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Tax Law Roundup

current law developments in U.S. taxation

Taxpayer Failed Requisite Profit Motive When Investing In Partnership Solely for Charitable Deductions

Posted in Deductions, Partnership/LLC, Real Estate, Tax Shelters

In McElroy v. Commissioner, the Tax Court concluded that the taxpayer failed the requisite profit motive to receive a tax deduction from an investment in a charitable syndication partnership.  The case involves an attempted syndication of charitable deductions by placing real estate into a partnership, soliciting investors with promised charitable deductions well in excess of their investment, and then donating the real estate one year later and reporting large charitable deductions to the partners.  The taxpayer in the case invested into one of these partnerships.  The IRS said that the taxpayer could not even deduct their original contribution as a Section 165 loss, let alone the reported charitable deductions.  The court denied the taxpayer’s deduction because Section 165 required that the investment be made with the intent to make a pre-tax profit.  The taxpayer lost its argument that its requisite profit was the net benefit of the extra charitable deductions it received over the cash it contributed to the partnership. The case also addressed TEFRA partnership procedural issues regarding the ability of the tax matters partner to extend the statute of limitations while under criminal investigation.

Favorable IRS Guidance on Pre-2014 Renewable Energy Projects

Posted in Energy, Green, Tax Credits

The IRS and Treasury announced taxpayer-favorable guidance regarding the grandfathering of pre-2014 projects for the purposes of the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) or the energy investment tax credit (ITC).  As noted in our 2013 blog, a “qualified facility” is eligible to receive either a renewable electricity production tax credit or energy investment tax credit, if construction of such facility begins before January 1, 2014.  Notice 2013-29 provided guidelines and a safe harbor to determine when construction has begun on such a facility under the Physical Work Test or the Safe Harbor.  According to the Treasury press release, new Notice 2014-46 does the following:

  • Clarifies that the Physical Work Test relates to the nature of the work, not the amount or cost. (Work of a significant nature includes, for example, any of the following activities: beginning of the excavation for the foundation, the setting of anchor bolts into the ground, or the pouring of the concrete pads of the foundation).
  • Clarifies that a fully or partially developed facility may be transferred without losing its qualification under the Physical Work Test or the Safe Harbor for purposes of the PTC or the ITC. The only exception to this provision is transfers consisting solely of tangible personal property between unrelated parties.
  • Provides that the Safe Harbor may be used by taxpayers that have paid or incurred less than five percent, but at least three percent, of the total cost of a facility before January 1, 2014. These taxpayers may claim a reduced credit proportional to the amount paid or incurred before January 1, 2014.

Final Regulations Address Reportable Transaction Tax Advisor Penalties

Posted in Procedure, Tax Shelters

Today the IRS finalized regulations that penalize tax advisors who do not properly notify the IRS on Form 8918 with respect to so-called “listed” or “reportable” transactions.  These rules, applicable to so-called “material advisors”, are a back door way for the IRS to track transactions that have a higher probability of being tax shelters.  However, the transactions covered can in some cases be quite innocent, such as when a non-corporate taxpayer reports certain non-exempted transaction losses in excess of $2 million.  Form 8918 is due the last day of the month that follows the end of the calendar quarter in which the advisor became a material advisor with respect to the reportable transaction.

The final regulations make a series of changes from the original proposed regulations published in December 2008.  For example, the final regulations clarify that if a transaction is both a listed and reportable transaction, only the higher listed transaction penalty will apply.  Further, if the material advisor fails to comply with its obligations on more than one reportable or listed transaction, a separate penalty will apply for each transaction.  Perhaps most important is additional guidance on how the IRS will apply its authority to rescind the penalty when a taxpayer files, but files late.  The final regulations note that if a material advisor unintentionally failed to file a Form 8918, but then files a properly completed form with the IRS, that filing will be a factor that weighs in favor of rescission of the section 6707 penalty if the facts suggest that the material advisor did not delay filing the form until after the IRS had taken steps to identify that person as a material advisor with respect to that particular transaction. The final regulations further provide that the late filing will not weigh in favor of rescission if the facts and circumstances suggest that the material advisor delayed filing the Form 8918 until after the material advisor’s client filed its Form 8886 (or successor form) identifying the material advisor with respect to the reportable transaction in question.

Final Regulations Provide Partnership Technical Terminations Have No Impact on Unamortized Organization and Start-Up Costs

Posted in General, Joint Venture, Partnership/LLC

The IRS issued final regulations confirming that a technical termination of a partnership does not accelerate unamortized start up or organizational costs under Sections 195 and 709.  The regulations are effective as of the date of the underlying proposed regulations and apply to a Section 708(b)(1)(B) partnership technical termination that occurs on or after December 9, 2013.  The only change in the final regulations was to clarify that there is no restart of the amortization period for these capitalized costs.

A sale or exchange of 50% or more of a partnership interest within 12 months creates a partnership technical termination, causing a short partnership taxable year, among other events.  Many of the consequences of technical terminations were reduced or eliminated in 1997 when regulations changed the mechanics of a technical termination, but questions still remain.  This latest regulation prevents taxpayers from receiving an accelerated tax deduction as a result of a technical termination.  However, until Congress acts on proposals to completely repeal technical terminations, taxpayers will continue to need to watch out for these events and their consequences, such as a restart of Section 168 depreciation lives.

Final S corporation Regulations Limit Basis To Bona Fide Shareholder Loans

Posted in Debt vs. Equity, S corporation

The IRS issued final regulations granting an S corporation shareholder outside basis only in “bona fide” loans directly from the shareholder to the S corporation. A shareholder does not obtain debt basis merely by guaranteeing a loan or acting as a surety, accommodation party, or in any similar capacity relating to a loan.  Further, a shareholder can receive basis from a so-called “back-to-back” loan (where the shareholder first borrows the money from another before making the loan to the S corporation), but only if the loan from the shareholder to the S corporation is respected as a bona fide loan.  The final regulations adopt the proposed regulations discussed in our 2012 blog without substantive change and officially remove the prior “economic outlay” concept for S corporation debt basis determinations.  The final regulations will be effective when published as final in the federal register (scheduled for July 23, 2014).


Internet Sales Tax Update: Senate Introduces Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act

Posted in Real Estate, Sales Tax

Last night, Senators Enzi, Durbin, Alexander, Heitkamp, Collins and Pryor introduced the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA).  Essentially, the legislation combines the previously introduced Marketplace Fairness Act (with several technical changes) and a 10-year extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which provides a moratorium on state and local taxation on internet access.  The new bill would allow states to collect sales/use tax on internet retailers with gross sales over $1 million. This legislative vehicle follows on the 2013 Senate vote of 69-27 for Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013.

According to the ICSC shopping center trade association, the new legislation provides states the authority to enforce existing sales and use tax laws, if they choose to do so, by adopting one of the following options:

  • Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA): Allows any state that is a member of SSUTA to require remote retailers to collect state and local sales and use taxes.
  • Alternative Minimum Simplification Requirements: States that are not SSUTA members may require remote retailers to collect state and local sales and use taxes if they adopt minimum simplification requirements as outlined in the bill.

 Small Seller Exception: The legislation would prohibit states from requiring remote sellers with less than $1 million in annual nationwide remote sales to collect sales and use taxes.

Cross-Border Interest Expense Apportionment Regulations Finalized

Posted in International, Partnership/LLC

The IRS issued cross-border interest apportionment final regulations.  These adopt the approach from the 2012 temporary regulations, requiring a 10% corporate partner to apportion its interest expense by reference to the value of the partnership’s assets.  Thus, regardless of special allocations in the partnership, a 20% corporate partner would be treated as owning a straight 20% of the partnership assets for purposes of determining how the corporate partner apportions its interest expense for Section 861 US vs. non-US sourcing calculations.  The regulations conform to the “asset method” dictated by the 2010 statutory changes to Section 864(e).

Specifically, a corporate partner shall apportion its interest expense, including the partner’s distributive share of partnership interest expense, by reference to the partner’s assets, including the partner’s pro rata share of partnership assets, if the corporate partner’s direct and indirect interest in the partnership (as determined under the attribution rules of section 318) is 10 percent or more.  Further, an individual partner is subject to the rules if either the individual is a general partner or the individual’s direct and indirect interest (as determined under the attribution rules of section 318) in the partnership is 10 percent or more.  The regulations are effective on July 16, 2014.

New FBAR Amnesty Program Changes Help Some, Hurt Some

Posted in International, Procedure

The IRS has significantly expanded the streamlined amnesty programs for persons who did not timely comply with Foreign Bank Account Reporting (FBAR) rules.  Although these changes broaden the base of taxpayers qualifying for the 0% or new 5% penalty, certain taxpayers will see their penalty go up to 50% where it becomes public that the government is investigating the bank at issue.  The penalties are based on of the foreign financial assets that gave rise to the tax compliance issue.

The Carrot – Expanding Qualification for Streamlined Procedures

Originally, the IRS’s streamlined filing compliance procedures (as announced in 2012) were available only to non-resident, non-filers.  The expanded streamlined procedures will be available to a wider group of U.S. taxpayers living abroad, as well as certain U.S. taxpayers living in the United States.  Key changes include the elimination of a requirement that the taxpayer have $1,500 or less of unpaid tax per year, the elimination of the required risk questionnaire, and a new requirement that the taxpayer certify that previous failures to comply were due to non-willful conduct.   All penalties will be waived for eligible U.S. taxpayers living abroad, while eligible U.S. taxpayers residing in the United States will only be subject to a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5% of the foreign financial assets at issue. 

The Stick – Increased Penalties for Some

The modifications to the offshore voluntary disclosure program (OVDP) incorporate changes to the penalty calculation and payment provisions, and increase potential penalties in certain instances.  For example, the modified OVDP eliminates the reduced penalty percentage for certain non-willful taxpayers (presumably because non-willful taxpayers can take advantage of the streamlined procedures discussed above).  Also, while the existing 27.5% penalty continues to apply in many cases, certain voluntary disclosures (those filed on or after August 3, 2014) could face a 50% penalty on the maximum value of unreported assets, but only with respect to accounts held at a financial institution (or through a facilitator) and it becomes public that the institution (or facilitator) is under investigation by the IRS or the Department of Justice.  The new rules also require taxpayers to submit all account statements and pay the offshore penalty at the time of the OVDP application.

For more information on FBAR rules and the OVDP, see our prior FBAR blogs.

New Final Regulations on Written Tax Advice: The End of Circular 230 Disclaimers

Posted in General, Procedure

On Monday, June 9th the IRS issued final regulations (T.D. 9668) that eliminate the requirement to include Circular 230 disclaimers in documents and transmissions and provide other welcome changes to practice standards under Circular 230.

Since 2004, practitioners have been grappling with the strict (and complicated) “covered opinion” requirements for written tax advice imposed by the Circular 230 regulations.  Those rules led to the widespread use of carefully worded banners on documents and transmissions disclaiming reliance for penalty purposes.  The final regulations have replaced the prior detailed “covered opinion” with a more flexible approach, eliminating the need for banner disclaimers.

The new regulations adopt a single standard for all written tax advice.  Practitioners must base all written advice on reasonable factual and legal assumptions, exercise reasonable reliance, and consider all relevant facts the practitioner knows (or should know).  The regulations also provide a number of other changes, including a new competence standard for tax practitioners and new responsibilities for firm managers overseeing Circular 230 compliance.

The final regulations are effective as of June 12, 2014.

Tax Court Denies Residential Land Developer Use of Homebuilder Tax Deferral Rule

Posted in Real Estate

Under the Completed Contract method of accounting, homebuilders are allowed to defer taxable income until 95% of the costs of the home development are incurred.  On June 2, the Tax Court concluded in Howard Hughes that a residential land developer was not eligible for this generous tax rule because they did not actually build homes.  Petitioner developed parcels and lots, was responsible for constructing infrastructure necessary for homebuilding up to the edge of the parcels or lots, and retained some control over the style and materials used in the home construction.  However, the Tax Court concluded this did not make petitioner a homebuilder.  Distinguishing this case from their recent taxpayer-favorable case of Shea Homes, the Court said that though common improvement costs could be included in the cost of home construction, “at no point in Shea Homes did we say that a home construction contract could consist solely of common improvement costs.”  The court did allow the custom lot contracts and the bulk sale agreements to be treated as Section 460 long-term construction contracts, which may be eligible for the percentage of completion method.

The takeaway from the Howard Hughes case is the new clear test for what constitutes a homebuilder eligible for the Completed Contract method.  The Tax Court set forth this test as follows:

Our Opinion today draws a bright line. A taxpayer’s contract can qualify as a home construction contract only if the taxpayer builds, constructs, reconstructs, rehabilitates, or installs integral components to dwelling units or real property improvements directly related to and located on the site of such dwelling units. It is not enough for the taxpayer to merely pave the road leading to the home, though that may be necessary to the ultimate sale and use of a home.