The recently enacted Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 fulfills a promise U.S. President Barack Obama made to entrepreneurs soon after his election, pledging to create incentives aimed at encouraging small-business creation and growth.
Many experts agree that the package of finance and tax incentives represents some good news for small businesses struggling to cope with weak economic conditions. Although some faculty at Emory University and its Goizueta Business School and other observers praise the new initiative, others wonder if it will have the necessary impact to help jump-start the economy.
“Until now, large companies have been the biggest beneficiaries of stimulus programs and tax incentives,” says Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in the practice of finance at Goizueta. “The accelerated tax write-offs featured in the new act are a good idea, since they’re aimed at incentivizing businesses to make capital purchases that can have a ripple effect throughout the economy.”
Among other changes under the Small Business Jobs Act, companies can reduce their taxable income by immediately expensing the costs of certain kinds of newly acquired business assets, instead of depreciating them over their “useful life,” a period of years determined by the Internal Revenue Service. Generally, companies like to expense their assets quickly as a way to significantly reduce their tax liability.
The asset write-offs, popularly known as Section 179 after the applicable part of the Internal Revenue Code, were previously limited to $250,000 in a given year. The new act raises the threshold to $500,000 of newly purchased assets per year, subject to certain limitations, during 2010 and 2011.
In another bid to get businesses to spend more, the act extends and revises the so-called bonus depreciation rules, which let taxpayers depreciate 50 percent of the cost of certain assets in the first year they are placed in service.
An earlier set of bonus depreciation rules expired at the end of 2009, but the new act extends it to assets placed in service through the end of 2010, and certain assets may qualify even if they are purchased and put into service through 2011.
Some observers have questioned the timing of the legislation, suggesting that few small business owners will risk making significant capital expenditures during the current downturn. They also complain that the bonus depreciation rules, while welcome, have such a limited timeframe that few businesses will not have enough time to plan and get financing for the capital purchases.
Smith, however, isn’t so sure about that.
“The fact is that machinery and equipment is either wearing out—or, in the case of computers and other technology-based assets—is becoming obsolete,” he says. “Businesses that want to stay competitive aren’t likely to hold off on necessary purchases just because the economic recovery isn’t moving as quickly as they hoped. Obama’s responses to the recession may not all be perfect, but he’s moving in the right direction.”