In a recent survey of 350 small business owners by the National Small Business Association, a majority (56 percent) cited the administrative burden of filing taxes as the most significant tax-related challenge facing their companies. In fact, a slightly lower number -- 44 percent -- said the financial burden was most significant.
This discrepancy likely reflects the fact that nearly two-thirds of respondents spent more than 40 hours on the job, with 28 percent spending in excess of three weeks. And, nearly all -- 85 percent -- hire a tax professional to help them accurately meet their obligations with the IRS.
By nearly any measure, the cost to comply with tax regulations has grown, even over just the past year or two. In 2010, for instance, 57 percent of respondents spent more than 40 hours filing taxes; a hefty proportion by any measure, but slightly lower than the 64 percent that did so in 2011. Also in 2011, 53 percent of business owners responding spent more than $5,000 completing, or hiring others to complete, their tax forms. That was up slightly from 50 percent in 2010. More than three-quarters of respondents said that federal taxes have either a moderate or significant impact on the day-to-day operations of their business.
So, what changes would these business owners like to see? "The overwhelming majority of small-business owners support broad reform of the federal tax code -- not tinkering with certain taxes here and there," says Todd McCracken, NSBA president and CEO. Nearly three-fourths support a reduction in both corporate and individual tax rates and deductions.
More than half -- 54 percent -- said they'd support a broad reform of the system, eliminating all income and corporate tax rates and deductions, and replacing it with a 23 percent tax at the end point of sale on goods. Such a system would be in line with what's known as the "Fair Tax."
As described on the website of Americans for Fair Taxation (FairTax), a nonpartisan group focused on replacing the current tax system, "Under the Fair Tax, every person living in the United States pays a 23% national sales tax on purchases of new goods and services. This rate is equal to the lowest current income tax bracket (15%) combined with employee payroll taxes (7.65%), both of which will be eliminated." This national sales tax would be simpler, yet generate the same revenue as the current tax code, FairTax says. That simplicity would be key, given that the code currently contains some 3.8 million words, the Tax Foundation reports.
Even as the Fair Tax has gained popularity, a value-add tax, or VAT, hasn't. (Under a VAT, a tax is collected at each stage of production.) Just four percent of respondents support such a system.
Half of respondents supported reducing the corporate tax rate and eliminating some business deductions. The fact that these potential changes didn't garner more support likely reflects the fact that the large number of small businesses that are pass-through entities, in which the owners pay taxes as individuals.
The NSBA survey included input from 350 small business owners. Nearly three-quarters were with either an S- or C-corporation. Nearly ninety percent had between one and 99 employees. The biggest chunk -- 33 percent -- had revenues of between one and five million.