.

The tax law allows your business to take an immediate first-year deduction on any asset purchased during the year. This is because any qualified property purchased and placed in service between September 27, 2017, and December 31, 2022, can be depreciated by 100% of the cost of the property. If the tax law doesn’t change, then starting in 2023, the bonus depreciation goes down by an additional 20% each year. This means that in 2023 depreciation will be 80%, 2024 will be 60%, 2025 will be 40%, 2026 will be 20%, and in 2027 there will be no bonus depreciation. The cost of the depreciated piece of property will be recognized as an expense and lower your taxable income.

But, before you go out and make a big purchase in order to take advantage of the new depreciation rules, there are a few things to consider.

  1. This deduction shouldn’t motivate you to purchase things that you might want but won’t help your business make more money.

  2. A higher deduction in the present means you will likely have a lower deduction in the future. If your business is growing, this can lead to problems when your business moves into a higher tax bracket.

  3. If an asset is sold for more than its adjusted basis*, then tax law states any excess depreciation that was deducted on prior year's returns (up to the amount of the sale price) is considered taxable income. This means if you end up selling an asset for more than its adjusted basis, tax law requires the IRS to take back the depreciation deduction and the recaptured depreciation profits will be taxed as income. *Adjusted basis is the original purchase price minus any depreciation deduction allowed on that piece of equipment.

2. Calculate your Per Diem Deduction

Per diem is the tax deduction that the IRS allows to substantiate ordinary and necessary business expenses paid or incurred while traveling away from home. In simpler terms, it’s a deduction for meals and incidental expenses for the days you are on the road and away from home for a period of time that requires sleep or rest to complete your job duties. This deduction was eliminated for employees also known as company drivers under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) but remains a deductible business expense for self-employed individuals or owner-operators.

Effective October 1, 2020, the per diem rate remained at $66 per full day and $49.50 per partial day. A deduction of $52.80 is allowed for a full day and $39.60 for a partial day because the IRS only allows you to deduct 80% of the rate. For every day you drive in Canada, your per diem rate is $71 per day and 80% of that is $56.80.

Taxpayers are required to keep track of their days on the road in order to claim the per diem deduction. ATBS recommends keeping a per diem calendar where you mark an “X” for full days and a “/” on partial days to keep tracking per diem simple. To prove your per diem, you will also need to provide DOT ELD logs with times, dates, and locations.

To get a better understanding of per diem, check out our Seizing the Per Diem Tax Break article.

3. Consider Getting Taxed as an S-Corporation

Consider setting your business up as an LLC and filing form 2553 to elect to be taxed as an S-Corporation. There are some advantages to filing a 1120S, as long as you net enough earnings throughout the year. ATBS recommends not making this election unless your net earnings is consistently exceeding $70,000-$75,000 per year. At that point, tax savings will be greater than the costs to set up and run the corporation.

As an S-Corp, you can minimize your self-employment tax by paying yourself a reasonable salary and withdrawing additional funds as distributions. Unlike a sole proprietorship, not all income (distributed and undistributed) from an S corporation is subject to self-employment tax. The self-employment tax rate is approximately 15% on all earnings from self-employment activity.

Here is an example of how you can lower your self-employment taxable income when set up as an S-corporation. If you earned $60,000 of net income over the year, and pay yourself a reasonable salary of $40,000, you only have to pay self-employment tax on the $40,000. 15% (the self-employment tax rate) of $40,000 is $6,000. This means that you are now only paying $6,000 of self-employment tax rather than $9,000 (15% of $60,000 is $9,000). Paying yourself a salary that is not considered “reasonable” may send a red flag to the IRS that could potentially trigger an audit.

4. Get Caught Up on Quarterly Tax Estimates

If you have not been paying your quarterly estimated tax payments, it would be a good idea to make a larger than normal 4th quarter tax payment to try and catch up. This will help pay any existing tax liability due when you file your 2020 tax return. It will also allow you to avoid penalties for not paying enough taxes during the year. The 4th quarter estimated tax payment is due January 15th, 2021.

Generally, most taxpayers will avoid a penalty for underpayment of annual tax if they owe less than $1,000 or if they’ve paid at least 90% of the tax due for the current year. However, it’s HIGHLY recommended you pay taxes every quarter. Failing to pay your quarterly estimated taxes can result in additional penalties that vary based on how much you owe.

Don’t let yourself get too far behind or it will become more and more difficult to get yourself caught up. ATBS recommends setting aside 25%-30% of your weekly net income for quarterly estimated tax payments.

5. Make an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) Contribution

Contributions that you make towards a traditional IRA are considered tax deductible. You can contribute up to $6,000 per year across all IRA’s in your name and if you are over the age of 50, you can make an additional $1,000 contribution for a total of $7,000 per year. These contributions have to be made before April 15th, 2021.<