NEW YORK -- Congress stopped the country from going over the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- and that's great news for some small-business owners. But with a deal that doesn't immediately address federal budget cuts, for many, the uncertainty drags on.
The compromise bill that passed the House last week raises taxes on couples earnings $450,000 or more and individuals earning at least $400,000. That affects small company owners who report their companies' income on their personal 1040 returns.
Democrats and small business lobbying groups had estimated that just 5 percent of owners would have paid higher taxes under President Barack Obama's proposal to raise rates on couples earning $250,000 or more, and individuals earning at least $200,000. The number of owners who will pay higher taxes now is likely to be even less than those estimates.
"That will help out tremendously," said Nate Nelson, who owns a medical testing company, Frontera Strategies, based in Dallas. He sets aside money to pay his taxes, and the higher threshold means he may have more cash available to make two hires and equipment purchases he's been putting off.
"It will help us loosen the belt a little," Nelson said.
The bill avoids widespread tax increases, but it delays for two months deciding on spending cuts that could be deep. Companies that benefit from government contracts still don't know how they might be affected by cuts in defense and other federal programs. Without the cliff compromise, the Pentagon and numerous federal agencies would have been subject to billions in budget cuts as early as this month. Cuts are still expected but it's unclear where, or how much, they will be.
The unknowns will lead owners to keep running their businesses conservatively, says Dennis Ceru, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.
"The concern I see is expressed in the form of not signing longer-term leases, looking to defer expensive equipment expenditures, looking to defer hiring and using seasonal and part-time workers instead of full-time ones," he says.
Compounding owners' concerns are the weakness in the economy and the government's inability to come up with solutions to its budget problems, says Scott Meadow, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.
"All of those things are kind of the foundation of this anxiety that's out there -- when is the sword going to fall, what is the effect going to be," he says. "It's that anxiety that causes (a small business owner) to slow down."