Tag Archives: private equity

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

Accrual-Method Taxpayers with Audited Financials May Have to Recognize Income Sooner

Section 13221 of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act amended IRC section 451 to link the all events test for accrual-method taxpayers to revenue recognition on the taxpayer’s audited and certain other financial statements. Specifically, new IRC section 451(b) (old 451(b) through (i) were redesignated as 451(d) through (k)) provides that for accrual-method taxpayers “the all events test with respect to any item of gross income (or portion thereof) shall not be treated as met any later than when such item (or portion thereof) is taken into account in revenue in” either (1) an applicable financial statement or (2) another financial statement specified by the IRS. In other words, taxpayers subject to this rule must include an item in income for tax purposes upon the earlier satisfaction of the all events test or the recognition of such item in revenue in the applicable or specified financial statement. For example, any unbilled receivables for partially performed services must be recognized for income tax purposes to the extent the amounts are taken into income for financial statement purposes, instead of when the services are complete or the taxpayer has the right to invoice the customer. The new rule does not apply to income from mortgage servicing rights.

The new rule defines an “applicable financial statement” as (1) a financial statement that is certified as being prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and that is (a) a 10-K or annual statement to shareholders required to be filed with the SEC, (b) an audited financial statement used for credit purposes, reporting to shareholders, partners, other proprietors, or beneficiaries, or for any other substantial nontax purpose, or (c) filed with any other federal agency for purposes other than federal tax purposes; (2) certain financial statements made on the basis of international financial reporting standards filed with certain agencies of a foreign government; or (3) a financial statement filed with any other regulatory or governmental body specified by the IRS. It appears that (1)(b) would capture accrual-method taxpayers that have audited GAAP financial statements as a requirement of their lender or as a requirement of their owners, such as a private equity fund owner.

This new rule should also be considered by affected taxpayers in relation to the relatively new and complex revenue recognition standards in ASC 606, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, which becomes applicable to nonpublic GAAP companies later this year (unless adopted earlier). For example, a taxpayer’s tax function and financial accounting function would need to coordinate to ensure that the sales price of contracts containing multiple performance obligations (i.e., bundles of goods and services, such as software sales agreements that include a software license, periodic software updates, and maintenance and support services) is allocated to the separate components in the same manner for financial statement and tax purposes.

The new tax rule is effective for tax years beginning after 2017.

Discussion of the new tax rule begins on page 272 of the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Conference Report.

Michael J. Wilson

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

Private Equity Fee Waiver Planning Under Scrutiny, But Still Viable

Private equity firms sometimes waive management fees payable by portfolio investment entities or funds in exchange for new partnership interests in the entities or funds.  In theory, the practice is fair because the fee recipients surrender a certain stream of income in exchange for a partnership “profits interest” that may or may not produce future income.  The exchange is desirable to the private equity firms or managers because the partnership profits interest may ultimately produce more income than the management fee, because the receipt of the partnership profits interest may not trigger income tax, and because the future income from the partnership profits interest may in some circumstances be taxable at the 20% long-term capital gain tax gain rate rather than the almost-40% ordinary income tax rate.

Critics argue the practice is unfair because the fee waiver often occurs shortly before the fee is earned.  They also argue the “profits interests” could be engineered using inside information to be very likely to produce a future income stream, making the perceived risk-reward tradeoff disingenuous.  Whether the criticisms are fair or not, the Internal Revenue Service has been studying  the practice for a few years, but has not issued new guidance.

We believe it is unlikely new Internal Revenue Service guidance will ban fee waivers entirely.  It is more likely that new guidance will curb the most aggressive fee waiver transactions.  We continue to evaluate fee waiver planning that fits the current tax law.

If you want to learn more, here is a link to a more detailed analysis of the technical arguments for and against fee waivers:

E. John Wagner, II