Net Operating Losses Provide Tax Benefits
For many businesses, profits vary from year to year. However, with proper planning, even a bad year can be helpful from a tax perspective. Where business deductions exceed gross income, a taxpayer may have a net operating loss (NOL) that can be used to offset income in another tax year, potentially generating a refund of previously paid taxes.
Who May Use an NOL?
NOLs are available to individual business owners, corporations, estates, and trusts. Partnerships and S corporations do not take NOL deductions, though their partners and shareholders may use “passed through” losses on their own returns.
How Is an NOL Applied?
The general rule is that a taxpayer may carry an NOL back two years and forward 20 years, though certain limited exceptions may apply. For example, an individual with an NOL that was caused by a casualty, theft, or disaster may use a three-year carryback period.
In general, the taxpayer will carry back an NOL to the earliest year it can be used and then carry it forward, year by year, until it is used up. The taxpayer may also elect to forego the two-year carryback and carry the loss forward for the 20-year period. However, the general preference is to use an NOL sooner rather than later because a dollar of tax saved today is generally worth more than a dollar saved in the future.
How Is an NOL Calculated?
Calculations of NOLs can be complicated. For example, a noncorporate taxpayer’s NOL is calculated without regard to any personal exemptions or NOLs from other years, and certain deductions for capital losses and nonbusiness items are limited.
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