An LLC taxed as a partnership with 128 partners failed to file its partnership tax return electronically, resulting in the IRS asserting a penalty of $224,640 under IRC section 6698(a)(1). Partnerships with more than 100 partners are required to file their tax returns electronically under IRC section 6011(e). Williams Parker represented the partnership in connection with a penalty waiver request pursuant to IRS Announcement 2002-3, 2002-1 CB 305 (Jan. 14, 2002). Shareholder Mike Wilson at Williams Parker convinced the IRS that the partnership was entitled to a penalty waiver under the criteria of the Announcement, and therefore the IRS withdrew the entire $226,640 penalty. Information regarding the Announcement criteria and related guidance can be found at irs.gov.
Tax inversions have been in the news for several years now, but almost always in the context of a public US company reincorporating in a foreign country to achieve lower tax rates on non-US source income. However, there is another type of inversion, the S corporation inversion, that does not involve any foreign countries but can be an elegant solution to a problem faced my many small and medium-sized businesses operated as S corporations.
Many businesses start as S corporations for good tax reasons, but later in their lifecycle want to convert to a tax partnership (such as an LLC taxed as a partnership) for a variety of business and tax reasons. For example, perhaps a private equity fund or foreign investor (which are both impermissible S corporation shareholders) want to invest in the business and become owners. Another example is where an S corporation wants to grant an equity interest to a key employee in exchange for their past and future services. Oftentimes, the best approach in this case is to grant the employee a “profits interest” in the business, but S corporations cannot grant such interests, while tax partnerships can. Simply converting or merging the S corporation into an LLC taxed as a partnership is not satisfactory, because that transaction would trigger the taxable liquidation of the S corporation.
One method to convert to a tax partnership tax-free, without undergoing an inversion, is the “LLC drop-down,” which entails the S corporation forming a wholly-owned LLC, that is initially a disregarded entity for tax purposes, and transferring all of the S corporation’s assets and business to the new LLC. Once this is accomplished, the new investors can invest in the business by investing into the new LLC, which will become a tax partnership. However, this restructuring is deceptively simple, because migrating the S corporation’s business to the new LLC can create many issues, including (1) migrating employees, payroll, and benefit plans to the new LLC; (2) opening new operating and payroll bank accounts for the new LLC; (3) consulting with insurance agents to obtain coverage for the new LLC; (4) assigning customer, lease, vendor, and other key agreements to the new LLC, which oftentimes requires the counterparty’s consent; (5) transferring or obtaining new licenses and permits for the new LLC to operate the business; and (6) obtaining lender consent.
These headaches can oftentimes be avoided by utilizing an S corporation inversion. The S corporation inversion is accomplished by having the shareholders of the S corporation (“Old S”) transfer their stock to a newly formed S corporation (“New S”) in exchange for all the stock of New S. Old S immediately makes an election to be a qualified subchapter S subsidiary, and so Old S will be disregarded for tax purposes. New S then forms a wholly-owned LLC, which is initially disregarded for tax purposes, and then merges Old S into the new LLC, with new LLC as the survivor of the merger. The merger is without tax consequences, because it’s a merger of two entities, Old S and LLC, that are disregarded for tax purposes. Furthermore, by operation of the Florida merger statute, all of the assets, liabilities, contracts, and legal relationships of Old S transfer to LLC and in most circumstances no third party consents are required. Now the old business is in a new LLC that can take on new investors in a tax partnership format and without many of the headaches of migrating a business to a new legal entity. For guidance on this structure, see Treasury Regulation Section 1.1361-5(b)(c), Example 2.
The Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) announced at the May 26 meeting of the International Fiscal Association in Montreal that limited liability limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships organized under the laws of Florida or Delaware will be taxable as corporations for Canadian income tax purposes. The CRA has treated US limited liability companies as corporations for many years, but previously treated US LLLPs and LLPs as pass-through entities. The announcement did not specify whether similar entities organized in other US states would be treated the same, but the justification provided by the CRA would appear to apply to such other entities.
The CRA’s announcement raises several issues for US LLLPs and LLPs that have Canadian owners, including such entities that own US real estate. One issue is that income from these entities will now be subject to double income tax. The US will treat these entities as pass-through entities and so only the owners will be subject to US income tax, but Canada will now treat these entities as corporations. Consequently, Canadian dividend tax will apply to distributions received by the Canadian owner, and a Canadian tax credit is not available for the US tax. Previously for such LLLPs and LLPs, but not for LLCs, the Canadian owner could credit the US tax they paid against their Canadian tax. Issues can also arise for US LLLPs or LLPs that do not have Canadian owners, but have business operations or investments in Canada.
The CRA did announce transitional relief so that US LLLPs and LLPs can be treated as pass-through entities for Canadian tax purposes retroactively if certain conditions are satisfied. One of the key conditions is that the LLLP or LLP must convert before 2018 to an entity that is recognized by the CRA as a pass-through entity, such as a general partnership or a limited partnership.