Whether you like regulations or not, compliance is important. Staying on top of the rules (which are often changing) is essential to maintaining a competitive edge. Failing to do so means incurring penalties and potential legal issues, which could cause you to fall behind your competition. The regulatory framework of the day should also inform your broader strategy, so it's important to periodically refresh your knowledge about what's changing.
These five federal policies are changing or likely to change, and they could affect your small business. Keeping an eye on the developments surrounding each could pay off big time in the end, saving you time, money and a headache.
The recent Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair marked the end of e-commerce businesses enjoying zero sales tax. South Dakota challenged an earlier decision that said businesses could only be taxed if they had a physical presence in a state, citing an estimated $48 to $58 million in lost tax revenue each year, according to court documents. Further, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that states collectively lose billions of dollars in tax revenue.
In a blog post, Swyft Filings broke down the expected impact of the 5-4 decision on small businesses and e-commerce companies. While the specific requirements aren't clear, the post reads, it does mean online retailers will be expected to do more in terms of paying sales taxes.
"[W]hile we don't know the specific rules, we do know this will complicate things. Online retailers, or even service providers, will now have to analyze what are likely to be 50 state laws dealing with sales tax for out-of-state businesses," the author wrote. "There is already tremendous variety with varying rates, some states not charging sales tax for services, [and] some only charging on certain services, and there could be a variety of different thresholds tested by various states to determine the limits."
For brick-and-mortar locations, this ruling represents a long-sought victory in remaining competitive with online retailers. Many e-commerce businesses already voluntarily collect sales taxes in anticipation of just such a sea change. However, if you are an online retailer who has not paid any sales taxes, it's important to familiarize yourself with state tax laws that might apply to you, and begin setting aside some funds accordingly.
Tariffs and trade policies
A hot topic in the news today is international trade policy. After the Trump administration announced a spate of tariffs on trading partners, including close U.S. allies such as Canada and European Union member states, a series of retaliatory measures targeting U.S. exports were announced in kind.
Tariffs can have a huge ripple effect on economies throughout the world, even impacting businesses in industries that weren't directly targeted. Understanding how the mounting tensions in trade policy could impact your small business is essential moving forward, as the market will adjust as a result, changing overhead and price points nearly everywhere.
"Pending free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, will cause a strain on supply chains, and tariffs will affect raw material costs as well as the ability to trade across the border," said Chris Budd, CEO of compliance management company Isolocity.
Preparing for market changes now by purchasing essential goods and equipment, setting aside extra liquid capital, and renegotiating contracts with suppliers could help insulate you from the worst impacts of rising tariffs and trade negotiations down the line.
Federal tax overhaul
Federal tax policy reform, which narrowly passed in both chambers of Congress last year, carries huge implications for businesses of all sizes. Not only does the law revamp the U.S. tax code, but many states could potentially change their regulations to better conform with federal policy as well.
While many have rushed to judgment either in favor of or against the legislation, the tax code is labyrinthian in nature, and the full effects won't be recognized until implementation is already well underway. Entrepreneurs should monitor developments as the new policy takes effect and consult with professionals about new opportunities or strategies to pursue. [Learn more about how the new tax law impacts small businesses.]
"The Tax Cut & Jobs Act passed in 2017, but we have a long way to go before we can identify all the effects it will have on the small business owner," said Jen Gibbs Swets, partner of DWC – The 401(k) Experts. "In 2018, all eyes are focused on the impact of the act, with financial consultants and accountants pouring through the complex details … With time to digest this mammoth new law, there will likely be opportunities uncovered by the assiduous consultant to the benefit of clients, particularly the small business owner demographic."
General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in the European Union
While the GDPR data privacy regulations are happening overseas, their implementation is a sort of bellwether for the U.S., which could soon follow up with similar regulation in a bid to tighten American networks and boost data security for individuals and businesses alike. Entrepreneurs should keep an eye on the developments, said E.J. McGowan, vice president and managing director of Campaigner.
"While GDPR is EU-focused, we expect this global change to result in stricter data policies in the U.S.," McGowan said. "With breaches like Equifax occurring more frequently, small businesses should focus on improving security protocols this year to protect consumer data, like email addresses, passwords and other personally identifiable data. While the terms of how the U.S. will respond to GDPR are not yet clear, business owners should ensure this policy is on their radar and take steps now to keep ahead of these regulations."
The Affordable Care Act
While health reform efforts failed multiple times in Congress last year, changes to the Affordable Care Act aren't off the table yet. The newly proposed tax policy changes include a provision that reduces the ACA's individual mandate penalty to $0, effectively repealing the provision through tax policy rather than congressional action. However, according to Paychex, the reporting provisions will not change, and employers and other self-insured individuals should be prepared to comply with existing requirements.
"While it's true that the individual mandate is gone, the mandate that requires business owners to provide their full-time employees with insurance has not gone away," said Nate Masterson, marketing manager for Maple Holistics. "Businesses that have not offered their employees sufficient coverage face penalties."
Paid sick leave and minimum wage policies at local and state levels
Measures raising the minimum wage or mandating paid sick leave have been gaining popularity throughout the country in municipalities and statehouses. As was the case in 2017, paid leave policies will likely be implemented in a patchwork fashion by localities and states.
Paid leave bills were also introduced in Congress, but any that surface this session are unlikely to gain traction in either Republican-led chamber. For entrepreneurs, offering paid leave benefits represents an attractive incentive when courting talent, but mandatory paid leave policies would likely require additional considerations in planning and budgeting.
"No matter how large or small the organization, most employers want to create a workplace culture that supports employees in times of need," said Martin Mucci, president and CEO of Paychex. "However, for small businesses, mandatory paid leave may present challenges. Whether it's having a key member of a small team out of the office for an extended period of time or the back-end administration of such a program, mandatory paid leave will introduce new dynamics small business owners will have to navigate."
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.