IRS final NIT regulations help traders

December 4, 2013 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

Good news for business traders and investment managers: Our petition and request for fixes to the Net Investment Tax worked! The IRS just issued final regulations (TD 9644) for the Affordable Care Act’s “Net Investment Tax” (NIT), the 3.8% Medicare surtax on unearned income above the AGI thresholds of $250,000 married and $200,000 single.

We are pretty satisfied with the final regulations as they affect business traders and investment managers. What could have been a huge mess complying with the proposed regulations — with unintended consequences like overcharging taxes — worked out to be a simple aggregation with tax fairness on true net trading income in the final regulations.

The NIT regulations affect all types of unearned income activities and they are very complex and beyond the scope of this blog. But in this blog, we’re focused on business traders and investment managers.

The problem in the proposed regulations
There are three separate buckets for different types of unearned income: portfolio income goes in bucket #1, passive activity entities and trading businesses go in bucket #2, and capital gains and losses are housed in bucket #3. The biggest problem with the proposed regulations for the NIT is they counted trading gains in bucket #2, but they (probably unintentionally) counted trading losses in bucket #3. You can’t count an individual bucket with a net loss when aggregating net investment income (NII). Wouldn’t it make more sense to put trading businesses in bucket #3, as they are not passive activities anyway?

Our petition showed how a trading business with a net loss could have NII of several hundred thousand dollars because only gains would be counted and not losses.

Problem solved in the final regulations
Kudos to the IRS, not only did they listen to us — and the AICPA, plenty of other accountants and trading industry groups — but they crafted a clever and simple solution for this fix. In a nutshell, a trading business with an entity structure or without (sole proprietorship), with a Section 475 MTM election or default cash method, are all counted in bucket #3 capital gains and losses. This immediately fixes the glaring problem of a trading entity having gains counted in bucket#2 and losses counted separately in bucket #3.

Using bucket #3 for all trading business gains and losses makes good sense. Doesn’t a trading business have more to do with capital gains and losses in bucket #3 than a passive-activity entity in bucket #2? While many trading businesses are conducted in pass-through entities, it is not considered a passive activity under the “trading rule” in Section 469. Bucket #2 is important for passive activities with unearned income because active businesses generally have earned income subject to Medicare tax on earned income.

There may be even better news, too
The regulations state: “To minimize the inconsistencies between chapter 1 and section 1411 for traders, the final regulations assign all trading gains and trading losses to section 1411(c)(1)(A)(iii). The final regulations also permit a taxpayer to deduct excess losses from the trading business of a section 475 trader from other categories of income. Part 5.C of this preamble describes the treatment of those excess losses.”

Consider the example of a Section 475 MTM trader who arbitrages securities trades against interest income. He has interest income in bucket #1 and securities trading gains and losses in bucket #3. With the final regs, it may be possible for him to offset bucket #1 interest income with net Section 475 MTM ordinary losses in bucket #3. Stay tuned for more news on these regs.

Click here for an excerpt of TD 9644 showing these changes. We added yellow highlights.

According to respected blogger Farm CPA Today, “The final regulations now allow at least three new ways of using losses:

  1. If you have a net capital loss for the year, the regular tax laws limit this loss to $3,000. The final regulations allow this up to $3,000 loss to offset other investment income.
  2. If you have a passive loss such as Section 1231 losses, as long as that loss is allowed for regular income tax purposes, you will be allowed to offset that against other investment income.
  3. Finally, if you have a net operating loss carry forward that contains some amount of net investment losses, you will be allowed to use that portion of the NOL to offset other investment income.”

Bottom line
In our petition, we wanted the IRS to scrap all three buckets entirely, or allow a bucket with a net loss to be counted in NII, as that is how we read the law enacted by Congress. While the IRS hasn’t gone that far, and these regs are still an abomination of complexity and nuance, we are happy the IRS made the law fairer for traders and investors.

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