Earlier this year, rumors surfaced that the IRS plans to clean house and phase out all attorney positions from the Office of Professional Responsibility (“OPR”), an independent arm of the Service tasked with enforcing discipline relating to tax professionals practicing before the IRS. On August 7, 2019, the Taxation Section of the American Bar Association (the “Tax Section”) sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig urging him to reconsider this housekeeping plan.
The Tax Section is absolutely correct in its position. Attorney oversight within OPR is critical to ensure OPR’s independence, to ensure the proper interpretation of legal rules applicable to tax practitioners, and to ensure that legal doctrines such as due process and privilege are not undermined.
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.
As 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.
Sections 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.
In Exelon, the Seventh Circuit held that exchanges by Exelon Corporation (“Taxpayer”) of nuclear power plants for long-term leasehold interests in power plants located in other states were not exchanges qualifying for like-kind exchange treatment under Code Section 1031. According to the court, the Taxpayer did not acquire the benefits and burdens of ownership but rather received an interest more in the nature of a loan, which was not like-kind with the relinquished real property.
The IRS issued notices of deficiency for tax years 1999 and 2001. The tax deficiency for 1999 was in excess of $431 million. On top of that, the Service imposed a 20% accuracy related penalty under Code Section 6662(a) that exceeded $86 million. For 2001, the deficiency was a bit over $5.5 million. Again, for good measure, the Service tacked on a 20% accuracy related penalty of about $1.1 million.
The U.S. Tax Court affirmed both the deficiency assessment and the imposition of accuracy related penalties. Exelon Corp. v. Comm’r, 147 TC 230 (2016). On October 3, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Tax Court. Exelon Corp. v. Comm’r, 122 AFTR 2d ¶2018-5299 (2018).
The saga of Exelon Corporation is a long and complex read, but the morals to the story definitely warrant tax advisors dedicating the time to understand the case.
The Service issued proposed regulations corresponding to IRC § 199A today. As discussed in a prior blog post, IRC § 199A potentially allows individuals, trusts and estates to deduct up to 20% of qualified business income (“QBI”) received from a pass-through trade or business, such as an S corporation, partnership (including an LLC taxed as a partnership) or sole proprietorship.
The deduction effectively reduces the new top 37% marginal income tax rate for business owners to approximately 29.6% (i.e., 80% of 37%) in order to put owners of pass-through entities on a more level playing field with owners of C corporations who now have the benefit of the greatly reduced 21% top corporate marginal tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”). The concept sounds simple, but the application is complex. The new Code provision contains complex definitions and limitations, requires esoteric calculations, and is accompanied by many traps and pitfalls.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that the state of New York, joined by the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland, have instituted a lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking to strike the $10,000 cap imposed on the state and local tax (“SALT”) itemized deduction by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) as unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, which specifically names Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury Secretary and David Kautter, Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, as defendants, asserts that the SALT cap (previously discussed in an earlier blog post) was specifically enacted by the federal government to target New York and similarly situated states, that it interferes with a state’s right to make its own fiscal decisions, and that it disproportionately adversely impacts taxpayers in those states.
As we have been discussing these past several weeks, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) drastically changed the Federal income tax landscape. The TCJA also triggered a sea of change in the income tax laws of states like Oregon that partially base their own income tax regimes on the Federal tax regime. When the Federal tax laws change, some changes are automatically adopted by the states, while other changes may require local legislative action. In either case, state legislatures must decide which parts of the Federal law to adopt (in whole or part) and which parts to reject, all while keeping an eye on their fiscal purse.
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be…” or at least, if you insist on borrowing (and we understand the appeal), we are here to help you stay abreast of the new rules on deducting interest.
Interest on a business or investment related debt is, in most instances, a deductible expense of the borrower and taxed as income to the lender. With a few exceptions, such as mortgage interest on a personal residence, borrowers generally cannot deduct personal interest. A borrower’s deduction is subject to a number of limitations set forth in Code Section 163. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) has changed some of these limitations.
Before the enactment of the TCJA, nondeductible interest included any interest on a taxpayer’s debt not arising from a trade or business, home mortgage, investment activity, or qualified student loans (in other words, interest arising from those debts was deductible).
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) adopted a new 20% deduction for non-corporate taxpayers. It only applies to “qualified business income.” The deduction, sometimes called the “pass-through deduction,” is found in IRC § 199A. There has been a significant amount of media coverage of this new deduction. Rather than repeat what you have undoubtedly already read or heard, we chose to focus this blog post on the not so obvious aspects of IRC § 199A—the numerous pitfalls and traps that exist for the unwary.
Larry J. Brant
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.
Upcoming Speaking Engagements
- "The Oregon Corporate Activity Tax," Oregon Society of Certified Public Accountants (OSCPA) 2020 OSCPA State & Local Tax ConferencePortland, OR, 1.6.20
- "The Road Between Subchapter C and Subchapter S – It May Be A Well-Traveled Two-Way Thoroughfare, But It Isn’t Free of Potholes and Obstacles," The J. Nelson Young Tax InstituteChapel Hill, NC, 4.23.2020-4.24.2020