Evaluating Net Operating Loss Considerations

Net Operating Loss, what is Net Operating LossWhen it comes to determining if a business is eligible to claim a net operating loss (NOL), it depends on the financial situation. If a business’ taxable income is less than its allowable deductions in a set tax period, usually a year, then the business can utilize the NOL deduction on future tax obligations. Since some businesses’ profits and losses result from uneven cycles, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code permits businesses to find a balance with their tax obligations.

How a Net Operating Loss Works

Here is an example showing a business’ situation with annual profit/loss summaries:

Year one: High profits and big tax payments due

Year two: Net operating loss incurred

Year three: High profits and big tax payments due

The way a NOL deduction works in the example above is that the losses from year two can be used to offset taxes due in year three.

Net Operating Loss (NOL) = Taxable Income – Allowable Tax Deductions

Referring to the income statement, if the company’s bottom line is a net loss, then the company might be eligible to take advantage of the NOL deduction.

It’s important to keep in mind there have been modifications to what and how businesses may use this. Until recently, the IRS let businesses utilize the carryback method to offset losses to prior years’ tax bills (up to 24 months of tax liabilities), resulting in an immediate refund. However, with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, NOLs were modified. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, or later, the two-year carryback provision was removed (except for select farming losses), but allowed for an indefinite carryforward period. The TCJA also limits carryforwards to 80 percent of each subsequent year’s net income. Additionally, if a business records a net operating loss in more than one tax year, they must be exhausted in the order that the losses occurred. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act permitted NOLs occurring in tax years 2018, 2019, and 2020 to be carried back five years and carried forward indefinitely. However, the exemptions have now expired. Losses that occurred in pre-2018 tax years are still subject to former tax rules, with any remaining losses expiring after 20 years. Beginning with the 2021 tax year, when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in 2017, it permitted carryforwards of NOLS indefinitely. However, only 80 percent of taxable income can be “carried forward” during a single tax period.

2021 and Forward NOL Example

Year one: NOL $10 million

Year two: Taxable income of $3 million

Year three: Taxable income of $5 million

For year two, with the taxable income’s carryover limit (80 percent) of $3 million is $2.4 million. With the carryover limit subtracted ($3 million – $2.4 million = $600,000), the company’s taxable income will be $600,000 for year two. The remaining NOL of $7.6 million will be considered a “deferred tax asset.” Looking at year three, 80 percent of the year’s $5 million in taxable income equals $4,000,000 in a carryover limit. Subtracting $4 million from $5 million in year three’s taxable income, the business will have $1 million in taxable income, and $3.6 million will be the remaining NOL balance at the end of year three. 

With the tax code continuing to evolve, businesses that stay up-to-date with changes in the IRS Code will make the most of their ability to maximize deductions and reduce liabilities.


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