Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many more construction businesses are now eligible to use the cash method of accounting for federal tax purposes, as well as the completed contract or other alternative to the percentage-of-completion method (PCM) for construction contracts. Both offer greater tax-planning flexibility, allowing some businesses to defer taxable income. Newly eligible businesses should determine whether one of these methods would be advantageous and, if so, consider switching methods.
Previously, the cash method was unavailable to certain businesses, including:
- C corporations — as well as partnerships (or limited liability companies taxed as partnerships) with C corporation partners — whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $5 million, and
- Businesses required to account for inventories, whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $1 million ($10 million for certain industries).
In addition, construction companies whose average annual gross receipts exceeded $10 million for the previous three tax years were required to use the PCM to account for taxable income from long-term contracts (except for certain home construction contracts). Generally, the PCM method is less favorable, from a tax perspective, than the completed-contract method. The PCM method requires the recognition of gross profit as contract costs are incurred whereas the completed-contract method allows for the deferral of the gross profit until the contract is substantially complete.
The TCJA raised all of these thresholds to $25 million, beginning with the 2018 tax year. In other words, if your average gross receipts for the previous three tax years is $25 million or less, you generally now will be eligible for the cash method, regardless of how your business is structured or whether you have inventories. Construction firms under the threshold need not use PCM for jobs expected to be completed within two years.
You are also eligible for streamlined inventory accounting rules and exempt from the complex uniform capitalization rules, which require certain expenses to be capitalized as inventory costs.
Cash method advantages
The cash method offers several advantages, including:
Tax-planning flexibility: It offers greater flexibility to control the timing of income and deductible expenses. For example, it allows you to defer income to next year by delaying invoices or to shift deductions into this year by accelerating the payment of expenses. An accrual-basis business doesn’t enjoy this flexibility.
Cash flow benefits: Because income is taxed in the year it is received, the cash method does a better job of ensuring that a business has the funds it needs to pay its tax bill.
Should you switch?
If you are eligible to switch to the cash method and/or completed contract or other alternative to PCM, you need to determine whether it is the right method for you. Usually, if receivables exceed payables, the cash method will allow more income to be deferred than will the accrual method. (Note, however, that the TCJA has a provision that limits the cash method’s advantages for businesses that prepare audited financial statements or file their financial statements with certain government entities.) In most cases, construction contractors prefer to use a method other than the PCM that better allows the contractor to defer income to a subsequent year.