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Understanding Qualified Trade or Business: A Guide

With ever-evolving business landscapes, a deep-rooted understanding of a ‘qualified trade or business’ is paramount not just for entrepreneurs but for everyone. This term, often deployed by the IRS, extends beyond its simple lexical meaning to a range of regulatory, tax, and operational implications. In shedding light on this topic, we’ll navigate through the basic definitions, IRS requirements, tax implications, experiential opportunities, and challenges, concluding with a purview of successfully operating qualified trades or businesses.

1. Basics of Qualified Trade or Business

Definition and Basics of Qualified Trade or Business

A Qualified Trade or Business (QTB) is a term defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) within the framework of tax regulations. It is essentially any trade or business, with a few exceptions, that can qualify for a 20% tax deduction on qualified business income (QBI) according to Section 199A of the IRS tax code. The deduction relates to the income generated by the trade or business, and not to wage or investment income.

QBI is the net amount of income, gains, deductions, and losses associated with the taxpayer’s business within the United States. Importantly, this excludes investment-related income, such as capital gains or losses, dividends, and interest income. The trade or business itself generally has to be one conducted within the USA to qualify.

Types of Entities under Qualified Trade or Business

Various types of business entities fall under the QTB category. Sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations, and certain trusts and estates can be included. Essentially, any tax-paying entity other than a C-corporation, or a business conducted by a corporation can qualify as a QTB.

However, it’s imperative to note certain types of businesses called “specified service trades or businesses” (SSTBs) might not be able to claim the QBI deduction or may have the deduction limited. These include businesses in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial, brokerage services, any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of its employees or owners, and more.

Understanding Exceptions to Qualified Trade or Business

A vast array of trades or businesses are often classified as a Qualified Trade or Business (QTB), as defined by the IRS. However, there are notable exceptions. Foremost among these exceptions is that an employee, independent of the nature of their work, is not regarded as a QTB. Additionally, businesses operating outside of the U.S. or earning income from outside the U.S., do not meet the qualification. Along with these, specified service trades or businesses (SSTBs) may also fail to qualify if the taxpayer’s income surpasses outlined thresholds.

Learning the fundamentals and understanding the IRS regulations, including the types of eligible entities that qualify as a QTB, are crucial elements for informed tax planning and business decision-making. Since these adjustments could have a significant impact, it’s often recommended to seek the counsel of a tax professional for guidance customized to your specific circumstances.

2. Requirements for a Qualified Trade or Business

What is a Qualified Trade or Business? An Overview

A Qualified Trade or Business, or QTB for short, is a term used to define any trade or business with a couple of exceptions. The exceptions include specific service businesses as identified by the IRS and any business involving services performed as an employee. The importance of understanding what constitutes a QTB becomes apparent considering that small business owners can claim a 20% qualified business income (QBI) deduction for these qualifying businesses.

Eligibility Criteria for Qualified Trade or Business

For a business to be eligible for QBI deduction, it must be deemed a qualified trade or business. It can be a sole proprietorship, partnership, or S corporation. C-corporationns are normally restricted from this, as are service businesses where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees or owners. The IRS specifically lists several such businesses, including health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, athletics, financial services, and consulting.

Specific Service Businesses

Specific service businesses that primarily rely on the reputation or skill of its workers or owners may still qualify for the QBI deduction. This is the case if the taxpayer’s taxable income does not exceed $182,100, or $364,200 if they are filing a joint return. Above these thresholds, a complex phase-out process starts until the QBI deduction is fully phased out once they cross $232,100 in taxable income, or $464,200 for joint filers.

IRS Regulations

The IRS has issued regulations to determine whether a business is a qualified trade or business. IRS focuses on three areas: the level of activity in the trade or business, the business’s continuity and regularity, and whether the primary purpose is for income or profit.


In terms of qualified trades or businesses and their eligibility for the QBI deduction, the IRS provides a general framework. These guidelines, while useful, can often be intricate and sometimes a bit unclear. Due to the complexity of these stipulations, the IRS advises business proprietors to seek professional assistance. This ensures that they meet all necessary criteria, maximize their tax deductions, and remain compliant with all aspects of the law.

3. Tax Implications for Qualified Trade or Business

A Closer Look at Qualified Trade or Business

Generally, the term “qualified trade or business” encompasses virtually any trade or profession. However, there are notable exceptions. Specified service trades or businesses (SSTBs), which include disciplines like law, health, and consulting, performing arts, athletics, some financial services, or any trade or business primarily reliant on a particular employee or owner’s reputation or skill set are excluded. Comprehensive guidelines are in place, provided by the IRS, to elucidate what exactly qualifies as a trade or business for the sake of taxation.

Tax Deductions for Qualified Trade or Business

One of the most important tax benefits available to qualified trades or businesses is the introduction of the Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction that came with the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The QBI deduction allows non-corporate taxpayers to deduct up to 20% of their QBI from a qualified trade or business. This deduction is available to sole proprietors, partners in a partnership, and S corporation shareholders. However, several restrictions and limitations apply to the QBI deduction, especially for taxpayers with taxable incomes above certain thresholds.

Credits for Qualified Trade or Business

In addition to deductions, various forms of tax credits are available to qualified businesses. Large businesses may be eligible for the Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave, the Work Opportunity Credit, and the Research and Development Credit. Smaller businesses can benefit from the Small Employer Pension Plan Startup Costs Credit, the Disabled Access Credit, and the Small Employer Health Insurance Premiums Credit. Each credit has specific qualifications and requirements that businesses have to meet.

Tax Liabilities for Qualified Trade or Business

Though there are many tax benefits connected to operating a qualified business, certain tax liabilities are also inescapable. All businesses are expected to pay either income or capital gains tax on the net profits they earn. The rate of taxation will vary depending on the business structure. For instance, a corporation might be subject to double taxation, once on its earnings and again on shareholder dividends.

Businesses are also responsible for employment taxes, which include Social Security and Medicare taxes for their employees. Additionally, some businesses may be subject to excise taxes, which apply to specific industries like alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, or to specific goods and services.

Staying Current with Tax Law Modifications

In the ever-evolving world of tax legislation, it is crucial for certified businesses to stay on top of any potential amendments. Anticipating these changes can greatly impact your business decisions and planning, as they often come with significant implications.

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) introduces an assortment of final regulations, suggested rules, and notices that alter various components of the tax code. Staying informed about these updates can strategically position your business to maximize tax benefits and reduce tax liabilities effectively.