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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. 

PiperAs most people are aware, the 2019 income tax filing and payment deadlines for all taxpayers who file and pay their federal income taxes on April 15, 2020, were automatically extended until July 15, 2020.  This relief is automatic and generally applies to all individual, trust and corporation tax returns.  Additionally, this relief extends to estimated tax payments for tax year 2020 that were due on April 15, 2020.

People First Initiative

Additionally, the People First Initiative offered taxpayers who owed taxes some further relief.  IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig stated relative to the People First Initiative:

Golf teeThe Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act waives the requirement that taxpayers take required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) for 2020 from IRAs, 401(k) plans and other defined contribution plans.  Taxpayers who already took 2020 RMDs may be able to return them to their retirement plans or IRAs and avoid paying income tax on the distributions.  The timing, however, is critical.

Notice 2020-51, issued by the IRS last week, provides needed clarity about this provision of the CARES Act.

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! 

WrenchLike other commentators, we have been writing extensively about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), the historic $2.2 trillion relief package enacted last month by lawmakers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a prior post, we provided a summary and analysis of numerous tax provisions of the CARES Act. 

In this post, we expand on our previous coverage of the CARES Act relative to net operating losses (“NOLs”), and provide an overview of new guidance issued by the IRS.

Cleaning houseEarlier 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.

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.

nuclear power plantIn 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.

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Larry J. Brant
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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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