Maximizing small business tax credits: a comprehensive guide

Ines Zemelman, EA
Ines Zemelman, EA
• 25.06.24 • 4 mins read
Maximizing small business tax credits: a comprehensive guide

As a small business owner, understanding the intricacies of tax credits can significantly impact your bottom line.

Small business tax credits offer a direct reduction of your tax bill, providing a dollar-for-dollar decrease in your tax liability.

This ultimate guide will help you navigate the most valuable tax credits available, ensuring you don't leave any money on the table this tax season.

Understanding small business tax credits

Tax credits vs. tax deductions

Before diving into specific tax credits, it's essential to understand the difference between tax credits and tax deductions.

  • Tax deductions: These reduce your taxable income, which lowers your overall tax liability based on your tax bracket. For instance, a $1,000 deduction in a 24% tax bracket saves you $240.
  • Tax credits: These provide a direct reduction in the amount of tax you owe. A $1,000 tax credit reduces your tax bill by $1,000, making them more powerful than deductions.

General business tax credit

The General Business Tax Credit (GBTC) is a collection of individual credits designed to encourage specific business activities, from research and development to energy efficiency improvements.

Businesses typically use Form 3800 to calculate and claim these credits. 

NOTE: the GBTC is non-refundable, meaning it can only reduce your tax liability to zero.

Key small business tax credits

1. Health insurance premiums credit

The Credit for Small Employer Health Insurance Premiums is one of the most beneficial credits available under the Affordable Care Act.

  • Eligibility: Businesses with fewer than 25 full-time employees, paying average wages below $55,000, and covering at least 50% of employees' health insurance premiums.
  • Credit Amount: Up to 50% of premiums paid, claimable for two consecutive years.
  • Form: 8941.

2. Research and development (R&D) tax credit

The Credit for Increasing Research Activities supports businesses investing in innovation.

  • Eligibility: Businesses of all sizes engaging in qualified research activities, such as developing new products or processes.
  • Credit Amount: Up to 20% of qualifying research expenses.
  • Forms: 6765 or 8974 for small businesses.

3. Work opportunity tax credit (WOTC)

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit incentivizes hiring individuals from specific groups facing employment barriers.

  • Eligibility: Hiring veterans, ex-felons, SNAP recipients, long-term unemployed, and other designated groups.
  • Credit Amount: Generally 40% of the first $6,000 of the employee’s first-year wages.
  • Form: 5884.

4. Disabled access credit

The Disabled Access Credit helps businesses cover the cost of making their premises accessible to disabled individuals.

  • Eligibility: Businesses with gross receipts of $1 million or less or fewer than 30 full-time employees.
  • Credit Amount: 50% of eligible expenses, up to $10,250.
  • Form: 8826.

5. Employer-provided child care credit

The Employer-Provided Child Care Credit supports businesses that assist employees with child care costs.

  • Eligibility: Expenses for constructing, expanding, or operating a child care facility, and providing child care referrals.
  • Credit Amount: 25% of qualified expenses, plus 10% of referral expenses, up to $150,000 annually.
  • Form: 8882.

Additional valuable tax credits

1. Family and medical leave credit

This credit encourages businesses to offer paid family and medical leave.

  • Eligibility: Businesses providing at least two weeks of paid leave annually, covering at least 50% of regular earnings.
  • Credit Amount: 12.5% to 25% of wages paid during leave, depending on the percentage of wages covered.
  • Form: 8994.

2. New markets credit

The New Markets Credit incentivizes investments in low-income communities.

3. Retirement plans startup costs credit

The Credit for Small Employer Pension Plan Startup Costs helps businesses establish retirement plans.

  • Eligibility: Businesses with 100 or fewer employees, paying at least $5,000 in wages, without a retirement plan in the past three years.
  • Credit Amount: Up to $500 for administrative costs, claimable for the first three years.
  • Form: 8881.

How to claim small business tax credits

Step-by-step process:

  1. Identify eligible credits: Review your business activities and expenses to identify eligible tax credits.
  2. Gather documentation: Maintain detailed records of qualifying activities and expenses to substantiate your claims.
  3. Complete specific forms: Fill out the individual forms required for each credit.
  4. Calculate the GBTC: Use Form 3800 to tally your total credits if claiming more than one.
  5. File with your tax return: Submit the completed forms with your annual tax return.

Carry forward and carry back

If you can't use all your tax credits in the current year, you may be able to carry them forward to future tax years or back to previous years.

This flexibility ensures that you can still benefit from credits even if your tax liability is low in a particular year.

Tips for maximizing tax credits

Consult a tax professional

Dealing with the complexities of tax credits can be challenging.

Consulting with a tax professional ensures you identify all eligible credits and claim them correctly.

"Many small business owners miss out on valuable tax credits simply because they are unaware of them." – CPA Ines Zemelman

Stay updated on tax laws

Tax laws change frequently, and staying informed about new credits and updates to existing ones is crucial.

For example, the SECURE 2.0 Act introduced several enhancements to retirement plan credits.

Maintain detailed records

Accurate and thorough record-keeping is essential for claiming tax credits.

Document all expenses, activities, and relevant employee information to substantiate your claims.

Bottom line

Small business tax credits offer significant financial benefits, directly reducing your tax liability and freeing up funds for reinvestment in your business.

By understanding the available credits and how to claim them, you can maximize your savings and enhance your business's financial health.

Remember, proactive tax planning is key to optimizing your tax situation.

Start early, keep detailed records, and stay informed about changes in tax laws to make the most of the small business tax credits available to you.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or tax advice. Always consult with a tax professional regarding your specific case.

Further reading

Small business tax deductions: maximizing your benefits
"A well-informed approach to tax deductions can significantly alleviate the fiscal burden on small businesses, allowing for greater financial flexibility and growth potential" - seasoned CPA Tax deductions, when utilized effectively, can reduce taxable income and
Small business tax deductions: maximizing your benefits