Monthly Archives: November 2017

Tax Reform Swings a Hand Ax at Carried Interests; What Does it Mean and How Can I Plan Around It?

While tax reform has a long march before becoming law, the amended House of Representatives bill passed yesterday swings an ax at lower-tax-rate-capital-gain-eligible “carried” partnership interests, though it swings a smaller ax—like a hand ax rather than a full-sized ax—than proposals in years past.

This latest proposal focuses on limited industries and allows an escape hatch for interests held more than three years. Here are the details:

How Do I Know if I Have a Carried Interest, and Why are Carried Interests Special?

The phrase “carried interest” applies to a partnership interest granted to a partner for services.  The idea is that the capital-investing partners “carry” the service partner, who does not make a capital contribution in proportion to the service partner’s interest.

Partnerships often structure carried interests to have little or no value at grant, causing the recipient to recognize little or no wage or other compensation income at that time.  Later, if the partnership recognizes long-term capital gain, the partnership allocates part of that gain to the service-providing partner.  This results in the service partner paying tax at a tax rate as little as half the rate on wage or compensation income (approximately 20%, as compared to approximately 40%, depending on the circumstances).

Why Change the Tax Treatment of Carried Interests?

Critics complain that carried interest partnership allocations amount to a bonus that should be taxed at the higher ordinary rates, like wage income and other incentive compensation.  The most vocal criticism focuses on hedge funds, private equity firms, and real estate investment firms, where critics see carried interest allocations as the equivalent of management fees.  Past Congressional proposals would have recharacterized a percentage or all partnership allocations to carried interests as compensation income, without regard to industry.

Carried interest advocates respond that many carried interest holders invest years of effort before receiving an allocation to their partnership interests, and therefore make the equivalent of an investment associated with a capital contribution.

Proposed Changes in the House Bill

The amended House bill takes a middle ground between the current law and prior Congressional proposals to curb the eligibility of carried interests for long-term-capital gain allocations. The bill focuses on carried interests in hedge funds, private equity firms, and real estate investment firms, not traditional operating businesses.

In targeted firms, the bill allows a partnership to allocate long-term capital gain to a carried interest partner who has held his or her partnership interest more than three years. If the partner has held the interest for three years or less, the proposal recharacterizes the allocation as short-term capital gain. In most cases, short-term capital gain characterization results in income taxation at the same rate as wage or other compensation income, but still allows the partner to avoid employment taxes.

It remains uncertain whether this proposal will survive reconciliation with a to-be-passed Senate tax reform bill.

Future Planning

Even if the proposal becomes law, look for motivated taxpayers to form “shelf” entities to begin the running of the three-year holding period while undertaking limited business activity. The taxpayers will then have such partnerships ready to use in the future, when a more substantial opportunity arises. Others will design hybrid debt-equity capital structures such that even service-providing partners’ interests qualify as capital interests rather than carried interests.

Read the carried interest proposal (see Section 3314 of the House amendment to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act).

What’s Not to Like About the Proposed Tax Rate Reductions for Small Businesses?

If you run a small business (or even a large closely-held business) taxed as an S corporation or partnership, don’t get too excited about the tax rate reduction headlines in Congress’ latest tax reform proposals.

The House bill touts a 25% tax rate for business income from these entities. Passive investors would enjoy the 25% rate on all business income, which may encourage more investment and lower equity financing costs.  But for an entrepreneur actively involved in the business, the lower rate only applies to 30% of annual income from the business, or to annual business income up to approximately eight percent of adjusted tax basis (roughly, the un-deducted investment amount) in the business assets.  So the House bill is friendly to passive investors, and offers only limited benefits to traditional entrepreneurial small business operators.

The Senate proposal touts a 17.4% deduction against S corporation and partnership business income, but limits that deduction to 50% of the amount the individual taxpayer business owner receives in wages.  In other words, you have to pick up a dollar of income tax at the full individual tax rate and pay employment taxes on that amount, to enjoy the reduced tax rate on fifty cents of non-wage income.  This mix is not much different than the House’s 70% wage income-to-reduced-tax-rate business income ratio.

Like the House plan, the Senate small business tax rate proposal limits benefits to entrepreneurs.  Unlike the House bill, the Senate does little for passive investors, who may have a hard time justifying high wages to bolster their deduction.

The proposed 20% tax rate for traditional C corporation income is more straightforward than the S corporation and partnership tax rate proposals.  This may cause some small businesses to consider converting to C corporation status (the tax status of many larger companies and the vast majority of publicly-traded companies).  But in so doing the businesses (including, especially, Florida businesses) may become subject to state income taxes they otherwise avoid.  Further, any cash removed from the business will either be subject to the full individual tax rates or to a 23.4% dividend tax.  Finally, when the business is sold, the seller may receive a lower price (because the buyer can’t depreciate the purchased assets) or pay tax at an effective tax rate significantly higher than received or paid by the seller of a business structured as a S corporation or partnership.  So while taking advantage of the 20% C corporation tax rate may seem desirable to a growing business that reinvests its profits, the business owner may suffer a significant detriment upon a business sale and pay a higher tax rate on cash removed from the business in the meantime.

Conceivably, if you operate a small business, some flavor of the House and Senate proposals could reduce your tax liability.  There are some clean wins.  For example, both bills would allow many small businesses to immediately deduct much larger volumes of annual asset purchases, rather than take depreciation deductions over time. But if enacted, the tax rate proposals will not make life more simple or reduce difficult choices.

Changes to business tax rates are just the tip of the tax reform iceberg. The bills would make significant changes to many other areas of the tax law.  More to come…

Here is a link to a summary of the House bill: https://waysandmeansforms.house.gov/uploadedfiles/tax_cuts_and_jobs_act_section_by_section_hr1.pdf

Here is link to a summary of the Senate bill: https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/11.9.17%20Chairman’s%20Mark.pdf

E. John Wagner, II
jwagner@williamsparker.com
941-536-2037

Section 1059A – A Trap for the Unwary?

Our community is near multiple major ports, including Port Manatee and the Port of Tampa.  Taxpayers that import goods through these ports should be aware of U.S. tax issues that can arise from their actions.  U.S. taxpayers that import goods from related parties outside the United States have several tax rules to consider in setting their transfer prices and reporting income, including the transfer pricing regimes in both the importing and exporting jurisdictions.  Among the U.S. tax rules that such importers must consider is a lesser-known Internal Revenue Code section, Section 1059A.

Section 1059A provides that the maximum amount a U.S. taxpayer may claim as basis in inventory goods imported from a related party is the amount that was determined for customs purposes when the goods were imported.  The statute is designed to prevent taxpayers from claiming low values for customs purposes (reducing the amount of U.S. customs duties owed) and high values for transfer pricing purposes (reducing the amount of U.S. taxable income).

A trap for the unwary can occur when related parties retroactively modify their intercompany pricing after goods are imported.  For example, a U.S. company may increase the amount paid for an imported good at the end of the year in order to satisfy the arm’s length standard for transfer pricing purposes.  This additional amount is generally be subject to customs duties, but reporting additional customs duties can fall through the cracks if a company’s personnel responsible for tax and customs compliance do not communicate regarding the adjustment.  In addition, even where additional amounts are reported for customs purposes, the timing of an upward adjustment in the customs price could prevent taxpayers from including the adjustment in the basis of the inventory for tax purposes if the adjustment is made after the customs value has been “finally-determined” (generally, 314 days after the date of entry).  These issues may frequently arise when taxpayers retroactively adjust transfer prices in accordance with Advance Pricing Agreements.

In recent years, practitioners have called for better coordination between the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection along with reforms to eliminate the potential whipsaw of Section 1059A.  It remains to be seen whether current tax reform proposals will reach this issue.

Nicholas A. Gard
ngard@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2563

The Republican Tax Plan Is Out. What Now?

On November 2, 2017, House Republicans unveiled their widespread rewrite of the U.S. Tax Code. The tax plan, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, is a 429-page bill that provides changes to many aspects of tax law including the corporate tax rate, individual tax rates, the taxes levied on pass-through businesses such as partnerships, and estate taxes. While the bill is unlikely to be signed into law in its present form, certain key provisions of the proposal highlight the direction Republicans hope to take the U.S. Tax Code.

A notable provision is the slashing of the corporate tax rate from its current 35 percent rate to a new 20 percent rate. While earlier proposals considered a temporary rate reduction, the current proposal would make this tax cut permanent. Another much-discussed change is the introduction of a 25 percent tax rate for pass-through businesses such as partnerships and S-corporations. Most items of active income being passed through a business to partners or shareholders would be taxed at a maximum 25 percent rate, rather than the current 39.6 percent minimum rate.

The new tax plan also provides significant changes to how individuals are taxed. Key provisions reduce the seven individual tax brackets to four brackets of 12 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent, and 39.6 percent. The 39.6 percent top bracket will only apply for married couples earning at least $1 million a year or individuals earning at least $500,000 a year. The estate tax exemption would be raised to $11.2 million from its current $5.6 million amount, with the estate tax repealed entirely by 2024.

This is only the beginning of tax reform. The bill must still pass the Senate and be approved by the President, a tall task even if Republicans control each aspect of the legislative process. The reaction of Senators, and more importantly the reaction of voters, will determine whether the tax plan is passed, amended, or rejected entirely.

Jamie E. Koepsel
jkoepsel@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2562