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Section 179 Deduction: A Simple Guide

By Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA on October 10, 2019

What is Section 179?

Section 179 allows businesses to deduct the full cost of capital assets (like furniture and equipment) right away rather than depreciating them over their useful life.

How the Section 179 deduction works

Taking advantage of Section 179 is a simple three-step process.

1. Make sure your asset is eligible

To qualify for a Section 179 deduction, your asset must be:

  • Tangible. Physical property such as furniture, equipment, and most computer software qualify for Section 179. Intangible assets like patents or copyrights do not. Buildings and land also don’t qualify, although some equipment attached to the building does, including things like fire suppression systems, alarms, and air conditioning units.

  • Purchased. Leased property doesn’t qualify.

  • Used more than 50% in your business. An asset that is primarily for personal use but occasionally used for the business isn’t eligible.

  • Not acquired from a related party. This includes siblings, spouses, parents, grandparents, descendants and businesses, trusts, and charitable organizations with which you have a relationship.

2. Start using the asset

Section 179 rules require you to start using the asset in your business to take the deduction. For example, if you purchase a piece of equipment in December of 2019 but don’t start using it until 2020, you would have to wait until 2020 to claim the Section 179 deduction for that asset.

3. Claim the deduction

You claim the Section 179 deduction on Part I of Form 4562. You’ll have to include a description of the property, its cost, and the amount of Section 179 you’re claiming for that asset on Line 6. If you need more room, you can attach a list to Form 4562.

Section 179 limits

A few limits apply to the Section 179 deduction.

1. The deduction starts to slip away after spending $2,500,000

For 2019, you can expense up to $1,000,000 of eligible property. However, if you spend more than $2,500,000 on qualifying property, your deduction will be reduced on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

For example, if your business purchases $2,600,000 of property, you’ll have gone over the cap by $100,000. So your maximum Section 179 expense will be $900,000 ($1,000,000 minus $100,000).

2. Your net income is the ceiling

Your Section 179 deduction is also limited to your business’ net income for the year—you can’t deduct more money than you made. For example, if you have net income of $50,000 before taking the Section 179 deduction into account, and you purchased $60,000 worth of eligible property, your deduction is limited to $50,000. At that point, you can opt to take regular depreciation on the remaining assets.

In that scenario, you missed out on $10,000 worth of Section 179 deductions because you didn’t make enough money that year. But there’s hope! You can carry that $10,000 deduction forward to next year, as long as your net income allows it.

Claiming Section 179 on vehicles

There’s one more limit to Section 179 expensing that applies to vehicles. Several years ago, a loophole in the rules allowed businesses to write off the full cost of large SUVs (like Hummers). Lawmakers closed that loophole by establishing limits for expensing vehicles.

The rules limit the Section 179 deduction for passenger vehicles, trucks, and vans to $11,160 for cars and $11,560 for trucks and vans. However, some work vehicles that are not likely to be used for personal purposes may still qualify for the full deduction.

Vehicles that qualify for the full Section 179 deduction:

  • Vans that can seat nine or more passengers, such as hotel or airport shuttles
  • Vehicles with a fully enclosed driver’s compartment and no seating behind the driver’s seat, such as a cargo van
  • Heavy construction equipment
  • Tractor-trailers

Claiming the Section 179 deduction can be a huge tax break for your small business, especially if you decide to purchase needed machinery and equipment before year-end. If you’re wondering how it will impact your deductions, talk to your accountant or tax advisor before making any big decisions.

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This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

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