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Bonus Depreciation is a Bonus, but Full Expensing is Ideal

4 min readBy: Kyle Pomerleau

This week the House will take up a bill that will permanently extend what is called “bonus depreciationBonus depreciation allows firms to deduct a larger portion of certain “short-lived” investments in new or improved technology, equipment, or buildings in the first year. Allowing businesses to write off more investments partially alleviates a bias in the tax code and incentivizes companies to invest more, which, in the long run, raises worker productivity, boosts wages, and creates more jobs. ,” or 50 percent expensing. 50 percent expensing was one of the over 50 “extender” taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. provisions that expired at the end of last year.

50 percent expensing allows businesses to immediately write off, or expense, 50 percent of an investment in new equipment or short-lived structures. It does not apply to commercial or residential buildings or factories.

We find that permanently extending this provision would boost GDP by over 1 percent, wages be 1 percent, and create 212,000 new jobs due to its effects on the cost of capital. It would also increase federal tax revenues by $23 billion after taking into account the increases wages and incomes caused by making bonus expensing permanent.

While these things are certainly good, calling the provision a bonus is a little misleading. It is a bonus compared to current law. Businesses can write off more of their investment sooner and the economy as a whole will see more investment and growth compared to current law; however, bonus depreciationDepreciation is a measurement of the “useful life” of a business asset, such as machinery or a factory, to determine the multiyear period over which the cost of that asset can be deducted from taxable income. Instead of allowing businesses to deduct the cost of investments immediately (i.e., full expensing), depreciation requires deductions to be taken over time, reducing their value and discouraging investment. more accurately represents only a partial move to a more neutral tax baseThe tax base is the total amount of income, property, assets, consumption, transactions, or other economic activity subject to taxation by a tax authority. A narrow tax base is non-neutral and inefficient. A broad tax base reduces tax administration costs and allows more revenue to be raised at lower rates. . An ideal, neutral tax code (a tax code that treats saving and investment equally) would allow businesses 100 percent expensing on all capital investments rather than 50 percent expensing on some investments.

Under current law, when a business makes a capital investment (purchases a machine, building, or office equipment), it must write off, or deduct these costs from taxable incomeTaxable income is the amount of income subject to tax, after deductions and exemptions. For both individuals and corporations, taxable income differs from—and is less than—gross income. in stages over several years or decades.

For example, suppose a pizza shop purchases an oven for $100. Under the current cost recoveryCost recovery is the ability of businesses to recover (deduct) the costs of their investments. It plays an important role in defining a business’ tax base and can impact investment decisions. When businesses cannot fully deduct capital expenditures, they spend less on capital, which reduces worker’s productivity and wages. system, an oven is deducted in stages over 7 years according to a depreciation schedule. Each year’s deduction is a percent of the total initial cost (table, below). Over the expected life of the investment, each year’s deductions add up to the initial nominal cost of $100 when the oven was purchased.

However, in present-value terms, this isn’t the case. If we take into account the time-value of money and inflationInflation is when the general price of goods and services increases across the economy, reducing the purchasing power of a currency and the value of certain assets. The same paycheck covers less goods, services, and bills. It is sometimes referred to as a “hidden tax,” as it leaves taxpayers less well-off due to higher costs and “bracket creep,” while increasing the government’s spending power. , the pizza shop will actually not be able to deduct the initial cost of the investment over seven years. In fact, the pizza shop will only be able to deduct $83.63 in present-value terms over the life of the investment. For the business this means their taxable income over the seven years is inflated related to what is should have been. For the economy as a whole, this means an increase in the cost of capital, reduced investment, and slower economic growth.

Depreciation Schedule of a 7-year Asset (MACRS)

Year

Write-off

Present Value Write-off

0

$ 14.29

$ 14.29

1

$ 24.49

$ 22.78

2

$ 17.49

$ 15.13

3

$ 12.49

$ 10.05

4

$ 8.93

$ 6.69

5

$ 8.92

$ 6.21

6

$ 8.93

$ 5.79

7

$ 4.46

$ 2.69

Total:

$ 100.00

$ 83.63

Note: 5 percent real discount rate and 2.5 percent inflation

50 percent expensing is an improvement over current law. This provision allows a business to immediately deduct 50 percent of the initial cost before using the above depreciation schedule. For the pizza shop, this means a $57 deduction for the oven on the first year. This also means that because a larger deduction was taken in the first year, the pizza shop will be able to recovery more of the initial cost of the investment over the 7 years ($91.82 with bonus depreciation vs. $83.63 without bonus depreciation) after we take into account the time value of money and inflation. This represents a reduction in the cost of capital in contrast with current law. This is why our analysis finds a boost to GDP, wages, and employment.

Depreciation Schedule of a 7-year Asset (MACRS) with 50% Expensing

Year

Write-off

Present Value Write-off

0

$ 57.15

$ 57.15

1

$ 12.25

$ 11.39

2

$ 8.75

$ 7.57

3

$ 6.25

$ 5.03

4

$ 4.47

$ 3.34

5

$ 4.46

$ 3.11

6

$ 4.47

$ 2.89

7

$ 2.23

$ 1.34

Total:

$ 100.00

$ 91.82

Note: 5 percent real discount rate and 2.5 percent inflation

However, $91.82 in present-value terms is still not $100. So even with 50 percent expensing, we are not at the ideal in which a business can recover the full cost of an investment.

An Ideal tax code would allow the full $100 cost of the oven to be deducted in the year in which it was purchased. Allowing businesses to expense, or deduct the full cost of an investment immediately, would lower the cost of capital and increase investment even more.

We found that full expensingFull expensing allows businesses to immediately deduct the full cost of certain investments in new or improved technology, equipment, or buildings. It alleviates a bias in the tax code and incentivizes companies to invest more, which, in the long run, raises worker productivity, boosts wages, and creates more jobs. will increase GDP by 5.21 percent, wages by 4.42 percent, and federal revenue by $96 billion. A benefit to GDP five times greater than a permanent bonus expensing provision.

So yes, bonus depreciation is a bonus compared to current law and a step in the right direction towards a neutral, pro-growth tax system, but full expensing is still the ideal.

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