Tax reform legislation passed in December 2017 includes changes that affect businesses. One of these changes allows businesses to write off most depreciable business assets in the year they place them in service. (more…)
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The IRS’s final “repair” regulations became effective January 1, 2014. The regulations provide a massive revision to the rules on capitalizing and deducting costs incurred with respect to tangible property. The regulations apply to amounts paid to acquire, produce or improve tangible property; every business is affected, especially those with significant fixed assets.
Required and elective changes
There is a lot of work ahead for most taxpayers to comply with the new rules. There are three categories of changes under the regulations:
- Changes that are required and are retroactive, with full adjustments under Code Sec. 481(a), in effect applying the regulations to previous years;
- Required changes with modified or prospective Code Sec. 481(a) adjustment beginning in 2014; and
- Elective changes that do not require any adjustments under Code Sec. 481.
Required changes with full adjustments include unit of property changes, deducting repairs (including the routine maintenance safe harbor), deducting dealer expenses that facilitate the sale of property, the optional method for rotable spare parts, capitalizing improvements and capitalizing certain acquisition or production costs. Elective changes can include capitalizing repair and maintenance costs of they are capitalized for financial accounting purposes.
Rev. Proc. 2014-16
The IRS issued Rev. Proc. 2014-16, granting automatic consent to taxpayers to change their accounting methods to comply with the final regulations. Rev. Proc. 2014-16 applies to all the significant provisions in the final regulations, such as repairs and improvements; materials and supplies, including rotable and temporary spare parts; and costs that have to be capitalized as improvements. Rev. Proc. 2014-16 supersedes Rev. Proc. 2012-19, which applied to changes made under the temporary and proposed repair regulations issued at the end of 2011.
There are 14 automatic method changes provided by Rev. Proc. 2014-16 for the repair regulations. Taxpayers may file for automatic consent on a single Form 3115, even if they are making changes in more than area. The normal scope limitations on changing accounting methods do not apply to a taxpayer making one or more changes for any tax year beginning before January 1, 2015. Scope changes would normally apply if the taxpayer is under examination, is in the final year of a trade or business, or is changing the same accounting method it changed in the previous five years.
For past years, taxpayers can apply the 2011 proposed and temporary (TD 9564) regulations or the 2013 final regulations to either 2012 or 2013, and can do this on a section-by-section basis. Taxpayers that decide to apply the final or temporary regulations to 2013 must file for an automatic change of accounting method (Form 3115) by September 15, 2014. Taxpayers applying the regulations to 2014 must file for an automatic change by September 15, 2015. (Both dates apply to calendar-year taxpayers.) The government has indicated it is unlikely to postpone the effective date of the regulations.
Rev. Proc. 2014-16 does not apply to dispositions of tangible property. The government issued reproposed regulations in this area (NPRM REG-110732-13). Although these regulations may not be finalized until later in 2014, the IRS expects to issue Rev. Proc. 2014-17 before then to allow taxpayers to make automatic accounting method changes under the proposed regulations. The procedure will provide some relief by allowing taxpayers to revoke general asset account elections that they made under the temporary regulations. No comments were submitted on these proposed regulations; it is likely the final regulations will not have any significant changes.
Taxpayers must generally provide documentation to support (or to “substantiate”) a claim for any contributions made to charity that they are planning to deduct from their income. Assuming that the contribution was made to a qualified organization, that the taxpayer has received either no benefit from the contribution or a benefit that was less than the value of the contribution, and that the taxpayer otherwise met the requirements for a qualified contribution, then taxpayers should worry next whether they have the proper records to prove their claim.
The taxpayer must provide records to prove a donation of any amount of cash (including payments by cash, check, electronic funds transfer or debit, and credit card). Acceptable records for cash donations of less than $250 generally include:
- An account statement or canceled check;
- A written letter, e-mail or other properly issued receipt from the qualified organization bearing the name of the organization and the date and amount of the contribution; and/or
- A pay stub, Form W–2, or other payroll document showing the amount of a contribution made from payroll.
Caution: A taxpayer cannot substantiate deductions through written records it has prepared on its own behalf, such as a checkbook or personal notes.
Cash donations of more than $250. If a taxpayer donated $250 or more in cash at any one time, the taxpayer must provide a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the donation from the qualified organization. For each donation of $250 or more, the taxpayer must obtain a separate written acknowledgment. Furthermore, this written acknowledgement must:
- State the amount of the contribution; and
- State whether the qualified organization provided the taxpayer with any goods or services in exchange for the donation, and if so estimate their value; and
- Be received by the taxpayer before the earlier of (1) the return’s filing date or (2) the due date of the return, plus any extensions.
Note: The written acknowledgment ideally would also show the date of the contribution. If it does not, the taxpayer must also provide a bank record that indicates the date.
The acknowledgment must contain a statement of whether or not a taxpayer received any goods or services as a result of the donation, even if no goods or services were received. Even if the donation was for tithes to a religious organization, such as a church, synagogue, or mosque, the acknowledgment should state that the only goods and services received were of intangible religious value. The Tax Court has upheld the disallowance of charitable contribution deductions where the written acknowledgment omitted such a statement regarding goods or services provided.
As with cash contributions, the requirements for substantiating noncash contributions increase with the value of the contribution. For example, to substantiate noncash contributions of less than $250, taxpayers must show a receipt or other written communication from the charitable organizations.
To substantiate a noncash contribution between $250 and $500, the taxpayer must obtain a written acknowledgment of the contribution from the qualified organization prior to the earlier of the filing date or due date of its return. The acknowledgment must also describe the type and value of the goods and services, if any, provided to the taxpayer as a result of the donation.
To substantiate noncash contributions totaling between $500 and $5,000 or donations of publically traded securities, a taxpayer must complete Section A of Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions. To substantiate noncash contributions of $5,000 or more (for example, donations of art, jewelry, vehicles, qualified conservation contributions, or intellectual property) the taxpayer must complete Section B of Form 8283. Generally, this would also require the taxpayer to obtain a qualified appraisal of the property’s fair market value.
A word about valuation. A charity is not obligated to provide a value to any noncash contribution; its written receipt only needs to describe the item(s) and note the date of the contribution. The taxpayer, however, is not relieved from making a good-faith estimate of value, which of course the IRS may dispute on any audit. “Thrift-shop” value is often used to value donations of clothing and household goods.
Caution: Last year the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report finding that the IRS was not accurately monitoring the reporting of noncash contributions requiring completion of Form 8283. The IRS responded that it agreed that it needed to initiate more correspondence audits with taxpayers claiming noncash contributions without the necessary Form 8283 and appraisal.
Vehicles. A taxpayer who donates a motor vehicle, boat, or airplane to charity must deduct either the gross proceeds from the qualified organization’s sale of the vehicle or, if the vehicle is used within the charity’s mission, the fair market value of the vehicle on the date of the contribution, whichever is smaller. The taxpayer must also obtain and attach Form 1098-C, Contributions of Motor Vehicles, Boats, and Airplanes, to its return in addition to Form 8283.
Taxpayers using real estate in their business often can generate significant tax savings and increase cash flow by using the technique of cost segregation. Cost segregation is the identification and separate depreciation of personal property components and land improvements. Like its predecessor, component depreciation, cost segregation allows a taxpayer to separately depreciate various elements of a building more rapidly than the underlying building itself.
Real and personal property
Under MACRS, a building must be depreciated over 27.5 years (residential rental property) or 39 years (nonresidential real property), using the straight-line method. Cost segregation allows depreciation and recovery of the cost of personal property elements of the building over five to seven years, using an accelerated depreciation method (200-percent declining balance). Components that are not classified as personal property must be included in the building’s basis and depreciated over the appropriate period as real property.
Building elements are eligible for cost segregation if they are considered personal property under Code Sec. 1245 and under the former investment tax credit rules of Code Sec. 38. Classification as personal property under state law can also avoid state and local real property taxes.
Cost segregation study
To use cost segregation, the taxpayer must obtain a cost segregation study, which may be conducted by a cost segregation specialist. The specialist will conduct a feasibility study to determine whether a cost segregation study can provide tax savings. The building must be inspected, and the study must identify the components that may qualify as depreciable personal property. The actual installed cost of the component must be obtained.
The items of personal property must be identified in the study. The study should also provide the legal authority (regulations, cases, rulings, etc.) for treating an item as personal property or a land improvement, and should explain the methodology for determining the property’s depreciable basis.
Ideally, the study should be conducted before the building is placed in service (e.g. when the building is under construction or at the time of purchase), although the study can be conducted after a building is placed in service. The building does not have to be new. If the building is being purchased, the sales contract can allocate the sales price between real and personal property.
The IRS has provided unofficial guidance to its examiners for reviewing cost segregation studies – Audit Technique Guide for Cost Segregation, dated March 2008. The guide explains why studies are prepared, how studies are prepared, and what to look for in reviewing a study. The guide is available on the IRS website. The IRS also described cost segregation methodology in a private letter ruling, PLR 7941002. Both guidance documents remain in current use by both taxpayers and IRS agents in assessing the correctness of any particular cost segregation study.
Stock held by an investor is a capital asset under the tax law. Gain from the sale of stock held for more than a year qualifies as long-term capital gain, taxed at a reduced rate (zero, 15 or 20 percent) compared to the rates that apply to ordinary income. To achieve these favorable rates, investors generally want to hold their stock for more than a year. (Note: Depending on economic conditions, an investor may decide it is better to lock-in gains by selling the stock, even if the holding period is one year or less and the gains would be short-term.)
A transfer of stock traded on an exchange involves a trade date and a settlement date. Stock is considered purchased or sold for tax purposes on its trade date, when the trade is made, rather than on its settlement date, when the stock is delivered and payment is made. There is a gap between the trade date and the settlement date, with the trade date coming first. Conversely, if an investor wants to realize a loss in the current year from a sale of stock, the investor must ensure that the trade date is on or before December 31.
The stock’s holding period is based on the trade date. The holding period actually begins on the day after the trade date and includes the day it is disposed of. The settlement date is not relevant when computing the holding period. The holding period is measured in calendar months, not days; thus, one month has elapsed on the same date of the succeeding month as the date of purchase, regardless of the number of days in the month.
Example. Benny buys stock on December 16, 2012 and sells the stock on December 16, 2013. Benny has held the stock for exactly one year; any gain will be short-term capital gain. The fact that the settlement date is not until December 20 does not lengthen the holding period. If Benny instead sells the stock on December 17, 2013, he will have held the stock for more than a year (one year and one day); any gain will be long-term capital gain.
For nonpublicly traded stock, the holding period begins with the receipt of title, and ends on the day of transfer, not the contract date.
Identification of Stock Sold
When the same stock is acquired on different dates, the first stock purchased is considered to be the first stock sold, unless the taxpayer can specifically identify the stock being sold. Securities left in the custody of a broker are adequately identified when the specific securities to be sold are indicated to the broker, and a written confirmation of the identification is received within a reasonable time. This identification process can also apply to stock issued without certificates. Stock acquired at different times (and usually at different prices) can be treated as different lots; the seller can identify the specific lot being sold.
Brokers report stock sales on Form 1099-B, Proceeds From Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions. For corporate stock purchased in or after 2011, brokers must report not only the sales proceeds but the dates of acquisition and sale, the type of gain or loss, and the cost or other basis.
Brokers must provide this information to their customers by February 15 of the succeeding year. Taxpayers should check the basis reported by the broker and should contact their broker immediately if they feel that the information is incorrect. The broker can issue a corrected Form 1099-B. If the broker reports an incorrect basis, and the taxpayer is not able to get it corrected, the taxpayer may have to go through the expense of substantiating the basis to the IRS.
Taxpayers generally prefer to accelerate deductions to reduce their current year income and taxes. In some situations, the tax code’s accounting rules allow an accrual-basis employer to deduct a year-end employee bonus in the current year, even though the bonus will not be paid until the following year. A recent IRS Chief Counsel memorandum (FAA 20134301F) highlights some of the pitfalls that can affect when bonus compensation is deductible.
Under the accrual-method of accounting (in contrast to the cash-method of accounting), a liability is incurred, and can be deducted, in the year in which:
- All the events have occurred that establish the fact of the liability;
- The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy; and
- Economic performance has occurred.
The first factor, the all-events test, is met when the event fixing the liability occurs and payment is unconditionally due. Although an expense may be deductible before it is payable, liability must be firmly established. The “fact of liability” depends on whether legal rights or obligations exist as of the close of the year, not the probability that the rights will arise in the future.
An employer may establish an arrangement or plan that will pay a bonus to its employees in the succeeding year, based on an evaluation of current year performance. Performance could be determined by objective factors, such as numerical goals set for the company or the employee. These bonuses may be deductible in the earlier year even though the employee, who must figure taxes on the cash method, won’t need to recognize the income until it is paid. Or performance may be based on more subjective factors, such as an individual performance appraisal or the employer’s discretion. These bonuses may be deductible in the later year. The requirements for awarding the bonus must be scrutinized, to determine when the liability becomes certain.
Is the liability deductible?
The IRS has stated that a bonus can be deducted in the current year if, under a bonus plan, the employee is notified in the current year the employee will receive a bonus, even though the bonus is not calculated or paid until the following year. An employer’s bonus liability that is ascertainable by a fixed standard, such as a percentage of profits at the close of the year, accrues and is deductible in the current year even though the computations are not made until the following year.
A bonus is not deductible prior to payment if an employee must remain employed until the time of payment, and if a forfeited bonus reverts to the employer. However, even if an employee must be employed until paid, the IRS has ruled that a bonus is deductible under a pooled arrangement providing that any forfeited bonuses are reallocated to the employees as a group, where the minimum amount payable to the group is determinable through a fixed formula at the end of the year or by board action before the end of the year.
Employers may be denied a deduction in the current year if there are uncertainties or conditions on payment. As stated above, a condition that the employee must remain with the company until payment prevents accrual before the payment. A deduction is not available if the payment is subject to significant contingencies involving corporate affairs, such as approval by the board, or a requirement that the company attain a particular cash position. If there is no set formula, and bonuses will not be determined until after the close of the year, the bonuses do not accrue until the later year.
In the IRS memorandum, Chief Counsel determined that a bonus could not be accrued in the earlier year in the following situations:
- The employer retained the right to unilaterally modify or eliminate the bonus plan or the bonuses themselves at any time, in its discretion. The employer had no legal obligation to pay the bonus until it was actually paid.
- The plan requires a committee of the board of directors to act in the following year to approve the bonus computation and the payment of bonuses. There is no legal obligation because the committee must approve the bonuses, and that approval is not automatic.
- The bonus depends not only on objective formulas but also on the employee’s individual performance score, based on appraisals that are not performed until after the end of the year.
There is a tension between the employer’s desire to accelerate the deduction and its desire to retain maximum control over the payment of bonuses. An employer that wants to deduct the bonuses in an earlier year must be willing to relinquish some of its discretion to determine the bonus.
The IRS has made several changes to its examination (aka, “audit”) functions that are designed to expedite the process and relieve some burden on business taxpayers. These include the expansion of the Fast Track Settlement (FTS) program for small business, self-employed (SB/SE) taxpayers and a new process for issuing information document requests (IDRs) in large case audits.
Fast Track Settlement
The IRS launched the FTS program in 2005 to help small business taxpayers expedite case resolution. Small business FTS is modeled on a similar program for taxpayers in the IRS Large Business and International (LB&I) Division.
The goal of small business FTS is to complete cases within 60 days of their acceptance into the program. Under FTS, taxpayers under examination with issues in dispute work directly with IRS representatives from SB/SE’s Examination Division and Appeals to resolve those issues. An Appeals Officer, trained in mediation, serves as a neutral party and employs dispute resolution techniques to facilitate settlement between the parties.
Application. To request to participate in small business FTS, the taxpayer and the SB/SE Group Manager submit Form 14017, Application for Fast Track Settlement. The taxpayer or the IRS examination representative may initiate Fast Track for eligible cases, usually before a 30-day letter is issued.
If the case is accepted and an agreement is reached, the IRS will use established issue or case closing procedures and applicable agreement forms, including preparation of a Form 906 specific matters closing agreement, if appropriate. If the case is not accepted the IRS explained that SB/SE or Appeals will inform the taxpayer of the basis for this decision and discuss other dispute resolution opportunities.
Qualifying issues. Small business FTS is generally available if:
- Issues are fully developed;
- The taxpayer has stated a position in writing or filed a small case request for cases in which the total amount for any tax period is less than $25,000; and
- There are a limited number of unagreed issues.
Small business FTS is unavailable for Collection Appeals Program, Collection Due Process, Offer-In-Compromise and Trust Fund Recovery cases, except as provided in any guidance issued by the IRS; correspondence examination cases worked solely in a Campus/Service Center site; and cases in which the taxpayer has failed to respond to IRS communications.
Information Document Requests
The IRS Large Business & International (LB&I) Division has issued a new directive (LB&I-04-1113-009) that expands on an earlier directive from in June (LB&I-04-0613-004) by itemizing the requirements for IRS agents preparing information document requests (IDRs). The new directive also outlines the mandatory three-part enforcement process for taxpayers that do not timely respond to an IDR. While IDRs are common for large business taxpayers, the IRS also uses them in auditing certain small business issues.
June directive. The original June 2013 directive set forth general principles and several mandatory actions that examiners must take while issuing IDRs. These principles are reiterated in the November directive.
The June directive also provided that IDRs issued after June 30, 2013 must comply with these principles. In particular, the IRS reported that the mandatory training emphasized that employees must focus their IDRs on specific issues relevant to the exam. IRS employees are required to discuss the IDRs and issues with the taxpayer, as well as what would be an appropriate deadline for the response to the request. The deadline must fall within a “reasonable timeframe” and be “mutually agreed upon.” If the examiner does not receive a response by this date, and the IDR otherwise met the requirements listed under the directive, the case will proceed into the enforcement process outlined in the new directive from November 2013.
November directive. If a taxpayer does not respond to the IRS by the date indicated in the IDR, the case must proceed to the graduated, three-step enforcement process outlined in Attachment 2 of the November directive. This process, assuming the taxpayer could not respond to the IDRs by the dates specified at each step, would involve first a delinquency notice, then a pre-summons letter, and finally a summons.
The IRS has recently promoted the revised IDR enforcement process as a “win-win” for both the IRS and taxpayers. However, some practitioners have expressed concerns that the rigid deadlines in the new enforcement process will have the opposite effect and result in more summonses being issued. Practitioners recommend that taxpayers proactively involve themselves in the initial IDR process to ensure that the IDR, once issued, provides them with enough time to supply the requested information.
If you have questions relating to the IRS’s new FTS or IDR programs, please contact our offices at (908) 725-4414.