Tag Archives: partnership

When is a Rose Not a Rose? IRS Tries to Plug Carried Interest Loophole by Claiming Roses are Not Flowers

The sweeping tax law passed in December requires partners holding some “carried interests” (partnership interests disproportionately large as compared to the relative capital contributed) to recognize gain at ordinary income tax rates (up to 37%) if their holding periods do not exceed three years, as opposed to the one-year holding period normally required to qualify for 20%-tax-rate long-term capital gain. The idea is that these interests are associated with services — often performed by hedge fund and private equity managers — that don’t carry the investment risk associated with a normal capital asset, and therefore holders of these partnership interests should have to own the interests longer to qualify for a low tax rate.

The statute categorically exempts partnership interests held by “corporations” from the new rules. Without explanation, the IRS announced this week it will take the position that “S corporations” are not “corporations” for the purposes of the carried interest law, even though by definition the opposite is true throughout the Internal Revenue Code. Their interpretation is akin to claiming roses aren’t flowers.

There are common sense reasons why S corporations should not be exempt from the carried interest statute. Because S corporations are pass-through entities, there is no practical difference between an individual owning a carried interest directly, as opposed to owning it through an S corporation. Yet read literally, the statute produces different results in these practically comparable situations.

Still, statutes are supposed to mean what they say. S corporations are corporations, just like roses are flowers. Unless Congress changes the statute, the Internal Revenue Service may have a hard time defending its position in litigation.

See our prior discussion of the new carried interest law:

E. John Wagner, II

Tax Savings Estimator: Qualified Business Income Deduction

If you own a business taxed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or S corporation, the new Section 199A Qualified Business Income Deduction offers one of the biggest potential tax benefits under the recently-enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It allows you to deduct up to twenty percent of your business income. If your income exceeds $157,500 ($315,000 for a married joint filer), the deduction is limited by filters tied to your company’s employee payroll and depreciable property ownership. There are other restrictions, but for most business owners our calculator offers a useful, simplified estimate of tax savings from the new deduction.

Curious whether you should change the tax status of your company? Read our analysis here: Should You Reform Your Business for Tax Reform?

E. John Wagner, II

Should You Reform Your Business for Tax Reform?

If you own a closely-held business, it likely utilizes a “pass-through” S corporation or partnership tax classification.  The owners pay income tax individually on pass-through entity income, whether or not the business distributes the income.

C corporations are different.  C corporations pay tax on their own income.  The shareholders pay an additional dividend tax only when the C corporation distributes dividends.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Congress likely will pass Tuesday, the federal tax rate on retained C corporation income will drop from 35% to 21%.  The top individual tax rate, which also applies to pass-through entities, will equal 37%.  The Act makes C corporation tax status more attractive than in the past.

Should you convert your pass-through business to a C corporation?  

Should you change the tax classification of your business?

The short-answer: Probably not, unless you plan to own the business a long time and indefinitely reinvest profits.

A longer answer:

Under the Act, converting your business into a C corporation creates a trade-off between:

  1. a lower tax rate on operating income, leaving more cash to reinvest in the business; and
  2. paying more tax (or getting a lower purchase price) when you sell the company, and having less flexibility taking profits out of the business in the meantime.

If you convert your Florida-based pass-through business to a C corporation, the business will pay state income taxes that pass-through entities avoid. The C corporation’s combined federal and state tax rate will reach just over 25% on reinvested income.

The problems? You will pay a higher or equivalent tax rate, as compared to the pass-through tax rate, if you take the profits out of the corporation.  If you sell the business as a C corporation you will (1) pay about a 43% combined corporate-level and shareholder-level tax rate on the sale gain (versus a likely 20% or 23.8% rate as a pass-through), or (2) receive a lower purchase price to compensate a buyer willing to purchase the corporation stock for forgoing a tax basis step up in the corporate assets.  And if laws or circumstances change, you cannot always readily convert back to pass-through status without negative tax consequences.

What’s in the Act for Pass-Through S Corporations and Partnerships?

The Act includes a new deduction of up-to-20% of income for pass-through businesses.  If your business earns $10 million of income, you might qualify to deduct $2 million.  The deduction would save $740,000 in federal income tax and reduce the business’ effective income tax rate from about 36% to approximately 29%.

The catch?  For taxpayers with income over about $400,000 (or a lower threshold for persons other than married, joint filers), the Act limits the deduction to (1) 50% of the wages paid to employees, or (2) the sum of 25% of wages, plus 2.5% of the value of owned depreciable property.  If the business earns a $10 million profit, but its payroll is $3 million, you may only qualify to deduct $1.5 million, not $2 million. Unless the business has a lot of payroll or owns substantial depreciable property, its tax rate may remain in the mid-to-high 30% range.

Despite the new deduction, the Act leaves most pass-through entity owners paying a higher tax rate than C corporations pay on reinvested business profits.  But most pass-through entities retain the advantages of a lower tax rate on profits distributed to owners and on the sale of the business.

What to Do?

If you can predict future payroll and equipment purchases, the price and timing of a business sale, and Congress’ whims, you can perform a present value calculation to decide whether pass-through or C corporation tax status is best for your business.  The calculation would compare the pre-business-sale tax savings from the reduced C corporation tax rate on reinvested profits, against the increased tax on distributed profits and from a future business sale.

The math is more complicated for businesses qualifying for other tax breaks, such as the Section 1202 small business stock gain exclusion.  It grows even more complicated if the model considers the tax effects of an owner’s death.

If your crystal ball isn’t clear, you are stuck making best guesses about the future of politics and your business.  But if you frequently take profits out of your business or imagine selling it in the foreseeable future, you probably will stick with the pass-through  tax status your business already uses.

For more comprehensive information regarding the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, follow this link to our previous post.

E. John Wagner, II

Williams Parker Convinces IRS to Waive $224,640 Penalty Asserted Against Client

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 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).

E. John Wagner, II

Williams Parker Obtains Tax Ruling that TEFRA Does Not Apply to Payroll Tax Audits of Partnerships

During the course of an audit of a partnership for employment tax matters, an issue arose as to whether the tax partnership (which has numerous partners) was subject to the unified partnership audit and litigation provisions of TEFRA (the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982). Representing the partnership, Williams Parker took the position that while the partnership was subject to TEFRA for income tax purposes, it was not subject to TEFRA for employment tax or worker classification matters. Due to the multitude of partners and other factors, being subject to TEFRA would have resulted in the partnership incurring significant expense and headache in trying to comply with the various TEFRA provisions during the course of the audit and any subsequent tax proceedings. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service Office of Chief Counsel agreed with Williams Parker in a published ruling, which can be found at the following link: TEFRA Ruling.

Michael J. Wilson

IRS Refuses Investment Fund Management Partnership the Same Self Employment Tax Break It Gives S Corporations

In a recent ruling, the IRS confronted a partnership serving as a management company for investment partnerships and funds.  Management fees were its sole source of  income.  The management company paid reasonable compensation subject to employment or self employment taxes to its owner-managers.  Following a planning technique available to S corporations, the partnership treated its partner distributions as being exempt from self employment taxes.  The IRS disagreed with the partnership’s position.  The IRS ruled that the partner distributions were subject to self employment taxes notwithstanding the reasonableness of compensation paid as such to its owner-managers.

The ruling is significant because distributions from an S corporation structured in the same way probably would not have been subject to self employment tax.  Indeed, the partnership in question used to be an S corporation, and the IRS specifically held that the S corporation rules do not apply to the new partnership.

The ruling underscores an evolving IRS position that treats service S corporations and service partnerships differently for self employment tax purposes.  While technically understandable because different statutory and regulatory provisions govern the different entity types, the differing self employment tax treatment of these entities defies common sense.

Unless a sensible unified self employment tax policy emerges, when possible it remains wise to structure management or service companies either as S corporations or as partnerships with S corporation partners, to take advantage of the more flexible self employment tax planning options available for S corporations.

Here is  link to the ruling:  http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-wd/201436049.pdf

E. John Wagner, II