You may not agree so much with Jared Kushner's politics. But if you're a small-business owner, you should definitely pay attention to how he handles his taxes.
Kushner — the son-in-law of President Trump and husband of Ivanka — made headlines the other week after the New York Times reported that he had "probably paid little or no income tax" from 2009 to 2016.
"Over the past decade, Jared Kushner's family company has spent billions of dollars buying real estate. His personal stock investments have soared. His net worth has quintupled to almost $324 million," wrote Times reporters Jesse Drucker and Emily Flitter. "And yet, for several years running, Mr. Kushner appears to have paid almost no federal income taxes, according to confidential financial documents."
Is this yet another Trump family tactic to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor? Actually, no it isn't. Kushner just used a very common and legal strategy in the tax code that's available to most businesses, big and small.
Because Kushner is in the real estate business, his company would buy buildings and other assets and then enjoy significant first-year deductions that are allowed under IRS accelerated-depreciation rules. Sometimes the deductions would be so large that his company would generate a loss. Which was fine, because that loss could be carried forward or back as an offset against any future or prior profits his company incurred.
But here's the great thing about this tax strategy: You don't have to spend any — or much — cash to take advantage of it. The IRS doesn't require that you pay for an asset to take the deduction. You just need to make sure that it's being used during that tax year. So Kushner would buy these properties (assets can be new or not) with mostly borrowed funds and then enjoy the large tax deductions once his properties were in use.
"If I had to live my life over again, I would have been in the real estate business," Jonathan Blattmachr, a well-known trusts and estates lawyer, told the Times. "It's fantastic. You get tax deductions for things you don't pay for."
But here's the thing Mr. Blattmachr: You don't have to be in only the real estate business. You can be in any business. That's because these accelerated-depreciation rules — which have been around for decades — are available to business owners in every industry.
In fact, and thanks to last year's tax reform, many small businesses (which, remember, employ more than half of the country's workforce) have been given added incentives to write off up to $1 million a year in capital equipment as well as enhanced deductions on vehicles purchased for business use.
Pay attention small business owners and meet with your accountants. It's only mid-October, and if the Fed sticks to its already announced monetary-policy plans, then it's likely that interest rates will be increasing over the next year. So while these rates are still relatively low, it's a good time for small businesses to buy, finance, and place into service property and equipment to take advantage of large deductions before year end.
So thank you New York Times for further increasing the awareness of this most excellent and long-existing tax strategy. And thanks to you Jared Kushner. When it comes to taxes, more business owners should be doing what you're doing. Why? Because it's legal and because we all have a fiduciary duty to our employees, customers, vendors, partners — and their families — who all rely on us for their livelihoods to minimize expenses where we can so that we can continue to grow our businesses and provide them with jobs.
Gene Marks is a certified public accountant and the owner of The Marks Group, a 10-person technology and financial management consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd.