It’s not too late to get 100% depreciation on Dec. construction equipment purchases—but should you?


Though December 31 is closing in fast, contractors still have time to purchase construction equipment and write off 100 percent of the cost of that purchase as depreciation on their 2019 taxes.

Called Section 179, the benefit covers not only new equipment, but used as well, thanks to a change in the tax law in late 2017. The law also increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100 percent and included used equipment; before that, only new equipment qualified.

Knowing contractors are now looking at tax implications of equipment buys, construction equipment manufacturers are rolling out sales and incentives, touting Section 179 and bonus depreciation to entice purchases before the year ends. But they also note that contractors should first check with their accountants.

Accountants agree Section 179 and bonus depreciation are excellent benefits for contractors in the market for new or used equipment – if the purchase makes business sense. But contractors, especially those starting out in business and those with income losses, should be aware of some pitfalls before pulling the trigger on an equipment purchase with tax benefits in mind.

What’s new for 2019?

The main change in the benefit for this year is an inflationary increase, which was another new provision in the Tax Cuts and Job Acts of 2017.

Chris Cicalese

That means the maximum Section 179 expense that can be deducted for equipment has risen $20,000 to $1,020,000 for 2019, according to CPA Chris Cicalese, manager at Alloy Silverstein in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

The cap on the amount of equipment purchased to take the full benefit has also risen, by $50,000 to $2.55 million, Cicalese says. Once the $2.55 million cap is reached, the benefit gradually phases out until reaching $3.5 million.

Bonus depreciation for 2019 is again 100 percent and again has no cap, same as in 2018.

How it works

Along with the caps, Section 179 and bonus depreciation differ when there’s an income loss.

Section 179 is limited to taxable income.

Keith Hollar

For instance, if your 2019 taxable income was $100,000 and you purchased a $200,000 piece of equipment, you could only deduct up to $100,000 in the first year. And if you had a net loss, you would not be eligible for Section 179. However, you could carry forward Section 179 to the next year and so on, according to CPA Keith Hollar, tax partner with Calvetti Ferguson in Fort Worth, Texas.

Or you could take the first-year bonus depreciation, which does not face such limitations. It can even be taken if the company experiences a loss in net income.

“We’ve seen that come into play,” Hollar says. “Maybe somebody is starting up or they’re in the beginning stages of an operation. If they want to go ahead and take the bonus to get the benefit, they can carry that net operating loss forward. That will help offset some of their next year’s revenue when they move into the second year and they’ve got more revenue and potential net income.”

For companies with sufficient net income, Section 179 is usually taken first. And if they reach the cap, bonus depreciation can follow.

Volvo Construction Equipment presents the following example on its website to show how contractors in such situations can benefit:

Equipment Purchases $1,520,000
Section 179 Deduction $1,020,000
Depreciable Amount $500,000
Bonus Depreciation (100% of Depreciable Amount) $500,000
Regular Depreciation 0
Total First-Year Deduction $1,520,000
Tax Rate 21%
Total First-Year Tax Savings (Section 179 and Bonus Depreciation) $319,200
Tax Savings using Section 179 Only $1,020,000 x .21 = $214,400

How much time to buy?

Equipment purchases made before the end of the year qualify for Section 179 and bonus depreciation on 2019 taxes as long as the equipment is put into service before the end of December.

The law does not stipulate a set amount of time the equipment must be in service, Hollar says.

“As long as you put it in service,” according to Hollar, it qualifies.

However, “if you buy it and stick it in a corner, and it doesn’t go into service until late January or early February, that’s not going to qualify for 2019,” he explains.

Used equipment purchases do have a few more rules for Section 179 and bonus depreciation. For one thing, the used equipment must be “new” to the purchaser. And it can’t be equipment previously owned by a related business entity or relative.

Contractors should also remember that these tax benefits won’t end in 2019, so if you can’t squeeze in a purchase within the remainder of the year, there’s always next year and a few more after that.

Section 179 is a permanent benefit, under the law. The 100 percent bonus depreciation begins to phase out in 2023, when it drops to 80 percent. It falls another 20 percent each year after that until reaching zero starting January 1, 2027.

It should also be noted that in 2020, the inflationary increase written into the law will rise to $1,040,000 for the Section 179 deduction amount, and the cap will rise to $2,590,000.


“You shouldn’t just buy something just to get a deduction,” says Hollar. “Is this a piece of equipment that you really need to do a project or process or procedure quicker, better, faster or maybe go into a new line of production or a new line of business?”

Cicalese also notes that 100 percent depreciation in the first year prevents depreciation of that equipment in future years.

The eventual phase out of 100 percent bonus depreciation in future years is something else to consider.

“It is more important to discuss how to use the depreciation provisions along with any other provisions, such as the Qualified Business Income Deduction, with your CPA to take advantage of what is available now and speculated to not be available in the future,” Cicalese says.

Contractors should also be aware of the Section 179 and bonus depreciation rules for the states they operate in. Not all states followed the federal tax changes.

Is it worth the rush?

So should you hurry to buy equipment before the end of the year?

Again, the answer comes down to another question: Does it make business sense?

“If it’s something they can place in service, get going and it makes business sense for them, it’s certainly a good tax-saving option,” Hollar says.

And he does expect some December buying.

“As we’re starting to schedule more and more of our year-end tax planning meetings over these next couple, three weeks, we usually have folks who will make purchases in December, or they’ve already done it throughout the year,” he says. “A lot of companies will look at where they are right now at the year end and then look at what’s available as far as tax planning options. And bonus depreciation and 179 are definitely tools that have been useful to companies over the years.”

Cicalese expects, though, that any late purchases will be based more on need rather than tax benefit.

“Although the tax law change can provide a more favorable result,” he says, “it is my experience that taxpayers don’t necessarily go out of their way to buy assets that weren’t essential in their day-to-day just because of the new 179 or bonus depreciation rules.”