tax advisor

Tax reform brings changes to fringe benefits that can affect an employer’s bottom line

The IRS reminds employers that several programs have been affected as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed last year. This includes changes to fringe benefits, which can affect an employer's bottom line and its employees' deductions.

Here’s information about some of these changes that will affect employers:

Entertainment Expenses & Deduction for Meals
The new law generally eliminated the deduction for any expenses related to activities generally considered entertainment, amusement or recreation.
 
However, under the new law, taxpayers can continue to deduct 50 percent of the cost of business meals if the taxpayer or an employee of the taxpayer is present, and the food or beverages are not considered lavish or extravagant. The meals may be provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact. Food and beverages that are purchased or consumed during entertainment events will not be considered entertainment if either of these apply:

  • they are purchased separately from the entertainment

  • the cost is stated separately from the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts

Qualified Transportation 
The new law also disallows deductions for expenses associated with qualified transportation fringe benefits or expenses incurred providing transportation for commuting. There is an exception when the transportation expenses are necessary for employee safety.

Bicycle Commuting Reimbursements 
Under the new law, employers can deduct qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements as a business expense. The new tax law suspends the exclusion of qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements from an employee’s income. This means that employers must now include these reimbursements in the employee’s wages.
  
Qualified Moving Expenses Reimbursements 
Employers must now include moving expense reimbursements in employees’ wages. The new tax law suspends the exclusion for qualified moving expense reimbursements.

There is one exception as members of the U.S. Armed Forces can still exclude qualified moving expense reimbursements from their income if they meet certain requirements.

Employee Achievement Award 
Special rules allow an employee to exclude achievement awards from their wages if the awards are tangible personal property. An employer also may deduct awards that are tangible personal property, subject to certain deduction limits. The new law clarifies the definition of tangible personal property.

At Zhong & Sanchez, we provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

Source: IRS

Picture credt: Jaclyn Morgan, Foodable

The New Employer 401(k) Match: How Generous Is Your Boss?

Source: https://www.forbes.com/ 

Between the corporate tax cut and the tight labor market, more companies are moving to increase pay and benefits, including their contributions to retirement plans.  In a January survey, one out of four employers told Willis Towers Watson that they have increased their 401(k) match this year or plan to do so next year.

But there’s a catch: If you don’t pay attention and pick the right percentage of salary to save, you could miss out on getting the full increase in the match.

Under the most common match formula, an employer contributes $1 for every $1 the employee saves up to some percent of salary---say 6%. Under the next most common arrangement, the employer contributes 50 cents for every $1 the worker puts away, up to some percent.

In a typical match increase, the employer raises the percentage of salary they’ll match—say from 5% to 7%. But to get that increase you’d have to save at least 7% of your salary. It’s called “stretching” the match in retirement-speak. “As an employee, you’ve got to put more skin in the game,” says Rick Unser, a retirement plan consultant in Hermosa Beach, California, who says he sees employers starting to make employees stretch to contributing 8% or 10% in order to get the full match.

Robert Lawton, a retirement plan consultant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has seen some radical employers moving to a 25% match on 12%, meaning workers would need to contribute 12% of pay to get the maximum employer matching contribution of 3% of pay. “You get the employees to contribute more even though the employer is contributing the same amount,” Lawton says. Usually, the employer is contributing more, and the employee is contributing more as well.

The rule of thumb is you should save 15% of your salary (including any employer match) each year for 40 years. The problem is that many workers haven’t saved anywhere near that much in the beginning of their careers, some have been in and out of the workforce, and others have been in the gig economy, where they don’t have access to a workplace retirement plan, Lawton points out, noting that a lot of workers need to be saving more than 15% of pay.

That said, here are two ways employers are trying to get their employees to at least 15% of pay saved (employee and employer contributions combined). Honeywell recently announced that in April, for workers currently getting a 75% match on the first 8% of pay, the match will increase to 87.5% (for a maximum employer match of 7%, up from 6%). For workers currently getting a 37.5% match on the first 8% of pay, the match will increase to 43.75% (for a new maximum employer match of 3.5%, up from 3%).

At Visa, employees will have to start saving 5% of salary to get the new, increased employer match, which can bring them to the 15% goal. Today Visa matches 200% of employee contributions up to 3% of salary, for a maximum employer match of 6% of pay. The new Visa match, effective in late February, will be 200% of employee contributions up to 5% of salary, for a maximum employer match of 10% of pay. In a paternalistic move, Visa will be changing its default employee pre-tax contribution from 3% to 5%—for workers who contribute less than 5%.

What if you work for a company—or are considering a job switch to one—that has a match that’s less than $1 for $1 on 6% of pay? Check if there's a profit sharing plan or a pension plan, says Rob Austin, director of research at Alight Solutions. “If not, maybe you’re behind the competition,” he says.

When in doubt, consult a trustworthy CPA! Zhong and Sanchez is dedicated to provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first free consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

Picture credit: shutterstock

Contractors could benefit from new tax law

The new tax law is likely to accelerate a hotly disputed trend in the American economy by rewarding workers who sever formal relationships with their employers and become contractors.

Management consultants may soon strike out on their own, and stockbrokers may hang out their own shingle.

More cable repairmen and delivery drivers, some of whom find work through gig economy apps like Uber, may also be lured into contracting arrangements.

That’s because a provision in the tax law allows sole proprietors — along with owners of partnerships or other so-called pass-through entities — to deduct 20 percent of their revenue from their taxable income.

The tax savings, which could be around $15,000 per year for many affluent couples, may prove enticing to workers. “If you’re above the median but not at the very, very top, one would think you’d be thinking it through,” said David Kamin, a professor of tax law at New York University.

The provision may also turn out to be a boon for employers who are trying to reduce their payroll costs. Workers hired as contractors, who tend to be cheaper, may be less likely to complain about their status under the new tax law.

“Firms currently have a lot of incentives to turn workers into independent contractors,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. “This reinforces the current trends.”

But it could lead to an erosion of the protections that have long been a cornerstone of full-time work.

Formal employment, after all, provides more than just income. Unlike independent contractors, employees have access to unemployment insurance if they lose their jobs and workers’ compensation if they are injured at work. They are protected by workplace anti-discrimination laws and have a federally backed right to form a union.

Those protections do not generally apply to contractors. Nor do minimum-wage and overtime laws.

“What you’re losing is the safety nets for those workers,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group.

Traditional full-time jobs also insulate workers against the peaks and troughs in the demand for their services. Consider, for instance, the erratic income of retail or fulfillment-center workers hired in the fall and let go after the holidays.

And because companies have internal pay scales, the lowest-paid employees tend to make more than they would on the open market.

“It used to be that companies like G.M. or the local bank or factory directly employed the janitor, the clerical worker,” Professor Katz said, noting that their pay would rise along with other employees’ when the company was doing well.

Unwinding employment relationships eliminates these benefits, increasing the volatility of workers’ incomes and magnifying pay disparities and inequality.

It’s difficult to say how many workers would choose to become contractors as a result of the new provision, which for couples frequently begins to phase out at a taxable income above $315,000. Mr. Kamin said joint filers who make close to $315,000 and could transform most of these earnings into business income would find it most compelling to make the change. (It could be more compelling still if one spouse’s employer offered the couple health insurance, which many employers provide even though they aren’t required to.)

On the other hand, many individuals fail to avail themselves of existing tax deductions, like the one that freelancers can take for their expenses, said Jamil Poonja of Stride Health, which helps self-employed workers buy health insurance. That may reflect the lack of access among lower-earning workers to sophisticated tax advice.

The tax benefit could also be offset in some cases by the need for contractors to pay both the employer and employee portion of the federal payroll tax.

Many employers are already pushing the boundaries of who they treat as employees and who they treat as independent contractors.

In theory, it is the nature of the job, and not the employer’s whim, that is supposed to determine the worker’s job status.

If a company exerts sufficient control over workers by setting their schedules or how much they charge customers, and if workers largely depend on the company for their livelihood, the law typically considers those workers to be employees.

True contractors are supposed to retain control over most aspects of their job and can typically generate income through entrepreneurial skill, and not just by working longer hours.

In practice, however, many companies classify workers who are clearly employees as contractors, because they are usually much cheaper to use. And many labor advocates say the new tax deduction will encourage more employers to go that route by giving them an additional carrot to dangle in front of workers.

“The risk presented by this provision is that employers can go to workers and say, ‘You know what, your taxes will go down, let me classify you as an independent contractor,’” said Seth Harris, a deputy labor secretary under President Barack Obama.

Anything that makes workers more likely to accept such an arrangement makes it harder to root out violations of the law. That is because the agencies responsible for policing misclassification — the Labor Department, the Internal Revenue Service, state labor and tax authorities — lack the resources to identify more than a fraction of the violations on their own.

“Your chances of finding a worker that’s been misclassified if that worker has not complained are worse than your chances of finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn,” Mr. Harris said.

David Weil, the administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division under Mr. Obama, believes the change will add fuel to a trend that has been several decades in the making.

During that time, as Mr. Weil documented in a book on the subject, “The Fissured Workplace,” employers have steadily pushed more work outside their organizations, paring the number of people they employ and engaging a rising number of contractors, temporary workers and freelancers.

The tax law will accelerate the shift, he said, because employers who are already keen to reorganize in this way will recognize that even fewer workers are likely to object as a result of the tax benefits.

The effect of the deduction could be especially big in industries where misclassification is already rampant.

Many small-time construction contractors hire full-time workers who should be classified as employees but are kept on as freelancers or paid under the table, said Kyle Makarios, political director for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

Mr. Makarios said the pass-through provision would encourage even more building contractors to misclassify workers, allowing them to reduce their labor costs and underbid contractors who play by the rules.

The practice by ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft of classifying drivers as independent contractors has long been criticized by labor advocates and plaintiffs’ lawyers. They argue that the companies control crucial features of the working relationship and hold most of the economic power.

Neil Bradley, senior vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that gig-economy companies classify workers as contractors when it suits the needs of their business and that he did not expect that to change. He also said he did not expect firms with traditional business models to follow suit as a result of the new provision.

“I think the decision is going to be driven by the considerations” that lawyers cite, such as the amount of control a company exercises, he said, “not by this tax bill.”

But Mr. Weil was less sanguine.

“These kinds of approaches to making it easier to slide into independent contractor status reflect unequal bargaining power,” he said. “When you add to that an additional financial incentive, you’re just unwinding the whole system.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/31/business/economy/tax-work.html?WT.mc_id=SmartBriefs-Newsletter&WT.mc_ev=click&ad-keywords=smartbriefsnl

Current developments in S corporations

EXECUTIVE
SUMMARY

  • A binding, nonjudicial settlement agreement, where available under state law, offers a practical alternative to a probate court ruling to revise a trust's terms to comply with requirements to be a qualified Subchapter S trust.
  • An extension of time to make a "closing of the books" election upon termination of an S election may be available under Regs. Secs. 301.9100-1 and 301.9100-3, a recent IRS letter ruling demonstrates.
  • If an S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits and excess passive investment income for each of three consecutive tax years, its S election terminates. The IRS waived an inadvertent termination under the facts and circumstances presented in a letter ruling request. Other letter rulings determined that certain rental income was not passive investment income.
  • The Tax Court ruled in several cases involving S corporation shareholder basis that taxpayers claimed was created or increased by debt obligations. Other court cases involved determining whether the S corporation or its employee-shareholder was required to recognize income from providing services, the effect on basis of shareholders' income inclusion under Sec. 83(b), and allocation to a bankruptcy estate of shareholders' passthrough items.

In 2016 and 2017, courts have decided several cases involving S corporations and their shareholders. In addition, the IRS has issued guidance that should be of interest to S corporation owners. The AICPA S Corporation Taxation Technical Resource Panel offers the following summary of the court decisions and IRS guidance affecting S corporations and their shareholders that the panel believes will be of interest to tax practitioners.

Final regulations under Sec. 385


The IRS and Treasury in 2016 issued proposed regulations under Sec. 385 addressing when a purported debt instrument would be recharacterized as equity for income tax purposes.1These proposed regulations caused significant concerns from an S corporation perspective because their effect on a corporation's ability to satisfy the small business corporation requirements2 was unclear. Specifically, the proposed regulations raised concerns about whether the recharacterization of a purported debt instrument as equity would cause the issuing corporation to be treated as having more than one class of stock and/or cause the holder to be treated as a shareholder of the issuing corporation. However, in the final and temporary regulations issued in October 2016, S corporations are exempt from all aspects of these regulations.3

Reforming a trust to qualify as a qualified Subchapter S trust


In two private letter rulings,4 the IRS ruled that a trust was a qualified Subchapter S trust (QSST) following its reformation pursuant to a binding, nonjudicial settlement agreement.

Under the facts of the letter rulings, the terms of a trust that provided for discretionary distributions to the descendants of the primary beneficiary during the primary beneficiary's lifetime were reformed pursuant to a binding, nonjudicial settlement agreement so that the QSST requirement limiting distributions to the current beneficiary during the beneficiary's lifetime would be satisfied.5 Under the laws of the state that governed the trust, interested parties could enter into a binding, nonjudicial settlement agreement with respect to the validity, interpretation, or construction of the terms of the trust that would be final and binding on the trustee, all current and future beneficiaries of the trust, and all other interested persons, as if ordered by a court.

These letter rulings highlight a practical alternative to a probate court ruling for modifying the terms of a trust to qualify it as a permissible S corporation shareholder. However, it is important to note that modifications to a trust, whether via a nonjudicial settlement agreement or a probate court ruling, will likely not be given retroactive effect for purposes of the trust's qualifying as an S corporation shareholder, even if effective retroactively under applicable state law.6

Extension of time granted to file a 'closing of the books' election


If an S election terminates on a date other than the first day of the corporation's tax year, an "S termination year" results, consisting of an "S short year" and a "C short year."7 Unless a closing of the books is required, the corporation's items of income, gain, loss, deduction, credit, etc., are allocated between the S short year and the C short year on a daily, pro rata basis.8 However, a corporation may elect to not have the pro rata allocation rule apply and instead assign the items of income, gain, loss, deduction, credit, etc., for the S termination year to the S short year and the C short year under normal tax accounting rules (the "closing of the books election").9 The election is made by filing a statement with the corporation's return for the C short year.10 In a recent letter ruling,11 the IRS granted the taxpayer an extension of time to file a closing-of-the-books election pursuant to Regs. Secs. 301.9100-1and 301.9100-3.

Passive investment income (Secs. 1362(d)(3) and 1375)


S election termination from excess passive investment income was inadvertent

Under Sec. 1362(d)(3), if, for three consecutive tax years, an S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits at the close of each tax year and has excess passive investment income12 for each tax year, then the corporation's S election terminates at the beginning the first day of the first tax year following the third consecutive tax year. Under Sec. 1375(a), if an S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits at the close of a tax year and has excess passive investment income for the tax year, a tax is imposed on the corporation's net passive investment income.

In Letter Ruling 201710013, the IRS determined that the termination of the taxpayer's S election under Sec. 1362(d)(3) was inadvertent, even though the taxpayer had paid the tax imposed under Sec. 1375(a) for three consecutive tax years. The taxpayer represented that it was aware that having excess passive investment income could subject it to tax but was unaware that this could cause a termination of its S election. To obtain the ruling, the taxpayer agreed to distribute its accumulated earnings and profits by making a deemed dividend election under Regs. Sec. 1.1368-1(f)(3).

ObservationNote that the deemed dividend election under Regs. Sec. 1.1368-1(f)(3) may be made on a timely filed original or amended return. Thus, provided that the period of limitation on assessment has not closed for the third consecutive tax year in which a taxpayer has accumulated earnings and profits and excess passive investment income, the terminating event may be avoided by making this election on an amended return to distribute all of the corporation's accumulated earnings and profits.

Sharecropping revenue and rental income are not passive investment income

The IRS ruled in Letter Ruling 201722019 that sharecropping revenue and rental income were not considered passive investment income under Sec. 1362(d)(3)(C)(i).

Taxpayer X was engaged in a farming arrangement with another taxpayer for sharecropping purposes whereby direct expenses including processing expenses were allocated based on the percentage of crops to which each was entitled. Taxpayer X paid all utilities, maintenance, box rent, and inspection fees and was responsible for all decisions regarding the type of crops planted and marketing efforts. In a subsequent year, a new lease arrangement was signed, where X's expenses were a percentage of rental income within a fixed range, but all property taxes were to be paid byX.

The IRS held that, based on the facts and representations made, the revenue received under the sharecropping agreement and the rental income under the lease arrangement were not considered passive investment income under the rules in Sec. 1362(d), but the rental activity could still be subject to the passive activity rules of Sec. 469.

Rental income did not constitute passive investment income

The IRS ruled in Letter Ruling 201725022 that rental income received by a corporation intending to be treated as an S corporation did not constitute passive investment income for purposes of Sec. 1362(d)(3)(C)(i).

The taxpayer owned a series of commercial buildings that were leased for medical offices and support activities. The taxpayer contracted with an independent leasing agent to provide assistance with obtaining, negotiating, and renewing leases, which required significant time and attention. The taxpayer had a standard lease agreement with its tenants indicating that the landlord was responsible for maintenance and repair activities, including building systems, lighting, lawn care, walkways, and utilities. Furthermore, the taxpayer represented that these activities were performed daily by the taxpayer, its employees, its agent, and the agent's employees. The IRS ruled that the rental income received from these activities was not passive income for purposes of Sec. 1362 but could still be subject to the passive activity loss rules under Sec. 469.

Shareholder basis


In Hargis,13 the Tax Court ruled that the taxpayer, an S corporation shareholder, failed to establish that he had sufficient basis in S corporation stock and debt to deduct the losses allocated to him from the S corporation. The taxpayer relied on his position as "co-borrower" on notes from outside lenders to the S corporation and notes from related business entities to the S corporation to support his claim of sufficient basis to claim the losses.

The court determined that the loans were made directly between the lenders and the S corporation and that the S corporation was not directly obligated to the shareholder. The court noted that none of the proceeds from the loan agreements were advanced to the shareholder but rather were paid directly to the S corporation. In addition, the shareholder was not called upon to make any payment on the notes as a co-borrower, and he was not looked to by the lenders as the primary obligor on the notes. Without a direct indebtedness from the S corporation to the shareholder, the court declined to recognize basis and disallowed the lossdeductions.

The Franklin14 case is similar to Hargis in that the taxpayer was the sole shareholder of an S corporation, and he personally guaranteed the debt of his S corporation to an outside lender. Unlike Hargis, however, the shareholder in Franklin was required to make payment to the lender on the guaranteed debt when the S corporation defaulted. The Tax Court in Franklin accepted evidence that the lender did seize and sell property of the shareholder as payment on the debt of the S corporation.

The Tax Court acknowledged that the shareholder increased his basis in the S corporation by the amount of the actual payment made under his debt guarantee. The additional basis allowed the shareholder to deduct tax losses allocated to him from the S corporation. However, no deduction was allowed in another year where the shareholder had claimed a loss but the corporation had not filed a return and there was no evidence as to the loss or anybasis.

Another debt basis case was Phillips,15 in which a 50% shareholder guaranteed debts of an S corporation. The corporation defaulted on loans, and the creditors sued the guarantors and obtained a judgment against the taxpayer. The taxpayer increased her basis for the amount of the judgments in the year that the courts awarded them to the creditors. However, she had not paid any of the judgments, and the IRS and Tax Court would not allow her to claim basis until she made payments.16

Income earned by shareholder, not S corporation


In Fleischer,17 at issue was whether an S corporation or its shareholder/employee earned income from the services provided by the shareholder/employee.

The taxpayer provided professional services to customers in exchange for commissions and fees that he assigned to his wholly owned S corporation. The taxpayer was then paid a salary from the S corporation, the remaining net income or loss of the corporation was allocated to him, and he received cash distributions.

The Tax Court's opinion in Fleischer notes a first principle of income tax: that "income must be taxed to him who earned it,"18 or, more specifically, to the person "who controls the earning of the income."19 The court noted that for a corporation, and not its service-provider employee, to be the controller of the income, two elements must be found:

  1. The individual providing the services (to the customer) must be an employee of the corporation whom the corporation can direct and control in a meaningful sense; and
  2. There must exist between the corporation and the person or entity using the services (customer) a contract or similar indicium recognizing the corporation's controlling position.

Under the facts of the case, the shareholder, in his personal capacity, entered into a contract with an unrelated party prior to forming the S corporation, and the contract indicated that the shareholder's relationship with the unrelated party was that of an independent contractor. Subsequent to the formation of the S corporation, the shareholder entered into a contract with another unrelated party in his personal capacity. There were no addendums or amendments to either of these contracts requiring the unrelated parties to begin paying the S corporation instead of the shareholder or to recognize the S corporation in any capacity.

The Tax Court held that there was no indicium for the unrelated parties to believe that the S corporation had any control over the shareholder, and therefore, the shareholder, not the S corporation, should have reported the income received under the contracts.

Inclusion of income under Sec. 83(b) creates basis for distribution


Although Austin 20 is probably most notable as an economic substance case, one of its issues involved the taxability of a "special dividend" to an S corporation's shareholders. The Tax Court determined that the S corporation "was always an S corporation" and had no accumulated earnings and profits. Thus, the "special dividend" to its shareholders qualified as a distribution under Sec. 1368(b) and was excluded from the shareholders' taxable income to the extent the distribution did not exceed their stock basis.

The shareholders had relied on certain promissory notes issued as payment for their shares to provide basis and argued that the distribution did not exceed basis. The court found that the notes lacked economic substance and rejected the argument that the shareholders had additional basis. However, as a result of other rulings in the case, the shareholders recognized income under Sec. 83(b) with respect to their shares of the S corporation's stock, increasing their basis in the stock. This increase was sufficient to absorb the distribution so that the distribution was tax-free under Sec. 1368(b).

Bankruptcy estate allocated S corporation income for entire tax year


Under Sec. 1377, generally, an S corporation must allocate its income and other tax items to its shareholders on a per-share/per-day basis. In Medley v. Citizens Southern Bancshares,21two shareholders in the same S corporation transferred their shares to bankruptcy estates in early 2014. Neither shareholder elected to split his own tax year between the pre- and post-petition period under Sec.1398(d)(2). The corporation was profitable in 2014. The trustee allocated income between the shareholders and the estates based on the number of days each shareholder had held the stock. However, the court determined that Sec. 1398(e)(1) entitled the bankruptcy estate to all of the debtor's income or loss from the bankruptcy date forward. Because income does not pass through from an S corporation to a shareholder until the final day of the corporation's tax year, and the estates were the owners of the stock on that final day, all of the debtors' passthrough items for 2014 would pass through to the estates. The Medley case followed the reasoning in Williams,22 in which a shareholder who had transferred his stock to a bankruptcy estate attempted to benefit from a portion of the S corporation's losses for the year.

Inadvertent invalid QSub election highlights trap for the unwary


It has become increasingly common for an S corporation to restructure in connection with a sale or a third-party investment. A common form of this restructuring is for the S corporation's shareholders to form a new corporation (Newco), to which the stock of the S corporation (Oldco) is contributed. A qualified Subchapter S subsidiary (QSub) election is then made for Oldco, effective as of the date of contribution. Shortly after the contribution, Oldco is converted to a limited liability company (LLC) under state law. These steps are generally intended to qualify as a reorganization under Sec. 368(a)(1)(F). An unrelated party then purchases interests of the Oldco LLC or invests in it.

In Letter Ruling 201724013, the taxpayer implemented this type of restructuring; however, the QSub election for Oldco was not filed until after Oldco had been converted to an LLC under state law. Because Oldco did not satisfy all of the QSub requirements under Sec. 1361(b)(3)(B) at the time that the QSub election was filed for it, the QSub election was invalid. The IRS granted a waiver of the inadvertent invalid QSub election under Sec.1362(f).  

Footnotes

1 REG-108060-15.

2 Secs. 1361(b) and (c) and associated regulations.

3 T.D. 9790.

4 IRS Letter Rulings 201614002 and 201614003.

5 See Sec. 1361(d)(3).

6 See Rev. Rul. 93-79.

7 Sec. 1362(e)(1).

8 Sec. 1362(e)(2).

9 Sec. 1362(e)(3).

10 Regs. Sec. 1.1362-6(a)(5).

11 IRS Letter Ruling 201706013.

12 Passive investment income is excessive if it constitutes more than 25% of the corporation's gross receipts (Sec. 1362(d)(3)(A)(i)(II)).

13 Hargis, T.C. Memo. 2016-232.

14Franklin, T.C. Memo. 2016-207.

15 Phillips, T.C. Memo. 2017-61.

16 The years involved predated amendments to Regs. Sec. 1.1366-2 discussed in "Final Regulations Under Sec. 385" above, so there was no discussion of whether the arrangement created a bona fide debtor-creditor relationship between the S corporation and theguarantors.

17 Fleischer, T.C. Memo. 2016-238.

18 Lucas v. Earl, 281 U.S. 111 (1930).

19 Quoting Johnson, 78 T.C. 882 (1982), aff'd, 734 F.2d 20 (9th Cir. 1984).

20 Austin, T.C. Memo. 2017-69.

21 Medley v. Citizens Southern Bancshares, No. 13-12371 (Bankr. M.D. Ala. 5/17/16).

22 Williams, 123 T.C. 144 (2004).

Source: https://www.thetaxadviser.com/

Phantom stock: Termination of right to buy or sell, treatment of asset and basis

In Hurford Investments No. 2, Ltd., No. 23017-11 (Tax Ct. 4/17/17) (order), the Tax Court considered whether the redemption of phantom stock was treated as a sale of a capital asset and what the tax basis in the redeemed phantom stock was.

Background

Gary Hurford owned "phantom stock" in Hunt Oil Co. The phantom stock was a form of deferred compensation that Hunt Oil paid to its employees; a share of phantom stock was valued at approximately the share price of Hunt Oil's common stock and would be adjusted for its increase or decrease in value at the end of each calendar year.

Under the terms of the phantom stock agreement, after Hurford's death, which was considered a "qualified termination of service," a five-yearcountdown was started. During this time Hunt Oil would continue to pay out dividends and adjust the stock for any growth or decline in value. At the end of the fifth year Hunt Oil would automatically redeem the stock; both parties had the right to liquidate the account at any time.

When Gary Hurford died in 1999, Thelma Hurford, his wife, inherited the phantom stock. Thelma decided to transfer the phantom stock into Hurford Investments No. 2 Ltd. (HI-2) in 2000, one of three limited partnerships Thelma's attorney formed as part of her estate plan after Thelma was diagnosed with cancer. On March 22, 2000, Hunt Oil formally recognized HI-2 as the holder of this stock. At the time of the transfer, the value of the stock was $6,411,000, and the receipt was reported on HI-2's Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income, as a short-term gain.

Thelma died in 2001, and the value of the stock on the date of her death was $9,639,588. In 2004, the five-year period that began on Gary's death was up, and Hunt Oil exercised its right to terminate the phantom stock. In 2006, Hunt Oil distributed $12,985,603 to HI-2. The IRS argued that the difference between the $12,985,603 distribution and $6,411,000 should be treated as ordinary income (deferred compensation) and argued that HI-2 should be considered an invalid partnership for federal income tax purposes since there was no transfer of phantom stock until after Thelma died. HI-2 and the estate argued the phantom stock should be treated as a long-term capital asset in HI-2's hands, which would also establish HI-2'svalidity as a holder and recognize it for income tax purposes.

Is phantom stock a capital asset?

In Thelma Hurford's hands, the termination of phantom stock generated ordinary income (deferred compensation), but it is pertinent to note that the character of property may change depending on who holds it, e.g., a laptop is inventory for a retailer but a capital asset for most buyers. "Capital asset" has a broad definition under Sec. 1221, which defines the term as all property that is not specifically excluded in a list of exceptions. The types of property excepted from Sec. 1221 are (1) stock in trade; (2) depreciable property used in a trade or business; (3) a copyright or other similar item; (4) an account or note receivable acquired in the ordinary course of business; (5) a U.S. government publication; (6) a commodities derivative financial instrument; (7) a hedging transaction; or (8) supplies used or consumed in the ordinary course of business.

Because HI-2's interest in the phantom stock does not fit into one of the exceptions listed in Sec. 1221, the Tax Court found that it was a capital asset. This designation makes more sense when one thinks about the nature of the asset. HI-2acquired an asset that had its value linked to the stock value of Hunt Oil, and HI-2 had no influence over the underlying Hunt Oil common stock, holding it in the hope that it would appreciate. According to the Tax Court, this distinguishing characteristic is enough to conclude that the phantom stock was a capital asset.

Does Hunt Oil's redeeming the phantom stock constitute a sale?

Under Sec. 1234A(1), the gain or loss attributable to the cancellation, lapse, expiration, or other termination of a right or obligation for property that is a capital asset in the taxpayer's hands is treated as a gain or loss from the sale of a capital asset. HI-2 argued and the Tax Court agreed that when Hunt Oil liquidated the phantom stock and distributed the proceeds to HI-2, it ended HI-2's right to sell the phantom stock. Thus, under Sec. 1234A, there was a termination of a right to buy or sell a capital asset, and HI-2 was entitled to capital gain treatment.

What is the basis of the stock?

The IRS argued the basis of the stock should be $6,411,000, which was HI-2's original interest in the phantom stock upon Gary Hurford's death; the difference between the value at termination of $12,986,603 and $6,411,000 would be the long-term gain. HI-2 argued that the basis in stock should be stepped-up to the value of $9,639,588 as of Thelma's death. Because the phantom stock was included in Thelma's estate, the Tax Court found that HI-2 was entitled to a step-up in basis under Secs. 1014(a) and 1014(b)(9). The court noted that Sec. 1014(c) specifically excludes from step-up in basis "property which constitutes a right to receive an item of income in respect of a decedent under section 691." However, it concluded that Sec. 1014(c) did not apply because the phantom stock had been converted into a capital asset in HI-2'shands and as such was no longer an item of income in respect of a decedent.

'Appreciation' is a hallmark of a capital asset

According to the Tax Court, the phantom stock was a capital asset in HI-2's hands as determined by Sec. 1221; it was treated as long-term capital gain when Hunt Oil terminated the program and liquidated the phantom stock account. The partnership could not affect the value of the stock in any way and could only hope for the phantom stock value to appreciate; this characteristic was enough to classify the stock as a capital asset. Per Sec. 1234(A), it was also determined that Hunt Oil's liquidation of the stock was a termination of HI-2's right to sell the phantom stock and constituted a sale of an asset. Lastly, the partnership had basis in the phantom stock equal to its fair market value as of Thelma's death. The fair market value of $9,639,588 was included in Thelma's estate, and under Sec. 1014(b)(9), that was the partnership's basis in the stock.

Source: https://www.thetaxadviser.com/