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WildfiresWhen 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.

Shot clockMore 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).     

Background

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.

Swimming poolOn 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. 

Digital technologyIn News Release 2020-107, issued Thursday, May 28, 2020, the IRS announced that taxpayers will soon be able to electronically file Form 1040-X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.  This is welcome news for taxpayers and tax practitioners!

Background

According to the IRS, more than 90 percent of individual taxpayers electronically file their U.S. Federal Income Tax Returns (Form 1040) each year.  Likewise, approximately three million amended U.S. Federal Income Tax Returns (Form 1040-X) are filed each year.

Currently, a large number of tax forms may be filed electronically, including U.S. Federal Income Tax Forms 1040, 1065, 1120 and 1120S.  Additionally, taxpayers may electronically amend U.S. Federal Income Tax Forms 1065, 1120 and 1120S.  They may not, however, amend U.S. Federal Income Tax Form 1040 (Form 1040-X) electronically.  

Despite repeated pleas by tax practitioners for the ability to file Form 1040-X electronically, the IRS has not been able to accommodate practitioners.  That is about to change! 

Silver bulletLast week, we reported that the IRS issued Notice 2020-32, wherein (relying primarily on Code Section 265) it emphatically pronounced that taxpayers receiving Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans do not get to have their cake and eat it too!  As a result of the notice, if a taxpayer’s PPP loan is forgiven and, in accordance with the CARES Act, has no cancellation of debt income as he/she/it would otherwise have under Code Section 61(a)(11), the taxpayer cannot deduct the business expenses for which it used the forgiven loan proceeds. 

As we explained last week, the government’s conclusion, from a purely academic perspective, makes some sense.  In normal times, taxpayers should not get a double tax benefit from a forgiven debt (i.e., a deduction with respect to expenses paid from the loan proceeds and an exemption from tax on the forgiven loan).  However, we are not living in normal times.

CakeIn Notice 2020-32, issued yesterday, the IRS emphatically pronounced that taxpayers receiving Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans do not get to have their cake and eat it too!

As we discussed in a recent blog post, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), signed into law on March 27, 2020, created the PPP under which the Small Business Administration is authorized to make up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses to enable them to meet payroll costs, benefits, rent and utility payments.  On April 24, 2020, Congress increased the amount of available funds under the PPP to $659 billion when the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act was signed into law.

The CARES Act expressly excludes from gross income any amount forgiven under the PPP.  The question left unanswered by the CARES Act is whether the amounts forgiven that were spent by borrowers on otherwise allowable business expenses (i.e., payroll costs, rent, utilities, transportation and interest) are deductible under Code Section 162.

Notice 2020-32 quickly points out to taxpayers and tax advisers – not so fast – there are no free lunches.  In essence, if the loan is forgiven and, as a result of the CARES Act, a taxpayer has no cancellation of debt income as he/she/it would otherwise have under Code Section 61(a)(11), the taxpayer certainly does not get to deduct the business expenses for which it used the forgiven loan proceeds.

There has been a lot of “buzz” in the media about Qualified Opportunity Zones (“QOZs”). Some of the media accounts have been accurate and helpful to taxpayers. Other accounts, however, have been less than fully accurate, and in some cases have served to misinform or mislead taxpayers. Let’s face it, the new law is quite complex. Guidance to date from Treasury is insufficient to answer many of the real life questions facing taxpayers considering embarking upon a QOZ investment.

In this installment of our series on QOZs, we will try to address some of the questions that are plaguing taxpayers relative to investing in or forming Qualified Opportunity Funds (“QOFs”). Please keep in mind before you attempt to read this blog post that we readily admit that we do not have all of the answers. We do, however, recognize the many questions being posed by taxpayers.

Opportunity ZonesAs with any investment, due diligence is required. Investing in an Opportunity Zone Fund (“OZF”) is not any different.

Historically, we have seen taxpayers go to great lengths to attain tax deferral. In some instances, the efforts have resulted in significant losses. With proper due diligence, many of these losses could have been prevented.

A TALE OF IRC § 1031 EXCHANGES GONE WRONG

Tax deferral efforts under IRC § 1031 have often resulted in significant losses for unwary taxpayers.   The best examples of these losses resulted from the mass Qualified Intermediary failures we saw over the last two decades.

BACKGROUND

Grand CanyonSections 1400Z-1 and 1400Z-2 were added to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”) by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. These new provisions to the Code introduce a multitude of new terms, complexities and traps for the unwary.

The first new term we need to add to our already robust tax vocabulary is the phrase “Qualified Opportunity Zones” (“QOZs”). The Code generally defines QOZs as real property located in low-income communities within the US and possessions of the US. Additionally, to qualify as a QOZ, the property must be nominated by the states or possessions where the property is located and be approved by the Secretary of Treasury.

CakeAs we discussed in our February 27, 2018 blog post, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ("TCJA") eliminated the deduction for entertainment expenses.  Despite commentary to the contrary, we have consistently reported that meals continue to be deductible (subject to the 50% limitation under Code Section 274(n)) post TCJA under Code Section 274(k) as long the meals are not lavish or extravagant, and the taxpayer (or an employee of the taxpayer) is present at the furnishing of the meals.  Our position relative to meals is supported by guidance from the Service (IRS Notice 2018-76) issued on October 3, 2018.  More importantly, the recently issued guidance focuses on an issue raised in our prior blog post, namely whether meals purchased at an entertainment event are deductible provided the requirements of Code Section 274(k) are satisfied.  We suspected that the Service would issue guidance on this issue.  It did.

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Larry J. Brant
Editor

Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder in 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.

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