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Lawmakers continue tax reform debate and discussions

Lawmakers from both parties spent much of June debating and discussing tax reform, but without giving many details of what a comprehensive tax reform package could look like before year-end. At the same time, several bipartisan tax bills have been introduced in Congress, which could see their way to passage.

Tax reform

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., predicted that tax reform would be accomplished in 2017. “Transformational tax reform can be done, and we are moving forward," Ryan said in June. We need to get this done in 2017. We cannot let this once-in-a-generation moment slip by.” Last year, House Republicans unveiled their “Better Way Blueprint,” which sets principles for tax reform, including lower individual tax rates, a reduced corporate tax rate, and a border adjustment tax, among other measures.

“Republicans have been afraid to expose their Blueprint to scrutiny,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said. “The Republican Blueprint is both the wrong way for tax policy and the wrong way to legislate tax reform,” Doggett said.

In the Senate, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee (SFC), Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked stakeholders for input on tax reform. Hatch requested recommendations on individual, business and international tax reform. "After years of committee hearings, public statements, working groups, and conceptual exercises, Congress is poised to make significant steps toward comprehensive tax reform," Hatch said. “As we work to achieve those goals, it is essential that Congress has the best possible advice and insight from experts and stakeholders," he added.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, is ranking member of the SFC and urged lawmakers to take a bipartisan approach to tax reform. "The only way to pass lasting, job-creating tax reform that’s more than an economic sugar-high is for it to be bipartisan," Wyden said. "Tax reform takes a lot of careful consideration to write a bipartisan tax reform bill, and I know because I’ve written two of them."

Small business

The Senate Small Business Committee explored tax reform at a hearing in June. “Tax compliance costs are 67 percent higher for small businesses," Committee Chair James Risch, R-Idaho, said. Ranking member Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said that “small businesses spend 2.5-billion hours complying with IRS rules.”

Mark Mazur, former Treasury assistant secretary for tax policy, was one of the experts who testified before the committee. Mazur said that small businesses generally have a larger per-unit cost of tax compliance than larger businesses. “One particular area that adds to the complexity of complying with the tax code is accrual accounting,” he said.

Other tax legislation

In June, the House passed HR 1551, a bipartisan bill. The legislation generally modifies the tax credit for advanced nuclear power facilities.

A number of bipartisan stand-alone tax bills have been introduced in Congress recently. They include:

  • The Invent and Manufacture in America Bill, a bipartisan bill that would enhance the research tax credit. Generally, the bill would increase the value of the credit by up to 25 percent for qualified research activities.
  • The Graduate Student Savings Bill, introduced by a group of Senate Democrats and Republicans. The bill would generally allow funds from a graduate student’s stipend or fellowship to be deposited into an individual retirement account (IRA).
  • The Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act is another bipartisan bill. The measure generally would enhance the adoption tax credit.
  • Another bipartisan proposal would treat bicycle sharing systems as mass transit facilities for purposes of qualified transportation fringe benefits.

Additionally, a group of House Democrats and Republicans wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in June. The bipartisan group of lawmakers asked Mnuchin to preserve the state and local sales tax deduction in any tax reform plan.

If you have any questions about tax reform, please contact our office.


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Centralized partnership audit rules finally released; impacts all partnerships

The much-anticipated regulations (REG-136118-15) implementing the new centralized partnership audit regime under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) have finally been released. The BBA regime replaces the current TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982) procedures beginning for 2018 tax year audits, with an earlier "opt-in" for electing partnerships. Originally issued on January 19, 2017 but delayed by a January 20, 2017 White House regulatory freeze, these re-proposed regulations carry with them much of the same criticism leveled against them back in January, as well as several modifications. Most importantly, their reach will impact virtually all partnerships.

Scope

Under the proposed regulations, to which Congress left many details to be filled in, the new audit regime covers any adjustment to items of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit of a partnership and any partner’s distributive share of those adjusted items. Further, any income tax resulting from an adjustment to items under the centralized partnership audit regime is assessed and collected at the partnership level. The applicability of any penalty, addition to tax, or additional amount that relates to an adjustment to any such item or share is also determined at the partnership level.

Immediate Impact

Although perhaps streamlined and eventually destined to simplify partnership audits for the IRS, the new centralized audit regime may prove more complicated in several respects for many partnerships. Of immediate concern for most partnerships, whether benefiting or not, is how to reflect this new centralized audit regime within partnership agreements, especially when some of the procedural issues within the new regime are yet to be ironed out.

Issues for many partnerships that have either been generated or heightened by the new regulations include:

  • Selecting a method of satisfying an imputed underpayment;
  • Designation of a partnership representative;
  • Allocating economic responsibility for an imputed underpayment among partners including situations in which partners’ interests change between a reviewed year and the adjustment year; and
  • Indemnifications between partnerships and partnership representatives, as well as among current partners and those who were partners during the tax year under audit.

Election out

Starting for tax year 2018, virtually all partnerships will be subject to the new partnership audit regime …unless an “election out” option is affirmatively elected. Only an eligible partnership may elect out of the centralized partnership audit regime. A partnership is an eligible partnership if it has 100 or fewer partners during the year and, if at all times during the tax year, all partners are eligible partners. A special rule applies to partnerships that have S corporation partners.

Consistent returns

A partner’s treatment of each item of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit attributable to a partnership must be consistent with the treatment of those items on the partnership return, including treatment with respect to the amount, timing, and characterization of those items. Under the new rules, the IRS may assess and collect any underpayment of tax that results from adjusting a partner’s inconsistently reported item to conform that item with the treatment on the partnership return as if the resulting underpayment of tax were on account of a mathematical or clerical error appearing on the partner’s return. A partner may not request an abatement of that assessment.

Partnership representative

The new regulations require a partnership to designate a partnership representative, as well as provide rules describing the eligibility requirements for a partnership representative, the designation of the partnership representative, and the representative’s authority. Actions by the partnership representative bind all the partners as far as the IRS is concerned. Indemnification agreements among partners may ameliorate some, but not all, of the liability triggered by this rule.

Imputed underpayment, alternatives and "push-outs"

Generally, if a partnership adjustment results in an imputed underpayment, the partnership must pay the imputed underpayment in the adjustment year. The partnership may request modification with respect to an imputed underpayment only under the procedures described in the new rules.

In multi-tiered partnership arrangements, the new rules provide that a partnership may elect to "push out" adjustments to its reviewed year partners. If a partnership makes a valid election, the partnership is no longer liable for the imputed underpayment. Rather, the reviewed year partners of the partnership are liable for tax, penalties, additions to tax, and additional amounts plus interest, after taking into account their share of the partnership adjustments determined in the final partnership adjustment (FPA). The new regulations provide rules for making the election, the requirements for partners to file statements with the IRS and furnish statements to reviewed year partners, and the computation of tax resulting from taking adjustments into account.

Retiring, disappearing partners

Partnership agreements that reflect the new partnership audit regime must especially consider the problems that may be created by partners that have withdrawn, and partnerships that have since dissolved, between the tax year being audited and the year in which a deficiency involving that tax year is to be resolved. Collection of prior-year taxes due from a former partner, especially as time lapses, becomes more difficult as a practical matter unless specific remedies are set forth in the partnership agreement. The partnership agreement might specify that if any partner withdraws and disposes of their interest, they must keep the partnership advised of their contact information until released by the partnership in writing.

If you have any questions about how your partnership may be impacted by these new rules, please feel free to call our office.


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What’s next for IRS/Treasury regulations in response to Executive Orders?

With the release of regulations on centralized partnership audits, many taxpayers hope that it will signal the re-start of a regular flow of much-needed guidance from the Treasury Department and the IRS that has been virtually stopped dead in its tracks since January 20. Others caution that the floodgates have not been opened and that the impact of several Executive Orders in discouraging guidance will be felt well into next year. Also bearing upon the recent lack of guidance are the critical vacancies within Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy that have been taking longer than usual to fill.

Reports are that Treasury officials have been working behind-the-scenes in drafting a new guidance plan. The plan not only includes prospects for new guidance but also a fresh look at recent guidance that may need to be withdrawn or streamlined. A June 21 deadline set by Executive Order 13777, for Treasury, among other federal agencies, to show progress in "identifying regulations for repeal, replacement or modification," reportedly has been met but details will not be made public.

Likewise, a 60-day deadline within Executive Order 13789 also ended June 21 for Treasury to review all significant tax regulations issued since January 1, 2016. That latter report consists of an interim report to the President that identifies those regulations that (i) impose an undue financial burden on United States taxpayers; (ii) add undue complexity to the federal tax laws; or (iii) exceed the statutory authority of the Internal Revenue Service. No indication has been made regarding whether that report will be made public. A full report is due in another three months.

In the meantime, Treasury on June 12 requested public comments and recommendations for Treasury, pursuant to Executive Order 13777, on regulations "that can be eliminated, modified, or streamlined in order to reduce burdens," carrying a 45-day deadline. Based on the Executive Orders, consensus is also that the IRS’s next "Priority Guidance Plan" will carry significant amendments from the last one.

What’s on the chopping block?

In an effort to preview what recommendations and action may result from the EOs, here is a list of some of the regulations that are most likely to be amended or withdrawn, based upon feedback from a variety of stakeholders that have weighed in so far with public comments: .

Comment. Stakeholder responses have not always been negative, with the recognition that complexity is inherent in certain rules that are the result of complex legislative provisions that only Congress can change.

Debt/Equity: TD 9790. Final regulations under Code Sec. 385 address the recharacterization of debt as equity in certain situations with the purpose of minimizing erosion of the federal income tax base. These regs are at the top of many stakeholders’ lists of those rules that should be withdrawn. Complaints focus on both the scope of the regulations being too broad and the documentation and analysis requirements that begin in 2018 as being too burdensome for intercompany debt issuance.

Serial inverters: TD 9761. Final and temporary regulations under Code Sec. 7874 are designed, in particular, to prevent "serial inverters" in which a foreign entity completes a number of U.S. domestic acquisitions in a manner that circumvents the application of Code Sec. 7874. Some taxpayers complain that the rules are overly complex and present risks and burdens on taxpayers engaged in “run-of-the-mill” cross border mergers and acquisitions.

Spin-offs: REG-134016-15. These proposed regulations would tighten the requirements for corporations to spin off controlled corporations tax-free to their shareholders, along with providing new bright-line standards for triggering the device test and for satisfying the active trade or business test. These regs are criticized as being susceptible to being applied too broadly by the IRS. In addition, asset valuation rules set forth in those regs have not been drafted to reflect other legitimate concerns, according to critics.

Estate tax valuation: REG-163113-02. These regulations would change the valuation of interests in family-owned business for estate, gift and generating-skipping transfer tax purposes. Many stakeholders report that these regs under Code Sec. 2704 go too far in preventing abuse of existing rules by being too broad and preventing valuation discounts for lack of control and marketability.

Consistent basis for estates/beneficiaries: REG-127923-15. These regulations under Code Secs. 1014(f) and 6035 require consistent basis reporting between estates and the person acquiring property from the descendent by requiring basis reporting. Complaints lodged against these proposed regs include overreaching on the zero basis rule and supplemental filings that can span over many years.

Leveraged partnership/disguised sales: TDs 9787 and 9788. These regulations address disguised sales and allocation of liabilities and introduce restrictions on leveraged partnership transactions. Criticism of these regs focuses primarily on the fact the rules no longer allow a partner full basis on guaranteed debt for purposes of determining if there has been a taxable event when debt is transferred to the partnership, even when that guarantee meets the requirements of the new final rules concerning debt guarantees.

Foreign partner transfers: TD 9814, REG-127203-15. Temporary and proposed regulations under Code Sec. 721 address transfers of appreciated property by U.S. persons to partnerships with foreign partners related to the transferor. Complaints against these regs include their overly-broad reach when anti-abuse rules would suffice, their retroactive application, and their required use of the remedial method under Code Sec. 704(c).

Withholding on foreign investors: TD 9815. Effective January 1, 2018, regulations would impose withholding tax on what critics have characterized as a broad universe of transactions that have generally been viewed as non-abusive. Critics have said that these prospective dividend equivalent rules are costly for the financial industry, making U.S.-issued stocks and securities much less attractive to international investors.

Tax-exempt bonds: REG-129067-15. These proposed reliance regulations provide a new definition of a political subdivision for tax-exempt bonds. Critics say the rules impose overly broad restrictions that may limit infrastructure projects.


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FAQ: Has the IRS’s treatment of virtual currency changed?

No. The IRS continues to treat virtual currency as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. However, last year, a government watchdog, and this year, a group of lawmakers, urged the IRS to clarify its virtual currency guidance.

The IRS has described virtual currency as a “digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value.” Virtual currency is sometimes referred to as “cryptocurrency” or “digital currency.” Virtual currency does not have legal tender status in the U.S., even though many people use virtual currency. “Real” currency, such as the U.S. dollar, is defined by the Treasury Department as "the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country designated as legal tender and circulates and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance."

Virtual currency may have an equivalent value in real currency. This type of virtual currency is referred to as “convertible” virtual currency. “Bitcoin” is an example of a convertible virtual currency. Bitcoin can be digitally traded between users and can be purchased for, or exchanged into, U.S. dollars and other real or virtual currencies.

The growth in virtual currency has brought tax questions. In 2014, the IRS announced that virtual currency is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes.  General tax principles that apply to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency.  The IRS explained that:

  • Wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee, must be reported by an employer on a Form W-2, and are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes.
  • Payments using virtual currency made to independent contractors and other service providers are taxable and self-employment tax rules generally apply.  Normally, payers must issue Form 1099.
  • The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer.
  • A payment made using virtual currency is subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property. 

Since the IRS issued guidance in 2014, the agency has been largely quiet on the subject of virtual currency. The IRS did state, in court documents filed in a lawsuit this year, that less than 1,000 individual income tax returns in 2015 reported using a transaction using virtual currency.

Last year, a government watchdog, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), recommended that the IRS revisit virtual currency.  TITGA noted the growing use of virtual currency. “However, some virtual currencies are also popular because the identity of the parties involved is generally anonymous, leading to a greater possibility of their use in illegal transactions,” TIGTA cautioned.

In June, several lawmakers asked the IRS to describe the agency’s virtual currency strategy. The lawmakers also asked the agency what outreach and education it has done for stakeholders. In their letter, the lawmakers directed the IRS to reply to their questions. As of the date this article was prepared, the lawmakers have not released the agency’s response, if there was a reply.

If you have any questions about the federal tax treatment of virtual currency, please contact our office.


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How do I...work-around the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) being offline?

Every year, millions of post-secondary students access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This year, the DRT is unavailable for FAFSA filers because of cybersecurity concerns. The information needed to complete the FAFSA can be found on a previously filed federal income tax return.

FAFSA

To apply for federal student aid, an individual must complete and submit the FAFSA. He or she will automatically be considered for federal student aid. In addition, the individual's post-secondary institution may use his or her FAFSA information to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid. The DRT provides tax data that automatically fills in information for part of the FAFSA form.

Individuals who plan to attend post-secondary schools from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 must submit the 2017-2018 FAFSA. Individuals will need tax information from 2015 to complete the 2017-2018 FAFSA.

Suspicious activity

Earlier this year, the IRS reported that cybercriminals may have tried to obtain tax information through the DRT. The agency's security filters identified fraudulent returns using information obtained from the DRT. According to the IRS, as many as 100,000 taxpayer accounts may have been compromised through the DRT by cyberthieves. In response, the IRS took the DRT offline.

Work-around

FAFSA filers can manually provide their tax return information, the IRS has instructed. Our office can help you prepare a FAFSA while the DRT is offline.

FAFSA filers can also use the IRS's online Get Transcript Tool. Individuals can obtain a Tax Return Transcript, which reflects most line items including adjusted gross income (AGI) from the original tax return filed, along with any forms and schedules. This transcript is only available for the current tax year and returns processed during the prior three years. Individuals can also obtain a Tax Account Transcript, which reflects basic data such as return type, marital status, adjusted gross income, taxable income and all payment types. This transcript is available for the current tax year and up to 10 prior years. Keep in mind that a transcript is not a photocopy of the return. A transcript can be confusing to read. Again, please contact our office for assistance.

Income-driven repayment plan

The DRT also provides tax data that automatically fills in information for the income-driven repayment (IDR) plan application for federal student loan borrowers. The DRT is online for DRT applications.


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July 2017 tax compliance calendar

As an individual or business, it is your responsibility to be aware of and to meet your tax filing/reporting deadlines. This calendar summarizes important federal tax reporting and filing data for individuals, businesses and other taxpayers for the month of July 2017.

July 6
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jun 28, 29 and 30.

July 7
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 1, 2, 3 and 4.

July 10
Employees who work for tips. Employees who received $20 or more in tips during June must report them to their employer using Form 4070.

July 12
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 5, 6 and 7.

July 14
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 8, 9, 10 and 11.

July 17
Employers. For those to whom the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit employment taxes and nonpayroll withholding for payments in June.

July 19
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 12, 13 and 14.

July 21
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 15, 16, 17 and 18.

July 26
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 19, 20 and 21.

July 28
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 22, 23, 24 and 25.

July 31
Employers. Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, due for the second quarter of 2017.

Deposit FUTA owed through June if more than $500.

File Form 5500 or 5500-EZ for calendar year 2017 employee benefit plan.

August 2
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 26, 27 and 28.

August 4
Employers. Semi-weekly depositors must deposit employment taxes for Jul 29–Aug 1.


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