More than 25 years ago, effective January 1, 1997, Treasury issued what have been called the “Check-the-Box” regulations (the “Regulations”).1 The Regulations ended decades of battles between taxpayers and the IRS over entity classification. Further, the Regulations simplified entity classification and brought much needed certainty to most entity classification decisions.
Under the Regulations, a business entity with more than one owner is either classified for federal tax purposes as a corporation or a partnership.2 Likewise, a business entity with only one owner is either classified as a corporation or is disregarded for federal income tax purposes as being separate and apart from its owner.3
If a business entity is disregarded, its activities are generally treated for federal tax purposes as the activities of its owner. There are five notable exceptions to that rule.
On November 19, 2021, HR 5376, the 2,476-page bill, commonly known as the Build Back Better Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 220-213.
The House’s vote on HR 5376 was held after the Congressional Budget Office released its cost estimates for the proposed legislation. It estimates HR 5376 will cost almost $1.7 trillion and add $367 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years.
HR 5376 started out with robust changes to our tax laws, including large increases in the corporate, individual, trust and estate income tax rates, significant increases in the capital gains tax rates, taxation of unrealized gains of the ultra-wealthy, a huge reduction in the unified credit, a tax surcharge on high income individuals, trusts and estates, expansion of the application of the net investment income tax, elimination of gift and death transfer discounts, and additional limitations on the application of the qualified business income deduction.
To the cheer of most U.S. taxpayers, HR 5376, as passed by the House, is a dwarf, in terms of the tax provisions, compared to its original form. As tax legislation, at least in its current state, it is much ado about nothing.
However, U.S. taxpayers should not get too joyful about the legislation in its current form. It will likely be substantially altered by the Senate, regaining many of its original provisions (with or without modification). In fact, Skopos Labs reports that the bill, as passed by the House, has a 10 percent chance of being in enacted into law.
HR 5376, at its heart, provides funding, establishes new programs and otherwise modifies current provisions of the law aimed at enhancing a broad array of programs, including education, childcare, healthcare and the environmental protections.
While it may not be worth spending too much time focusing on HR 5376, as its tax provisions will be drastically altered by the Senate, it is worth briefly noting what is in the bill and what may be missing.
As many readers have noticed, I have been silent for the past few months. That is partly due to exhaustion from reporting on the flurry of tax events that have occurred since the COVID-19 pandemic commenced in 2020 and also partly due to the need to conserve energy to fully learn, digest and report on the highly anticipated, new broad-sweeping federal tax legislation we should see within the next few weeks. While many commentators are publishing articles on what could be contained in final legislation and what taxpayers should be doing currently, I decided, especially since I do not possess a good crystal ball, to wait until the legislation is passed (or at least gets further along in the legislative process) before reporting on it and advising taxpayers on what they should be doing in anticipation of the legislation. So, all has been calm on the Larry’s Tax Law blog front. Once the legislation is passed, however, I expect a nasty storm to ensue.
I plan to provide you with a summary of the most salient provisions of the law and how those provisions may impact taxpayers. In the interim, I wanted to share some interesting tax trivia just published by the Internal Revenue Service.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government enacted three major pieces of legislation to provide financial relief to individuals and families. The American Recovery Plan Act (“ARPA”), the most recent legislation, provides the third round of Economic Impact Payments (“EIPs”), also referred to as stimulus payments (and “recovery rebates” in the acts), to millions of Americans.
It is not unreasonable to anticipate that there will be a federal tax policy transformation following a change in the political control of the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. What may be unreasonable, however, is making knee-jerk tax planning decisions in anticipation of possible modifications to the Internal Revenue Code (the "Code"). Reactionary planning, unless it is well thought out and is based upon sound business judgment, could end up being disastrous. During the present times, tax advisors and their clients need to be cautious in their tax planning and any related decision-making.
Looking through a lens solely focused on federal taxation, it seems that commentators, tax advisors and taxpayers alike are all worried about the future. Possible tax policy changes on the horizon that are being bantered about include:
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021
In a bipartisan effort, H.R. 133-116th Congress: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021") overwhelmingly passed both the House and the Senate on December 21, 2020. It is now on President Trump's desk awaiting his signature.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which spans almost 6,000 pages, once signed into law, will bring holiday cheer to many. The new law includes a huge variety of provisions aimed at assisting individuals and businesses during this time of need. One provision in particular is aimed at curing a wrong created by the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") in Notice 2020-32.
On November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act (“Act”) was signed into law by President Barack Obama. One of the many provisions of the Act significantly impacted: (i) the manner in which entities taxed as partnerships are audited by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”); and (ii) who is required to pay the tax resulting from any corresponding audit adjustments. The new rules sprung into life for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.
When we thought times were bad enough with the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread social unrest in our country, the West Coast, including the Pacific Northwest, was struck with unprecedented wildfires and massive windstorms, taking lives, destroying property and rendering the air quality throughout the region unhealthy. On September 16 and 17, the Internal Revenue Service announced good news for many taxpayers residing in Oregon.
In News Release OR-2020-23 and News Release IR-2020-215, the IRS announced that, due to the wildfires and windstorms striking Oregon, the deadline for certain Oregonians to file returns and make tax payments will be extended to January 15, 2021.
More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, and approximately four months since the IRS issued Notice 2020-32, it is looking increasingly likely that taxpayers will not be permitted to deduct business expenses funded with Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan proceeds that are ultimately forgiven. It is terribly late in the game not to have finality on the issue, especially with the third quarter 2020 estimated tax payments due on September 15 (next week).
As we previously discussed, PPP loans authorized by the CARES Act may be forgivable, in whole or in part, if taxpayers use the proceeds for qualifying expenses (namely, payroll, benefits, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities). Unlike other debt that is forgiven, PPP loan amounts forgiven pursuant to the CARES Act do not constitute cancellation of debt income.
On August 8, 2020, President Trump issued an executive order, directing the U.S. Treasury to grant employers the ability to defer the withholding, deposit and payment of certain payroll taxes as further COVID-19 tax relief. The deferral applies only to the employee portion of Social Security taxes and Railroad Retirement taxes (i.e., 6.2 percent of wages) required to be withheld and paid under Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Sections 3101(a) and 3201(a) from September 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.
PRACTICE ALERT: The deferral does not apply to required employee Medicare tax withholdings under Code Section 3101(b) (either the standard 1.45 percent on all wages or the additional 0.9 percent tax on wages in excess of $200,000). Further, the deferral is not available for the employer’s share of Social Security (6.2 percent) or Medicare (1.45 percent) taxes.
IRS NOTICE 2020-65
On August 28, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-65, providing guidance relative to the president’s executive order. It provides answers to several important questions.
Notice 2020-65 defines employers required to withhold and pay Social Security and Railroad Retirement taxes as “Affected Taxpayers.” It goes on to provide that the due date for withholding and payment of the employee portion of Social Security taxes and Railroad Retirement taxes for the period September 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 is postponed until the period commencing January 1, 2021 through April 30, 2021.
Larry J. Brant
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder and the Chair of the Tax & Benefits practice group at Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant practices in the Portland office. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.
Upcoming Speaking Engagements
- "Entity Classification – The Check-The-Box Regulations Revisited," New York University Advanced Conference on Subchapter SNew York, NY, 7.21.22-7.22.22
- "Entity Classification – The Check-The-Box Regulations Revisited," New York University 81st Institute on Federal TaxationNew York, NY, 10.23.22-10.28.22
- "The Intersection of Code Section 1031 and Opportunity Zones," 2022 OSCPA Northwest Federal Tax Conference10.24.22
- "Entity Classification – The Check-The-Box Regulations Revisited," New York University 81st Institute on Federal TaxationSan Diego, CA, 11.13.22-11.18.22