The IRS has issued temporary regulations (T.D. 9780) that explain how a partnership can opt in to the new partnership audit regime that was enacted in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA). As enacted, the new audit rules will apply to partnership returns filed for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. However, the new law allows partnerships to elect to apply the new audit regime to a return filed for a partnership tax year beginning after November 2, 2015 (the date of enactment of the BBA) and before January 1, 2018. A tax year within this period is identified as an “eligible tax year.”
Under existing law, partnership audits are conducted using the rules provided in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA). Under these rules, the IRS audits and proposes adjustments to partnership returns at the partnership level. As part of the TEFRA rules, the IRS then adjusts each partner’s individual tax liability to reflect the partnership adjustments. The IRS then must collect any increased tax from the individual partners, not the partnership.
In the BBA, Congress totally repealed the TEFRA audit rules, effective January 1, 2018, and replaced them with a new regime. Under the new regime, adjustments to partnership income, gain, loss, deduction or credit are still determined at the partnership level. However, any additional taxes owed are collected from the partnership, not the individual partners. The amount paid by the partnership is referred to as an imputed underpayment.
A partnership may elect to apply the BBA rules to a tax year before January 1, 2018. Under the temporary regulations, the election becomes available when the IRS first notifies the partnership that it has been selected for an audit for an eligible tax year (“notice of selection for examination”). The partnership must make the election within 30 days of receiving the notice of selection for examination.
Alternatively, a partnership may elect in to the new regime if it files a request for an administrative adjustment (AAR) to change an amount reflected on a return of the partnership or the partners. Otherwise, there is no general right to opt in to the new regime for a tax year before January 1, 2018.
Comment. Whether a partnership under audit should opt in to the new rules may be a difficult decision. The IRS so far has not said much about how the new audit regime will work or how it will calculate the partnership’s tax liability. However, partnerships have found that operating under the TEFRA rules can be “painful,” so they may consider the lack of guidance beneficial and may believe they can negotiate a better deal with the IRS. However, the new rules shift a number of burdens from the IRS to the partnership: notice to partners, obtaining partner agreement to a settlement, and recalculation of adjusted tax liabilities. Furthermore, under the new regime, any imputed underpayment owed by the partnership is calculated at the highest tax rate for the year under review.
To make the election, a partnership must submit a statement in writing to the IRS, specifically, to the IRS individual identified in the notice of selection for examination. There is no prescribed form or format for the election. The statement must be signed and dated by the tax matters partner (TMP), the party that, under TEFRA, represents the partnership in dealings with the IRS. The partnership must represent that it is not insolvent, does not expect to go into bankruptcy, and has sufficient assets to pay any imputed underpayment owed by the partnership if the IRS makes an adjustment. The partnership must designate a representative, who under the BBA fulfills the role played by the TMP under TEFRA.
Comment. The IRS expects to issue guidance on the designation of a partnership representative.