“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.
Under IRC § 708(a), a partnership is considered as a continuing entity for income tax purposes unless it is terminated. Given the proliferation of state law entities taxed as partnerships today (e.g., limited liability companies and limited liability partnerships), a good understanding of the rules surrounding termination is ever important.
Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”), IRC § 708(b)(1) provided that a partnership  was considered terminated if:
1. No part of any business, financial operation, or venture of the partnership continues to be carried on by any of the partners of the partnership; or
2. Within any 12-month period, there is a sale of exchange of 50% or more of the total interests of the partnership’s capital and profits.
On February 21, 2014, then House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) issued a discussion draft of the “Tax Reform Act of 2014.” The proposed legislation spanned almost 1,000 pages and contained some interesting provisions, including repealing IRC § 1031, thereby prohibiting tax deferral from like-kind exchanges. Not only would taxpayers have been impacted by this proposal, but it would have turned the real estate industry upside down. Qualified intermediaries would have been put out of business. Likewise, title and escrow companies, as well as real estate advisors specializing in exchanges, would have been adversely affected by the proposal.
As indicated at the end of 2017, I intend to provide our readers with an in-depth review of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”). With the help of two of my colleagues, Steven Nofziger and Miriam Korngold, we will do this in a series of bite-size blog posts. Our goal is to not only review the technical elements of the new law, but to offer practical insights that will be helpful to tax practitioners and their clients.
Many of the provisions of the TCJA have already received significant attention by the media. Rather than start our multi-part series with any of those provisions, we decided to commence the journey with a discussion about a rather obscure provision of the new law. This provision, while it may not have received any media attention, could be a huge trap for the unwary. It also highlights several aspects of the new law that have received little discussion.
As reported on March 8, 2017, the U.S. Tax Court issued a taxpayer-friendly decision in Estate of George H. Bartell, et. al. v. Commissioner, 147 TC 5 (June 10, 2016). The ruling seemed too good to be true. I advised readers to proceed with caution!
Many taxpayers, exchange accommodators, and real estate professionals have been touting the ruling as a clear green light for reverse parking exchanges exceeding the 180-day period pronounced in Revenue Procedure 2000-37 despite the facts that:
- Judge Gale of the U.S. Tax Court clearly said in the opinion that the court was not giving any opinion with respect to reverse exchanges that exceed the 180-day safe harbor; and
- The Bartell case involved transactions that pre-dated the effective date of Revenue Procedure 2000-37 and Treasury’s issuance of the deferred exchange regulations.
Judge Ruwe ruled in Jeremy M. Jacobs and Margaret J. Jacobs v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. 24 (June 26, 2017), that a free lunch may exist today under Federal tax law. In this case, the taxpayers, owners of the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League, paid for pre-game meals provided by hotels for the players and team personnel while traveling away from Boston for games.
Pursuant to the union collective bargaining agreement governing the Bruins, the team is required to travel to away games a day before the game when the flight is 150 minutes or longer. Before the away games, the Bruins provides the players and staff with a pre-game meal and snack. The meal and snack menus are designed to meet the players’ nutritional guidelines and maximize game performance.
During the tax years at issue, the taxpayers deducted the full cost of the meals and snacks. Upon audit, the IRS contended the cost of the meals and snacks were subject to the 50% limitation under Code Section 274(n)(1) which provides in part:
In most areas of law, substance prevails over form. Code Section 1031 is possibly one of the few exceptions to this time-honored rule of jurisprudence. Under Code Section 1031, form may prevail over substance. The U.S. Tax Court’s decision in Estate of George H. Bartell, et. al. v. Commissioner, 147 TC 5 (June 10, 2016), supports this thesis.
Estate of George H. Bartell et. al. v. Commissioner
The facts of the case are fairly straightforward. Bartell Drug, an old family-owned chain of retail drugstores located in the state of Washington, was owned by the petitioner and his two children. In 1999, the company entered into an agreement to purchase a parcel of land upon which it intended to build a new drugstore (“Replacement Property”). Bartell Drug had a store located on a property it owned in White Center, Washington, and it anticipated selling this property (“Relinquished Property”) to fund, in part, the cost of the Replacement Property. In order to lawfully avoid paying taxes on the gain from the sale of the Relinquished Property, the stage was set for an exchange of real property that would qualify for tax deferral under Code Section 1031. A few obstacles, however, stood in the taxpayer’s way, namely: (i) the Replacement Property was found by the taxpayer before a buyer for the Relinquished Property could be found; (ii) the Replacement Property was land without the improvements needed to operate a drugstore (i.e., a building); and (iii) in order to defer all of the gain from the sale of the Relinquished Property, the taxpayer would need to buy the Replacement Property once it was improved.
Effective October 1, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) changed its approach to conducting appeals conferences. The changes were likely adopted by the government under the guise of efficiency and cost savings. With that said, the changes probably will result in increased negative taxpayer perception of the IRS administrative process, and a significant reduction in prompt and fair resolution of matters at the conference level.
In a nutshell, the major change adopted by the IRS, subject to limited exceptions, is that the government will conduct all appeals conferences by telephone (or a virtual conference, if available). IRM § 220.127.116.11.1. An in-person conference generally will only be allowed if the appeals conferee (i.e., the “Appeals Technical Employee” or “ATE”) and the Appeals Team Manager (“ATM”) concur that it is appropriate and reasonable. As such, they must agree:
On May 11, 2015, after serving as Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility (“OPR”) for approximately six (6) years, Ms. Karen Hawkins announced her intention to step-down and retire, effective July 11, 2015.
The OPR is responsible for interpreting and applying the Treasury Regulations governing practice before the Internal Revenue Service (commonly known as “Circular 230”). It has exclusive responsibility for overseeing practitioner conduct and implementing discipline. For this purpose, practitioners include attorneys, certified public accountants, enrolled agents, enrolled actuaries, appraisers, and all other persons representing taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service.
The vision of the OPR is “to be the standard-bearer for integrity in tax service.” As stated on OPR’s website, its “vision, mission, strategic goals and objectives support effective tax administration by ensuring all tax practitioners, tax preparers, and other third parties in the tax system adhere to professional standards and follow the law.” Its specific goals include: increasing tax advisor awareness and understanding of Circular 230; applying the principals of due process in all investigations and proceedings; and building, training and motivating its administrative team.
Ms. Hawkins will undoubtedly be missed by her work government colleagues. She will also be missed by the tax community. During her tenure at the OPR, she not only cleared the decks of a large backlog of pending disciplinary cases, she increased tax practitioner awareness and understanding of Circular 230. Ms. Hawkins consistently made herself available to the tax community, speaking at numerous tax institutes and forums (including the Oregon Tax Institute). In a direct, clear and concise manner, she reminded practitioners of their obligations under Circular 230. Ms. Hawkins did not shy away from tough questions raised by tax practitioner audiences. Instead, she hit the questions head on and provided complete and earnest answers. Ms. Hawkins was likely responsible, in whole or in part, for the amendments to Circular 230 that alleviated the need for tax advisors to insert the silly disclaimers on all written communications that may contain federal tax advice.
While I have to assume Ms. Hawkins was a tough adversary in any disciplinary proceeding, especially given her no-nonsense approach to matters, she gave good and well-needed guidance to the tax community following amendments to Circular 230. The tax community should be thankful for all of Ms. Hawkins’ hard work and her strong dedication to the tax profession. She will be greatly missed.
As of the writing of this blog post, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service had not named a successor Director. I assume that Lee Martin, the Deputy Director, will serve as acting Director until a successor is named.
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder in Garvey Schubert Barer, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; New York, New York; Washington, D.C.; 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
- Palm Beach, FL, 4.13.18-4.15.18
- "What Family Law Practitioners Need to Know About the New Tax Laws," American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers 9th Bi-Annual Continuing Legal Education ProgramPortland, OR, 4.20.18
- "Planning Using IRC Section 1031 Exchanges," Oregon Society of Certified Public Accountants (OSCPA) Forest Products ConferenceEugene, OR, 6.22.18