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What You Need to Know About the Small-Business Bill The Small Business Jobs Act is expected to finally pass this week, but what will it really do to help entrepreneurs?

By Gwen Moran Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Small Business Jobs Act is poised for a full Senate vote this week after amendments are approved as expected. The package includes plenty of goodies, including tax breaks and a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund, but also measures that could have some small-business owners worried.

Before it becomes law, the bill must be resolved with the small-business legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June.

"We do expect the bill to pass on Tuesday night, but it still has a long way to go to become law," says Molly Brogan, vice president of public affairs for the National Small Business Association, a small-business advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

Still, the legislation has widespread support from a host of small-business interests and is expected to become law before midterm elections in early November. Here's a look at what the bill, if passed, could mean for your business, including the potential potholes that you could be facing down the road.

Small Business Lending Fund: You might have better luck getting a loan from a smaller lender. A Small Business Lending Fund would provide up to $30 billion in capital to financially sound small banks with less than $10 billion in assets to encourage them to lend money to small businesses. Participating banks would have an incentive to lend to small business: If they increase lending to small business 10 percent over the previous year, they would pay as little as 1 percent on the capital they acquire from the fund.

State Small Business Credit Initiative: This provision could help you out if you live in a state that has a successful small-business lending program and can show how your loan could help create jobs. States with such programs facing cutbacks due to tight state budgets may be eligible for funding to continue them. The grant pool would total $2 billion, but states would need to show that there has been at least $10 in new lending for every $1 in federal grant money they receive. In addition, they would be required to use their funding to work with private lenders to extend more credit to creditworthy small businesses and manufacturers who need the money to create jobs. The administration estimates that the $2 billion pool could generate $20 billion in new lending.

Support of Small Business Administration Lending Programs: If you've been seeking an SBA loan, you could stand to benefit from this measure. The bill would extend provisions that amped up SBA lending guarantee programs and fee reductions that recently expired. In addition, the bill would increase the maximum loan size for the SBA's 7(a), 504, and microloan programs. The 7(a) and 504 loan program maximums would bump from $2 million to $5 million and the microloans would increase from $35,000 to $50,000. Loans made under the SBA Express program would temporarily increase from $300,000 to $1 million. It also includes a temporary allowance for small-business owners to use 504 loans to finance certain mortgages to avoid foreclosure.

Tax Incentives: Startups, this one's for you. The bill would raise new-business expense deduction thresholds from $5,000 to $20,000 in 2010 and 2011. In addition, qualifying small-business investments -- primarily those in corporations with less than $50 million in gross assets and held for more than five years -- would be exempt from capital gains tax. The general business credit, which now can be carried back to relieve the previous year's tax liability, would be extended to a five-year carry-back.

Increased Deductions: Business owners would be able to write off the whole cost of acquiring property immediately instead of over time. For 2010 and 2011, this change to "Section 179 expensing," so-named for a section of the Internal Revenue Service code, would allow taxpayers to write off up to $500,000 in capital expenditures. Expenditures over that amount would phase out, up to a ceiling of $2 million. The bill would allow taxpayers to expense up to $250,000 of the cost of qualified improvements on leased property, restaurant property, and improvements to retail-business property. Business owners could also deduct the cost of health insurance for themselves and their families when calculating self-employment taxes.

Increased Export Support: Doing business overseas? The bill contains provisions that might help government agencies help you more. It would increase support to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which plays a key role in promoting U.S. exports, creating staff positions there and at the Department of Commerce, while increasing funds to promote U.S. exporters and fund export grants available to industry associations and nonprofit organizations. The bill also would create the State Export Promotion Grant Program to support small, export-minded businesses and enhances efforts at the SBA to encourage export businesses.

But the bill isn't all roses for small-business owners. Some provisions to pay for the bill, particularly higher Internal Revenue Service penalties, could end up stinging small-business owners who are generally known as a group for tending to run afoul federal tax rules.

  • The bill would increase penalties for failure to file timely information with the IRS.
  • The first-tier penalty for failing to file tax returns would increase from $15 to $30, and the calendar-year maximum penalties would increase from $75,000 to $250,000.
  • The second-tier penalty would increase from $30 to $60, and the calendar-year maximum would rise from $150,000 to $500,000.
  • The third-tier penalty would rise from $50 to $100, and the calendar-year maximum would be raised from $250,000 to $1.5 million.
  • The minimum penalty for each failure due to intentional disregard would increase from $100 to $250.
  • Penalties for failure to file information returns to payees, such as 1099s and W2 forms, would also increase.

This last provision, particularly in regard to 1099 forms, is a source of concern to some of the bill's critics. New 1099 reporting requirements passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may dramatically increase the number of 1099s businesses need to process beginning in 2013. This key sticking point is tied to health care reform, which included a major change in how businesses report spending, requiring every business which spends in excess of $600 with a merchant, vendor, contractor, or supplier to issue a 1099.

Despite the reservations of the provision's critics, the bill has the support of 187 business and trade groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business, and is expected to pass, after a Republican vote was secured last week.

"There are a ton of provisions in this bill that the small-business advocacy groups across the spectrum have been advocating for years. It's really amazing that they're all together," says John Arensmeyer, chief executive of Small Business Majority, a small-business advocacy organization in Sausalito, Calif. "It's truly a bipartisan bill that is tremendously beneficial to small business."

Gwen Moran

Writer and Author, Specializing in Business and Finance

GWEN MORAN is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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