NEW YORK — Small-business owners may want to hand out bonuses and raises now that there’s a new tax law, but many don’t know if they’ll have any wealth to share.
“We didn’t base any raises or bonuses on the tax situation because, quite frankly, until it actually happens, no one’s sure what’s going to happen,” said Rod Hughes, a vice president at Kimball Hughes Public Relations in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.
It’s easier for big companies like Walmart and Home Depot to award bonuses because they already know their top tax rate is dropping to 21 percent from 35 percent under the old law. Millions of small business owners have far less certainty.
While they can deduct 20 percent of their business income, the size of the deduction declines when an individual owner’s taxable income reaches $157,500. The IRS still needs to issue regulations on how these owners’ business income is calculated.
“The 20 percent deduction is extremely complex, and it’s going to require a complete understanding of how the statute works,” said William Hornberger, an attorney with tax expertise at the firm Jackson Walker in Dallas.
Big companies also have an advantage because they have billions of dollars in cash reserves. Small and midsize businesses often don’t have such cushions or access to big lines of credit that can help pay operating costs if revenue slows. Giving bonuses or raises in response to a potential tax cut could leave smaller companies vulnerable to a cash-flow crisis.
Mark Carpenter has gotten different opinions about the law’s potential impact on his roofing company.
“We need to see how the rules change and if it allows us to raise wages,” said Carpenter, whose business, Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal, is based in Tualatin. He’s already given employees raises and bonuses based on the company’s performance, but needs to be careful with cash flow because the business is growing rapidly.
Many business owners say they don’t base decisions, including raises and bonuses, primarily on how much money they might save on taxes.
“The idea of giving more money to employees purely on speculation that you’re going to see more in your pocket, that’s counterintuitive,” said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources provider based in Norwalk, Connecticut, whose clients are primarily small and midsized companies.
Rob Basso is seeing raises being awarded at the clients of his company, Advantage Payroll Services, but he’s not hearing that the tax cut is a factor.
“What they’re doing is sticking to the normal reasons for giving raises, like giving merit raises,” said Basso, whose company is based in Plainview, New York.
Steve Kalafer, of Flemington, New Jersey, has given the 700 employees of his car dealerships bonuses of up to $500 because Flemington Car & Truck Country Family of Brands will benefit from the corporate tax cut. But any further bonuses, or raises, will depend on how many cars his dealerships sell.
The prospect of a tax cut does help some owners feel more secure about increasing staffers’ pay. Tjernlund Products has given raises and bonuses, mindful of the need to recruit and retain talented workers in Minnesota’s tight labor market.
Co-owner Andrew Tjernlund doesn’t know what taxes will be like for the company that manufactures fans and ventilation equipment. But he sees the law as an opportunity to be a more competitive employer.
“The tax cut allows us to invest more in our growing business,” he said. “In this low-unemployment environment, securing and rewarding our employees is the best use of this freed-up money.”