Author Archives: Robert Green

To Save Taxes, Traders Need To Deal With Unique Issues Before Year-End

October 31, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

While the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act did not change trader tax status, Section 475 MTM, wash-sale loss rules on securities, and more, there is still plenty to consider.

To Get The Most Out Of Tax Reform, Traders Need To Act Fast covered critical moves to make before the calendar year expires. But that’s just the tip of the hat. Read on for more action items to initiate sooner, rather than later.

Wash sales: Securities traders must comply with wash-sale loss rules, but the IRS makes it difficult by applying different standards for taxpayers vs. brokers on tax reports and Form 1099-Bs. Taxpayers must report wash sales on substantially identical positions across all accounts, whereas brokers report only identical positions per account. Active securities traders should use a trade accounting program or service to identify potential wash sale loss problems going into year-end. In taxable accounts, break the chain by selling the position before year-end and not repurchasing a substantially identical position 30 days before or after in any of your taxable or IRA accounts. Avoid wash sales between taxable and IRA accounts throughout the year, as that is otherwise a permanent wash sale loss. (Starting a new entity effective Jan. 1, 2019, can break the chain on individual account wash sales at year-end 2018 provided you don’t purposely avoid wash sales with the related party entity.) Read strategies to avoid wash sale losses. Wash sales only apply to securities; not Section 1256 contracts, cryptocurrencies as intangible property, and volatility ETNs structured as prepaid forward contracts.

Wash sale losses might be preferable to capital loss carryovers at year-end 2018 for TTS traders. A Section 475 election in 2019 converts year-end 2018 wash sale losses on TTS positions (not investment positions) into ordinary losses in 2019. That’s better than a capital loss carryover into 2019, which might then give you pause to making a Section 475 election. You want a clean slate with no remaining capital losses before electing Section 475 ordinary income and loss. (Learn more about wash sales and capital loss limitations in a video on our Website and consider our trade accounting service.)

Trader tax status: If you qualify for TTS (business expense treatment — no election needed) in 2018, accelerate trading expenses into that qualification period as a sole proprietor or entity. If you don’t qualify until 2019, try to defer trading expenses until then. You may also capitalize and amortize (expense) Section 195 startup costs and Section 248 organization costs in the new TTS business, going back six months before commencement. TTS is a prerequisite for electing and using Section 475 MTM. (Learn more about trader tax status in a video on our Website.)

Section 475 MTM: TTS traders choose Section 475 on securities for exemption from wash-sale rules and the $3,000 capital loss limitation — and to receive the new 20% QBI deduction. Existing individual taxpayers had to elect Section 475 by April 17, 2018, for 2018 (March 15 for existing S-Corps and partnerships). They need to complete the election process by filing a 2018 Form 3115 with their 2018 tax return. If you missed the 2018 election deadline, then consider the election for 2019. Capital loss carryovers are a concern.

Trading entities: A “new taxpayer” entity can elect Section 475 within 75 days of inception. But it’s getting late to form a new trading entity by the middle of November, and still qualify for TTS in that short period before year-end. Elect 475 once, and it applies in subsequent years in which you are eligible for TTS unless you revoke the election. (Learn more about Section 475 in a video on our Website.)

Net operating losses: Section 475 ordinary losses and TTS business expenses contribute to net operating loss (NOL) carryforwards, which are limited to 80% of taxable income in the subsequent year(s). TCJA repealed two-year NOL carrybacks, except for farmers. For some traders, this is the worst change in TCJA as traders have counted on quick NOL carryback refunds to replenish their trading accounts and remain in business. Get immediate use of NOLs with a Roth IRA conversion before year-end and other income acceleration strategies.

Excess business losses: TCJA introduced an “excess business loss” (EBL) limitation of $500,000/$250,000 (married/other taxpayers), per tax year. Aggregate EBL from all pass-through businesses: A profitable company can offset another business with losses to remain under the limit. EBL is an NOL carryforward. For example, if a single TTS/475 trader has an ordinary loss of $300,000, his EBL is $50,000, and it’s an NOL carryforward.

2018 S-Corp: TTS traders use an S-Corp trading company to arrange health insurance and retirement plan deductions. The S-Corp must execute officer compensation, in conjunction with these employee benefit deductions, through formal payroll tax compliance before year-end. Otherwise, you will miss the boat. TTS is an absolute must since an S-Corp investment company cannot have tax-deductible wages, health insurance, and retirement plan deductions. This S-Corp is not required to have “reasonable compensation” as other types of businesses are, so a TTS trader may determine officer compensation based on how much to reimburse for health insurance, and how much they want to contribute to a retirement plan. Some use a dual-entity solution: An LLC/partnership trading company, and a management company, organized as a C-Corp, or S-Corp. In that case, the management company executes year-end payroll and these employee benefits. (C-Corps can have other types of employee benefits, too.)

TTS traders organized as a sole proprietorship (an unincorporated business), cannot have health insurance and retirement plan deductions because they don’t have self-employment income (SEI) from trading income. A TTS Schedule C does not have a net income, and the IRS does not permit a TTS sole proprietor to pay officer compensation (wages) to themselves as owners. A TTS partnership faces obstacles in attempting to arrange health insurance and retirement plan deductions because the partnership passes through expenses for reducing SEI, whereas, an S-Corp does not pass through expenses or losses for SEI — that’s why the S-Corp works for traders.

An S-Corp formed later in the year can unlock a retirement plan deduction for an entire year by paying sufficient officer compensation in December when results for the year are evident. The S-Corp may only deduct health insurance for the months the entity was operational and qualified for TTS.

Another reason to create officer compensation is to increase the 20% QBI deduction if you are in the phase-out range subject to the 50% wage limitation. (See my other blog posts and Webinars on year-end planning for TTS S-Corps to execute health insurance, make retirement plan contributions, and generate a QBI deduction.)

2019 S-Corp: If you missed out on employee benefits in 2018, then consider an LLC/S-Corp for 2019. Starting 2019 with trading in the new S-Corp is beneficial. That breaks the chain on wash sales with your individual account at year-end 2018. If you start later, you will have tax compliance for your individual return and S-Corp return in dealing with broker 1099Bs and more.

If you wait to start your entity formation process on Jan. 1, 2019, you won’t be ready to trade in an entity account on Jan. 2, 2019. Instead, you can form a single-member LLC by mid-December 2018, obtain the employee identification number (EIN) at irs.gov, and open the entity brokerage account before year-end. If desired, add your spouse as a member of the LLC on Jan. 1, 2019, which means the LLC will file a partnership return. If you want health insurance and retirement plan deductions, then your LLC should submit an S-Corp election for 2019 by March 15. The S-Corp should also consider making a Section 475 MTM election on securities only for 2019 by March 15. (Consider our entity formation service.)

Solo 401(k): A Solo 401(k) retirement plan for a TTS S-Corp must be established (opened) with a financial intermediary before year-end. Plan to pay (or fund) the 2018 elective deferral amount up to a maximum $18,500 (or $24,500 if age 50 or older) executed with December payroll by Jan. 31, 2019. Plan to pay (fund) the 25% profit-sharing plan (PSP) portion of the S-Corp Solo 401(k) up to a maximum of $36,500, by the due date of the 2018 S-Corp tax return, including extensions, which means Sept. 15, 2019. The maximum PSP contribution requires wages of $146,000 ($36,500 divided by 25% defined contribution rate.) A SEP IRA is less attractive; it doesn’t have a 100%-deductible elective deferral, which means a similar contribution requires more compensation that is subject to Medicare taxes.

Cryptocurrencies: Report realized capital gains and losses for all sales of cryptocurrencies. The IRS classifies cryptocurrencies as intangible property. Include crypto-to-altcoin sales, crypto-to-currency sales, hard forks if you have control and there is a fair market value and purchases of items using crypto. Many crypto traders inappropriately deferred 2017 income on crypto-to-altcoin sales claiming Section 1031 like-kind deferral treatment. TCJA restricted Section 1031 usage to real property only starting in 2018. Bitcoin, Ethereum and other crypto are not securities so wash sale loss rules, and Section 475 MTM elections do not apply. The SEC recently stated that some ICOs and tokens are securities, but not Bitcoin and Ethereum. The IRS has not changed its designation as intangible property, and I expect updated crypto tax guidance from the IRS soon. (See the cryptocurrencies section of our Website.)

Fill in the gaps in tax brackets

If you own an investment portfolio, you have the opportunity to reduce capital gains taxes via “tax loss selling.” You may wish to sell winning positions to accelerate income, perhaps to use up a capital loss carryover or an NOL. TTS traders want a “clean slate” — meaning no capital loss carryovers — so they can make a Section 475 election in the subsequent tax year.

If you are in the lowest two “ordinary” tax brackets for 2018 (10% or 12%), try to take advantage of the 0% long-term capital gains rate. The 12% ordinary income bracket applies on taxable income up to $37,800/$77,400 (single/married). For example, if your single taxable income is $30,000, you can realize $7,500 of long-term capital gains with zero federal tax.

If you realized significant short-term capital gains year-to-date in 2018 and had open positions with substantial unrealized capital losses, you should consider selling (realizing) some of those losses to reduce 2018 capital gains taxes. Don’t repurchase the losing position 30 days before or after, as that would negate the tax loss with wash-sale-loss rules.

The IRS has rules to prevent deferral of income and acceleration of losses in offsetting positions that lack sufficient economic risk. These rules include straddles, the constructive sale rule, and shorting against the box. Also, be aware of “constructive receipt of income” — you cannot receive payment for services, turn your back on that income, and defer it to the next tax year. (See Some Proprietary Traders Under-Report Income.)

Tax-loss selling is inefficient for short-term positions that reduce long-term capital gains. It’s also a moot point with Section 1256 and Section 475 positions since they are mark-to-market (MTM) positions reporting realized and unrealized gains and losses.

Taxpayers should review tax brackets, Social Security and retirement contribution limits, standard deductions, and more. See Tax Rates, other tax charts, and analysis of TCJA at Tax Foundation. There are differences in filing status.

We recommend discussing year-end planning with your tax adviser by early December. Don’t wait until the last minute! If our firm prepared your 2017 tax return, your Client Copy includes a “Tax Reform Impact Summary,” which shows the impact of TCJA on your 2017 file. Our CPAs and I hope to hear from you soon.

Darren L. Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post. 

Webinar: Traders Have Unique Issues For Year-End Planning. Come to the Dec. 5, 2018 event or watch the recording after.

To Get The Most Out Of Tax Reform, Traders Need To Act Fast

October 30, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Actions are required before year-end to cash in on some of the tax benefits of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Defer income and accelerate tax deductions
Consider the time-honored strategy of deferring income and accelerating tax deductions if you don’t expect your taxable income to decline in 2019. Tax rates are the same for 2019, although the IRS adjusts tax brackets for inflation each year. Enjoy the time-value of money with income deferral.

Year-end tax planning is a challenge for traders because they have wide fluctuations in trading results, making it difficult to forecast their income. Those expecting to be in a lower tax bracket in 2019 should consider income deferral strategies. Conversely, a 2018 TTS trader with ordinary losses, hoping to be in a higher tax bracket in 2019 should consider income acceleration strategies.

If you have trader tax status in 2018, consider accelerating trading business expenses, such as purchasing business equipment with full expensing.

Don’t assume that accelerating itemized deductions is also a smart move; there may be two problems. TCJA suspended and curtailed various itemized deductions, so there is no sense in expediting a non-deductible item. Even with the acceleration of deductible expenses, many taxpayers will be better off using the standard deduction of $24,000 married, $12,000 single, and $18,000 other taxpayers — these are roughly doubled by TCJA. There is an additional standard deduction of $1,300 for the aged or the blind. If itemized deductions are below the standard deduction, consider a strategy to “bunch” itemized deductions into one year and take the standard deduction in other years.

Accelerate income and defer certain deductions
A TTS trader with substantial losses that are not subject to the capital loss limitation should consider accelerating income to soak up the business loss, instead of having an NOL carryover. TCJA repealed the two-year NOL carryback rule starting in 2018. Try to advance enough income to fully utilize the standard deduction and take advantage of lower tax brackets. Be sure to stay below the thresholds for unlocking various types of AGI-dependent deductions and credits.

Roth IRA conversion: Convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA before year-end to accelerate income. The conversion income is taxable in 2018, but you avoid the 10% excise tax on early withdrawals. One concern is that TCJA repealed the recharacterization (reversal) option. There isn’t an income limit for making Roth IRA conversions, whereas, there is for making contributions.

Sell winning positions: Another way traders can accelerate income is to sell open winning positions to realize short-term capital gains. Consider selling long-term capital gain positions, too. In the bottom two ordinary tax rates of 10% and 12%, the long-term capital gains tax rate is zero.

Business expenses, and itemized deduction vs. standard deduction

Business expenses: TTS traders are entitled to deduct business expenses and home-office deductions from gross income. The home office deduction requires income, except for the mortgage interest and real estate portion. The SALT cap on state and local taxes does not apply to the home office deduction. TCJA expanded full expensing of business property; traders can deduct 100% of these costs in the year of acquisition, providing they place the item into service before year-end. If you have TTS in 2018, considering going on a shopping spree before Jan. 1. No sense deferring TTS expenses, because you cannot be sure you will qualify for TTS in 2019.

Itemized deductions: TCJA suspended all “miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor” including investment fees and expenses, unreimbursed employee business expenses, and tax compliance fees. (See Investment Fees Are Not Deductible But Borrow Fees Are.)

Net investment tax: Investment fees and expenses remain deductible for calculating net investment income for the 3.8% net investment tax (NIT) on unearned income. NIT only applies to individuals with net investment income (NII) and modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding $200,000 (single), $250,000 (married filing jointly), or $125,000 (married filing separately). The IRS does not index these thresholds for inflation. (Learn more on my website.)

Retirement plans: If you engage outside investment advisors for managing your retirement accounts, try to pay the advisors from traditional retirement plans, but not Roth IRAs. An expense in a traditional tax-deferred retirement plan is equivalent to a tax-deferred deduction. (Roth IRAs are permanently tax-free, so you don’t need deferred deductions in Roth plans.) A postponed deduction is better than a suspended itemized deduction, which is not deductible. Some brokerage firms might not cooperate unless you engage the firm’s wealth management service. Consider a retirement plan custodian or intermediary who is more accommodating on these expense payments. Don’t allow your retirement plan to pay investment fees to you, or close family members: It’s self-dealing, a prohibited transaction, which might blow up your retirement plan. If you don’t have TTS, consider trading in your retirement plan, instead of taxable accounts.

Employee business expenses: Ask your employer if they have an “accountable plan” for reimbursing employee-business expenses. You must “use it or lose it” before year-end. TTS traders allocate a portion of tax compliance fees to TTS business expense.

Short-selling stock borrow fees, remain deductible under TCJA as “other miscellaneous deductions” on Schedule A (Itemized Deductions) line 28. If you qualify for TTS, short-selling expenses are business expenses. (See Investment Fees Are Not Deductible But Borrow Fees Are.)

Investment interest expense: TCJA did not change investment-interest expense rules: This itemized deduction is limited to investment income, and the excess is carried over to the subsequent tax year(s). TTS traders deduct margin interest expenses on trading positions as a business expense. TCJA curtailed business interest expenses for larger companies only.

SALT: TCJA’s most contentious provision was capping state and local income, sales and property taxes (SALT) at $10,000 per year ($5,000 for married filing separately). Many high-tax states continue to contest the SALT cap, but they haven’t prevailed in court. The IRS reinforced the new law by blocking various states’ attempts to recast SALT payments as charitable contributions, or payroll tax as a business expense.

Estimated income taxes: If you already reached the SALT cap, you don’t need to prepay 2018 state estimated income taxes by Dec. 31, 2018. Pay federal and state estimated taxes owed by Jan. 15, 2019, with the balance of your tax liabilities payable by April 15, 2019. (You can gain six months of additional time by filing an automatic extension on time, but late-payment penalties will apply.)

AMT: In prior years, taxpayers had to figure out how much they could prepay their state without triggering alternative minimum tax (AMT) since state taxes are not deductible for AMT taxable income. It’s easier for 2018 with SALT capped at $10,000 and because TCJA raised the AMT exemption. If you are subject to AMT for 2018, then don’t accelerate AMT preference items.

Standard deduction: TCJA roughly doubled the standard deduction and suspended and curtailed several itemized deductions. Many more taxpayers will use the standard deduction for 2018, which might simplify their tax compliance work. For convenience sake, some taxpayers may feel inclined to stop tracking itemized deductions because they figure they will use the standard deduction. Don’t overlook the impact of these deductions on state tax return where you might get some tax relief for itemizing deductions. Plus, certain repeals and curtailed itemized deductions might be deductible on other parts of your tax return.

20% deduction on qualified business income
This deduction might be one of the most crucial TCJA changes to consider for 2018, and you should take action before year-end.

The IRS recently issued proposed reliance regulations (Proposed §1.199A) for the TCJA’s 20% deduction on qualified business income (QBI) in pass-through entities. The proposed regulations confirm that traders eligible for TTS are a “specified service activity,” which means if their taxable income is above an income cap, they won’t get a QBI deduction. The taxable income (TI) cap is $415,000/$207,500 (married/other taxpayers). The phase-out range below the cap is $100,000/$50,000 (married/other taxpayers), in which the QBI deduction phases out for specified service activities. The W-2 wage and property basis limitations also apply within the phase-out range. Hedge funds eligible for TTS and investment managers are specified service activities.

QBI likely includes Section 475 ordinary income, whereas, TCJA expressly excluded capital gains and losses from it. (See How Traders Can Get 20% QBI Deduction Under IRS Proposed Regulations.)

TCJA favors non-service businesses, which are not subject to an income cap. The W-2 wage and property basis limitations apply above the TI threshold of $315,000/$157,500 (married/other taxpayers). The IRS will adjust TI income cap, phase-out range, and the threshold for inflation in each subsequent year. Calculate QBI on an aggregate basis.

You might be able to increase the QBI deduction with smart year-end planning. If your taxable income falls within the phase-out range for a specified service activity, you might need wages, including officer compensation, to avoid a 50% wage limitation on the QBI deduction. Try to defer income to get under the TI threshold and use up less of the phase-out range.

Consult your tax advisor well before year-end. The QBI deduction is complicated, and questions are pending with the IRS. Accountants are going to be very busy in December, so get on their schedule early.

Married couples should compare filing joint vs. separate
Each year, married couples choose between “married filing joint” (MFJ) vs. “married filing separate” (MFS). TCJA fixed several inequities in filing status, including the tax brackets by making single, MFJ, and MFS brackets equivalent, except for divergence at the top rate of 37%. See the ordinary tax brackets: MFJ/MFS enter the top 37% rate at $600,000/$300,000 vs. $500,000 for single. TCJA retains the marriage penalty at the top rate only.

Married couples may be able to improve QBI deductions, AGI and other income-threshold dependent deductions, and credits with MFS in 2018. It’s wise to enter each spouse’s income, gain, loss and expense separately and have the tax software compare MFJ vs. MFS. In a community property state, there are special rules for allocating income between spouses.

Miscellaneous considerations for individuals
• Becoming familiar with all of the changes in TCJA is crucial. TaxFoundation.Org is an excellent resource.
• Note inflation adjustment increases to rate brackets and more.
• Consider estimated tax payment rules including the safe-harbor exceptions. If you accelerate income, you may need to pay Q4 2018 estimated taxes by Jan. 15, 2019.
• Alternatively, increase tax withholding on wages to avoid estimated tax underpayment penalties.
• If you still need to avoid estimated tax underpayment penalties, arrange a rollover distribution from a qualified retirement plan with significant tax withholding before year-end. Next, roll over the gross amount into a rollover IRA. The result is zero income and avoidance of an estimated tax penalty.
• Sell off passive-loss activities to unlock and utilize suspended passive-activity losses.
• Maximize contributions to retirement plans. That lowers AGI, which can unlock more of a QBI deduction, reduce net investment tax, and unlock AGI dependent benefits.
• The IRS has many obstacles to deferring income including passive-activity loss rules, a requirement that certain taxpayers use the accrual method of accounting and limitations on charitable contributions. TCJA allows more businesses to use the cash method.
• Consider a charitable remainder trust to bunch charitable contributions for itemizing deductions. (Ask Fidelity or Schwab about it.)
• Donate appreciated securities to charity: You get a charitable deduction at the FMV and avoid capital gains taxes. (This is a favorite strategy by billionaires, and you can use it, too.)
• Retirees must take required minimum distributions by age 70½. Per TCJA, consider directing your retirement plan to make “qualified charitable distributions” (QCD). That satisfies the RMD rule with the equivalent of an offsetting charitable deduction, allowing you to take the standard deduction rather than itemize.
• TCJA improves family tax planning: Consider “kiddie tax” rules with increased gift exclusions. Section 529 qualified tuition plans now can be used to pay for tuition at an elementary or secondary public, private or religious school, up to $10,000 per year; the annual gift exclusion is $15,000; the unified credit for estate tax is significantly higher at $11.18 million per person, and “step-up in basis” rules still avoid capital gains taxes on inherited appreciated property. TTS traders should also consider hiring adult children as employees.
• Make sure to fund FSAs and HSAs before year-end fully.

See my next blog post for more info: To Save Taxes, Traders Need To Deal With Unique Issues Before Year-End.

Darren L. Neuschwander, CPA contributed to this blog post. 

Webinar: How Traders Can Save Taxes Before Year-End. Come to the Nov. 7, 2018 event or watch the recording after.

Congress & IRS Offer Help to Hurricane & Wildfire Victims

October 12, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

Follow latest IRS updates on hurricanes and wildfire tax relief:

– Disaster victims in Florida, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina qualify for tax relief from Hurrican Michael.

“IRS has announced on its website that victims of Hurricane Michael in counties of Georgia and victims of Hurricane Florence in Virginia that are designated as federal disaster areas qualifying for individual assistance, as well as additional victims of Hurricane Florence in counties of South Carolina and North Carolina and additional victims of Hurricane Michael in counties of Florida, that have been similarly designated, have more time to make tax payments and file returns. Certain other time-sensitive acts also are postponed. This article summarizes the relief that’s available and includes up-to-date disaster area designations and extended filing and deposit dates for all areas affected by storms, floods and other disasters in 2018.” (Thomson Reuters/Tax & Accounting). See additional information on Hurricane Michael disaster tax relief here.

– IRS extends Oct. 15 and other upcoming deadlines provides expanded tax relief for victims of Hurricane Michael. Click here.

– IRS extends upcoming deadlines, provides tax relief for victims of Hurricane Florence

Sept. 15, 2018: WASHINGTON — Hurricane Florence victims in parts of North Carolina and elsewhere have until Jan. 31, 2019, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments, the Internal Revenue Service announced today. (See IR-2018-187.)

This relief applies to 2017 partnership and S-Corp tax returns, and 2018 third-quarter estimated taxes due September 17, 2018.

– Retirement plans can make loans, hardship distributions to wildfire, Hurricane Maria victims.

Nov. 1, 2017, Thomson Reuters Checkpoint: “In an Announcement, IRS has announced that employer-sponsored retirement plans can make loans and hardship distributions to victims of Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires and members of their families. And, while IRA participants are barred from taking out loans, they may be eligible to receive distributions under liberalized procedures. But, IRS is not waiving the 10% penalty that applies to early withdrawals. Ann. 2017-15, 2017-47 IRB.”

– Tax Relief for Victims of California Wildfires: Extension Filers Have Until Jan. 31 to File

Oct. 17, 2017, Thomson Reuters Checkpoint: “The IRS has provided tax relief for the victims of wildfires affecting parts of California. Currently, the IRS is providing relief to seven California counties: Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma, and Yuba. The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occur starting on 10/8/17. Affected individuals and businesses now have until 1/31/18 to file returns and pay any taxes that are originally due during the relief period. This includes quarterly estimated tax payments, extended 2016 income tax returns, and quarterly payroll and excise tax returns. The IRS noted that tax payments related to 2016 individual tax returns were originally due on 4/18/17, and therefore, not eligible for this relief. The relief is automatically available to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Therefore, the taxpayer does not need to contact the IRS to get this relief. Firefighters and aid workers assisting in the relief efforts that are affiliated with a recognized organization and live outside the disaster area also may qualify for the relief by contacting the IRS. News Release IR 2017-172.”

Oct. 13, 2017: Per IRS.gov, “Victims of wildfires ravaging parts of California now have until Jan. 31, 2018, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments. This includes an additional filing extension for taxpayers with valid extensions that run out this coming Monday, Oct. 16.”

– Tax Provisions in the 2017 Disaster Tax Relief Bill

Per Thomson Reuters CheckPoint: On September 29, President Trump signed into law P.L. 115-63, the “Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017.” The Act, which had been passed by Congress the day before, provides temporary tax relief to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Businesses that qualify for relief may claim a new “employee retention tax credit” of up to $2,400 for qualified wages paid to eligible employees. Relief for individuals includes, among other things, loosened restrictions for claiming personal casualty losses, tax-favored withdrawals from retirement plans, and the option of using current or prior year’s income for purposes of claiming the earned income and child tax credits. H.R. 3823, the “Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017.”

Relief for casualty losses
The Act exempts qualified disaster-related personal casualty losses from the 10% AGI threshold. Victims don’t have to itemize; they can add this casualty loss to their standard deduction, and that part is deductible for AMT. The Act increases the $100 per-casualty floor to $500. Congress doesn’t want to disenfranchise victims from taking these important tax deductions.

Eased access to retirement funds
The Act allows victims to make “qualified hurricane distributions” from their retirement plans of up to $100,000, with exemption from the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Taxpayers can spread this income over a 3-year period.

Charitable deduction limitations suspended
To help spur more donations to victims, the Act suspends the majority of charitable deduction limitations.

– IRS Offers Help to Hurricane Victims: A Recap of Key Tax Relief Provisions Available Following Harvey, Irma and Maria

IR-2017-160, Sept. 26, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service today offered a rundown of key tax relief that has been made available to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

In general, the IRS is now providing relief to individuals and businesses anywhere in Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as parts of Texas. Because this relief postpones various tax deadlines, individuals and businesses will have until Jan. 31, 2018 to file any returns and pay any taxes due…(Read more.)

New Tax Law Favors Hedge Funds Over Managed Accounts

August 28, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Hedge fund investors benefited from tax advantages over separately managed accounts (SMA) for many years. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) widened the difference by suspending all miscellaneous itemized deductions, including investment fees. SMA investors are out of luck, but hedge fund investors can limit the negative impact using carried-interest tax breaks. TCJA provided a new 20% deduction on qualified business income, which certain hedge fund investors might be eligible for if they are under income caps for a service business.

TCJA penalizes investors with separately managed accounts
SMA investors cannot claim trader tax status (TTS) since an outside manager conducts the trading, not the investor. Therefore, investment expense treatment applies for advisory fees paid.

Beginning in 2018, TCJA suspended all miscellaneous itemized deductions for individuals, which includes investment fees and expenses. If a manager charges a 2% management fee and a 20% incentive fee, an individual may no longer deduct those investment fees for income tax purposes. Before 2018, the IRS allowed miscellaneous itemized deductions greater than 2% of AGI, but no deduction was allowed for alternative minimum tax (AMT); plus, there was a Pease itemized deduction limitation. (Taxpayers are still entitled to deduct investment fees and expenses for calculating net investment income for the Net Investment Tax.)

For example: Assume an SMA investor has net capital gains of $110,000 in 2018. Advisory fees are $30,000, comprised of $10,000 in management fees and $20,000 in incentive fees. Net cash flow on the SMA for the investor is $80,000 ($110,000 income minus $30,000 fees). The SMA investor owes income tax on $110,000 since TCJA suspended the miscellaneous itemized deduction for investment fees and expenses. If the individual’s federal and state marginal tax rates are 40%, the tax hike might be as high as $12,000 ($30,000 x 40%). (See Investment Fees Are Not Deductible But Borrow Fees Are.)

Investment managers do okay with SMAs
In the previous example, the investment manager reports service business revenues of $30,000. Net income after deducting business expenses is subject to ordinary tax rates.

An investment manager for an SMA is not eligible for a carried-interest share in long-term capital gains, or 60/40 rates on Section 1256 contracts, which have lower tax rates vs. ordinary income. Only hedge fund managers as owners of the investment fund may receive carried interest, a profit allocation of capital gains and portfolio income.

Additionally, if the manager is an LLC filing a partnership tax return, net income is considered self-employment income subject to SE taxes (FICA and Medicare). If the LLC has S-Corp treatment, it should have a reasonable compensation, which is subject to payroll tax (FICA and Medicare).

Hedge funds provide tax advantages to investors
Carried interest helps investors and investment managers. Rather than charge an incentive fee, the investment manager, acting as a partner in the hedge fund, is paid a special allocation (“profit allocation”) of capital gains, Section 475 ordinary income, and other income.

Let’s turn the earlier example into a hedge fund scenario. The hedge fund initially allocates net capital gains of $110,000, and $10,000 of management fees to the investor on a preliminary Schedule K-1. Next, a profit allocation clause carves out 20% of capital gains ($20,000) from the investor’s K-1 and credits it to the investment manager’s K-1. The final investor K-1 has $90,000 of capital gains and an investment expense of $10,000, which is suspended as an itemized deduction on the investor’s individual tax return. Carried interest helps the investor by turning a non-deductible incentive fee of $20,000 into a reduced capital gain of $20,000. Carried interest is imperative for investors in a hedge fund that is not eligible for TTS business expense treatment. With a 40% federal and state tax rate, the tax savings on using the profit allocation instead of an incentive fee is $8,000 ($20,000 x 40%). To improve tax savings for investors, hedge fund managers might reduce management fees and increase incentive allocations.

TCJA modified carried interest rules for managers
Hedge fund managers must now hold an underlying position in the fund for three tax years to benefit from long-term capital gains allocated through profit allocation (carried interest). The regular holding period for long-term capital gains is one year. I’m glad Congress did not outright repeal carried interest, as that would have unduly penalized investors. The rule change trims the benefits for managers and safeguards the benefits for investors. The three-year holding period does not relate to Section 1256 contracts with lower 60/40 capital gains rates, where 60% is a long-term capital gain, and 40% is short-term.

Trader tax status and Section 475 tax advantages
If a hedge fund qualifies for TTS, then it allocates deductible business expenses to investors, not suspended investment expenses. I expect many hedge funds will still use a profit allocation clause since it might bring tax advantages to the investment manager — a share of long-term capital gains, and a reduction of payroll taxes on earned income vs. not owing payroll taxes on short-term capital gains.

TCJA 20% QBI deduction on pass-through entities
The TCJA included a lucrative new tax cut for pass-through entities. An individual taxpayer may deduct whichever is lower: either 20% of qualified business income (QBI) from pass-through entities or 20% of their taxable income minus net capital gains, subject to other limitations, too. (Other QBI includes qualified real estate investment trust REIT dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership PTP income.)

The proposed QBI regulations confirm that traders eligible for TTS are considered a service business (SSTB). Upper-income SSTB owners won’t get a deduction on QBI if their taxable income (TI) exceeds the income cap of $415,000/$207,500 (married/other taxpayers). The phase-out range is $100,000/$50,000 (married/other taxpayers) below the income cap, in which the QBI deduction phases out for SSTBs. The W-2 wage and property basis limitations apply within the phase-out range, too.

Hedge funds with TTS are an SSTB if the fund is trading for its account through an investment manager partner. A hedge fund with TTS is entitled to elect Section 475 ordinary income or loss. Hedge fund QBI likely includes Section 475 ordinary income. QBI excludes all capital gains, commodities and forex transactions, dividends, and interest. The SSTB taxable income thresholds and cap apply to each investor in the hedge fund; some may get a QBI deduction, whereas, others may not, depending on their TI, QBI aggregation, and more. (See How Traders Can Get 20% QBI Deduction Under IRS Proposed Regulations.)

The proposed QBI regulations also describe investing and investment management as an SSTB. QBI includes advisory fee revenues for investment managers earned from U.S. clients, but not foreign clients. QBI must be from domestic sources. I presume QBI should exclude a carried-interest share (profit allocation) of capital gains but will include a carried-interest percentage of Section 475 ordinary income.

TCJA might impact the investment management industry
Many investors are upset about losing a tax deduction for investment fees and expenses. Some just realized it. I recently received an email from an investor complaining to me about TCJA’s suspension of investment fees and expenses. He was about to sign an agreement with an investment manager for an SMA but scrapped the deal after learning he could not deduct investment fees. Most hedge funds only work with larger accounts and adhere to rules for accredited investors and qualified clients who can pay performance fees or profit allocations.

Larger family offices may have a workaround for using business expense treatment without TTS, as I address on my blog post How To Avoid IRS Challenge On Your Family Office.

Managed accounts vs. hedge fund
Investment managers handle two types of investors: separately managed accounts (SMAs) and hedge funds (or commodity or forex pools). In an SMA, the client maintains a retail customer account, granting trading power to the investment manager. In a hedge fund, the investor pools his money for an equity interest in the fund, receiving an annual Schedule K-1 for his allocation of income and expense. It’s different with offshore hedge funds.

In an SMA, the investor deals with accounting (including complex trade accounting on securities), not the investment manager. In a hedge fund, the investment manager is responsible for complicated investor-level accounting, and the fund sends investors a Schedule K-1 that is easy to input to tax returns.

There are several other issues to consider with SMAs vs. hedge funds; tax treatment is just one critical element. “SMAs provide transparency, and this is important to many clients, particularly tax-exempts or fiduciary accounts,” says NYC tax attorney Roger D. Lorence.

Roger D. Lorence contributed to this blog post.

 

How To Save U.S. Taxes For Nonresident Aliens

August 21, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

The U.S. stock markets have been stellar, and many non-U.S. persons have been accessing them from their home country. Other foreign individuals and entities prefer to open U.S.-based brokerage accounts for lower commissions, and better trading platforms.

In either case, the foreign individual or foreign company is subject to U.S. tax withholding on U.S. dividends and certain other U.S. passive income. The default withholding tax rate is 30%, and income tax treaties provide for lower rates, usually around 15% or less. U.S. brokers handle this tax withholding and pay those taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The foreign investor does not have an obligation for U.S. tax compliance if withholding is done correctly.

The critical point is that capital gains are not taxable in the U.S. if the nonresident alien does not spend more than 183 days per year in the U.S. Most active traders don’t generate significant dividend income paid by U.S. companies, so tax withholding is not a problem. Many of them get a foreign tax credit for U.S. tax withholding in their resident country.

Some nonresident aliens establish a spousal-member LLC in the U.S. and file a U.S. partnership tax return. The LLC/partnership opens a U.S.-based brokerage account as a domestic entity. The LLC files a W-9 with a U.S. tax identification number. The broker treats the U.S. LLC/partnership as a U.S. account, which means the broker does not handle the tax withholding on dividends and other passive income for the foreign owners of the LLC.

Therefore, the nonresident alien owners must file a W-8BEN with the U.S. partnership. The U.S. partnership assumes responsibility for tax withholding on dividends and other portfolio income, and payment of those taxes to the IRS on a timely basis. It’s extra tax compliance work, but it’s not too complicated.

U.S. estate tax might come into play. Estate tax treaties may exempt brokerage accounts for nonresident aliens or provide higher exemptions from the tax. U.S. partnership interests are likely not includible in an estate for a nonresident alien. Brokers are not responsible for estate tax compliance, so it’s a tax matter for nonresident aliens and their tax advisors. Brokers require a conclusion of IRS estate proceedings before releasing assets from the account of the deceased.

Nonresident alien U.S. income tax treatment
In this scenario, nonresident aliens are subject to U.S. tax withholding on dividends paid by U.S. companies and on other “fixed or determinable, annual, or periodic” (FDAP) income. Per IRS Taxation of Nonresident Aliens: “FDAP income is passive income such as interest, dividends, rents or royalties. This income is taxed at a flat 30% rate unless a tax treaty specifies a lower rate.” Many countries have a tax treaty with the U.S. providing for 15% or lower withholding tax rate on FDAP income. Interest income on bonds and commercial paper issued by U.S. companies, by the U.S. Treasury, and by U.S. government agencies is generally exempt from U.S. tax withholding, although it’s reportable on Form 1042-S.

Nonresident alien individuals fill out W-8BEN (Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting – Individuals) and furnish it to the broker. Don’t overlook Part II to claim tax treaty benefits. The broker then withholds taxes on U.S.-source dividends and other FDAP income at the appropriate tax treaty rates, or 30% if there is no tax treaty, and pays those taxes to the IRS directly. As a withholding agent, the broker is required to report all U.S.-source FDAP to the IRS and the client on Form 1042-S. There are other types of W-8 forms including W–8BEN–E (entities), W–8ECI (ECI from U.S. business), W–8EXP (foreign government or organization), and W–8IMY (foreign intermediary or branch).

Capital gains 183-day rule
If the nonresident alien spends more than 183 days in the U.S., he owes taxes on net U.S. source capital gains, even though he may not trigger U.S. residency under the substantial presence test. (U.S. residency is triggered with legal residence status or by meeting the substantial presence test. The IRS taxes U.S. residents on worldwide income.)

See IRS The Taxation of Capital Gains of Nonresident Alien Students, Scholars and Employees of Foreign Governments:

“Nonresident alien students and scholars and alien employees of foreign governments and international organizations who, at the time of their arrival in the United States, intend to reside in the United States for longer than 1 year are subject to the 30 percent taxation on their capital gains during any tax year (usually calendar year) in which they are present in the United States for 183 days or more, unless a tax treaty provides for a lesser rate of taxation. These capital gains would be reported on page 4 (not page 1) of Form 1040NR and would not be reported on a Schedule D because they are being taxed at a flat rate of 30 percent or at a reduced flat rate under a tax treaty.”

Income tax treaties
Per IRS Taxation of Nonresident Aliens:

“The United States has income tax treaties with a number of foreign countries. For nonresident aliens, these treaties can often reduce or eliminate U.S. tax on various types of personal services and other income, such as pensions, interest, dividends, royalties, and capital gains. Each individual treaty must be reviewed to determine whether specific types of income are exempt from U.S. tax or taxed at a reduced rate. More details can be found in IRS Publication 901, U.S. Tax Treaties.”

“Form 8833 does not apply to a reduced rate of withholding tax on noneffectively connected income, such as dividends, interest, rents or royalties.”

A nonresident alien may owe U.S. estate tax
U.S. estate tax considerations also may come into play in this situation. Nonresident aliens should learn how repatriation of funds work on death; they might have delays due to probate of the estate and getting IRS estate tax clearance. By opening a U.S.-based brokerage account, it lands the account in the U.S., which could potentially trigger U.S. estate taxes if over the estate exemption. While many types of funds like U.S. bonds are exempt from estate tax, U.S. equities are includible in an estate. (Nonresidents holding U.S. securities in a foreign brokerage account must count those U.S. securities in a U.S. estate.) The default estate exemption for nonresident aliens is $60,000; however, many estate tax treaties provide a significantly higher threshold. The estate tax rate starts at 18% and rises to 40%. An estate tax treaty beneficiary may be exempt from U.S. estate tax entirely on U.S. financial assets.  (Learn more about nonresident alien accounts income and estate taxation on Schwab’s Website and Schwab’s U.S. Tax, and Estate Disclosure to Non-U.S. Persons.)

Here is an IRS list of Estate & Gift Tax Treaties (International). The U.S.–Canada Income Tax Treaty includes estate tax issues. Canadians have a $2,000,000 estate exemption instead of the default $60,000 threshold.

Some nonresident aliens open a U.S. partnership account
Some U.S. brokers are not set up to accommodate nonresident aliens or other foreign persons including foreign corporations, partnerships, and trusts. They might recommend forming a U.S. LLC entity to open a U.S. entity account instead of a nonresident alien or foreign entity account. This U.S. entity account should be treated like other U.S. persons or entities, not subject to tax withholding on dividends by the broker. The U.S. LLC entity account should receive a Form 1099-B reporting dividends, interest, sale proceeds and cost basis, and other items of income or loss. The LLC files a W-9 with U.S. tax id number, not a W-8BEN-E for foreign entity status.

There are problems using a single-member LLC (SMLLC). Without classification as a partnership or C-Corp, an SMLLC is a disregarded entity. That would mean the SMLLC disregards to the nonresident alien individual, who should then file a W-8BEN-E. Nonresident aliens may not own an S-Corp. If the broker did treat the SMLLC disregarded entity as a domestic entity, the owner would have to file a complicated Form 1040NR in the event there is a U.S. tax liability (i.e., on U.S. dividends).

As stated above, it’s better to have a spousal-member LLC to file a partnership return. The U.S. partnership takes over the role as tax withholding agent from the broker, and the U.S. partnership must issue the Form 1042-S to the nonresident alien owners. Using a company does not avoid withholding taxes on U.S.-source FDAP income for nonresident owners.

“The Chapter 3 withholding regulations on U.S. source payments to foreign persons make clear that there is no U.S. withholding on payments to U.S. persons, which includes a partnership formed under U.S. law,” says tax attorney Roger D. Lorence. “The partnership is the withholding agent, and it is required to withhold on U.S. source dividends allocable to non-U.S. partners (nonresident aliens).” (See IRS Publication 515, Withholding of Tax on Nonresident Aliens and Foreign Entities.)

The Form 1065 U.S. partnership tax return can be reasonably straightforward because all owners are non-resident aliens. The partnership can report zero capital gains and losses but reconcile to the 1099-B for IRS matching purposes. The partnership can omit expenses as they do not affect U.S. income taxes. In the tax return footnotes, the partnership should explain that the nonresident owners do not owe capital gains taxes, because they are in the U.S. under 183 days per year.

Usually, the partnership can allocate dividends and portfolio income to partners on the last day of the year, so tax deposits for withholding can wait until early January of the subsequent year. It’s one accounting period, which reduces the stress of making tax payments on a timely basis to avoid penalties.

There might be challenges to establishing an LLC bank account, and repatriating funds to a foreign country.

“The U.S. partnership is not engaged in a trade or business in the U.S. with effectively connected income (ECI). It’s an investor partnership with FDAP and a Section 864 exemption,” Lorence says. “Although not free from doubt, the better view is that it is not included in a U.S. estate of a nonresident alien owner. Intangible assets like partnership interests are situated where the owner resides and dies. Legal situs is where the owner is located on death.”

Four ways nonresidents trade U.S. financial markets

1. Some foreign-based brokers offer limited access to U.S. financial markets. Even on foreign-based brokerage accounts, there is U.S. tax withholding on dividends paid by U.S. companies and other FDAP income. Foreign brokerage accounts do not issue a Form 1042-S as a U.S.-based broker does for nonresident aliens. There are U.S. estate tax considerations for U.S. securities.

2. Leading U.S. brokers open affiliate brokerage firms in some countries. There may be affiliates in Canada and some European and Asian countries. It’s the same tax treatment as the previous: tax withholding on U.S.-source FDAP income, no 1042-S issuance, and potential U.S. estate tax on U.S. securities.

3. Some U.S. brokers open accounts for nonresident aliens. The nonresident alien files a W-8BEN claiming tax treaty benefits, if applicable. The U.S. broker is an income tax withholding agent on U.S.-source FDAP with a default tax rate of 30% unless overridden by a treaty rate of usually 15% or less. The U.S. broker issues Form 1042-S reporting U.S. source income and withholding tax. There are some U.S. estate tax considerations for the nonresident so check if there is an estate tax treaty with your country, perhaps providing a higher exemption amount or exclusion. Some nonresident aliens form a foreign corporation, partnership or trust to open the brokerage account with a U.S. broker, which helps avoid potential U.S. estate taxation.

4. Some U.S.-based brokers suggest the nonresident alien open a U.S. LLC to create an account and file as a partnership. The broker treats the account like a U.S. person or entity issuing an annual tax report Form 1099-B. The broker does not withhold taxes on dividends paid by U.S. companies or on other U.S.-source FDAP income. The U.S. partnership takes over that role as tax withholding agent and issues the 1042-S to the IRS and nonresident owner of the partnership. There is probably no U.S. estate tax on a U.S. partnership interest in an investment company. There are challenges to establishing an LLC bank account, and repatriating funds to a foreign country. Consult a tax advisor.

Roger D. Lorence, JD contributed to this blog post.

How Traders Can Get 20% QBI Deduction Under IRS Proposed Regulations

August 15, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

The IRS recently released proposed reliance regulations (Proposed §1.199A) for the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s new 20% deduction on qualified business income (QBI) in pass-through entities.

The proposed regulations confirm that traders eligible for trader tax status (TTS) are a service business (SSTB). Upper-income SSTB owners won’t get a deduction on QBI if their taxable income (TI) exceeds the income cap of $415,000 married, and $207,500 for other taxpayers. The phase-out range is $100,000/$50,000 (married/other taxpayers) below the income cap, in which the QBI deduction phases out for SSTBs. The W-2 wage and property basis limitations apply within the phase-out range, too. Hedge funds eligible for TTS and investment managers are also SSTBs.

The new law favors non-service business (non-SSTB), which don’t have an income cap, but do have the W-2 wage and property basis limitations above the TI threshold of $315,000/$157,500 (married/other taxpayers). The 2018 TI income cap, phase-out range, and threshold will be adjusted for inflation in each subsequent year.

A critical question for traders
The proposed regulations do not answer this essential question: What types of trading income are included in QBI? The proposed regulations define a trading business, so I presume tax writers contemplated some types of ordinary income might be included in QBI. They probably wanted to limit tax benefits for traders by classifying trading as an SSTB subject to the income cap.

In my Jan. 12, 2018 blog post, How Traders Can Get The 20% QBI Deduction Under New Law, I explained how the statute excluded certain “investment-related” items from QBI, including capital gains, dividends, interest, annuities and foreign currency transactions. That left the door open for including Section 475 ordinary income for trading businesses. After reading the proposed regulations, I feel that door is still open.

Trading is a service business
See the proposed regulations, REG-107892-18, page 67. The Act just listed the word “trading,” whereas, the proposed regulations describe trading in detail and cite TTS court cases.

“b. Trading: Proposed §1.199A-5(b)(2)(xii) provides that any trade or business involving the “performance of services that consist of trading” means a trade or business of trading in securities, commodities, or partnership interests. Whether a person is a trader is determined taking into account the relevant facts and circumstances. Factors that have been considered relevant to determining whether a person is a trader include the source and type of profit generally sought from engaging in the activity regardless of whether the activity is being provided on behalf of customers or for a taxpayer’s own account. See Endicott v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2013-199; Nelson v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2013-259, King v. Commissioner, 89 T.C. 445 (1987). A person that is a trader under these principles will be treated as performing the services of trading for purposes of section 199A(d)(2)(B).”

QBI excludes certain items
See REG-107892-18, page 30: “Section 199A(c)(3)(B) provides a list of items that are not taken into account as qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss, including capital gain or loss, dividends, interest income other than interest income properly allocable to a trade or business, amounts received from an annuity other than in connection with a trade or business, certain items described in section 954, and items of deduction or loss properly allocable to these items.”

See REG-107892-18, page 144: “Items not taken into account” in calculating QBI. Here’s an excerpt of the list.

 “(A) Any item of short-term capital gain, short-term capital loss, long-term capital gain, long-term capital loss, including any item treated as one of such items, such as gains or losses under section 1231 which are treated as capital gains or losses.

(B) Any dividend, income equivalent to a dividend, or payment in lieu of dividends.

(C) Any interest income other than interest income which is properly allocable to a trade or business. For purposes of section 199A and this section, interest income attributable to an investment of working capital, reserves, or similar accounts is not properly allocable to a trade or business.

(D) Any item of gain or loss described in section 954(c)(1)(C) (transactions in commodities) or section 954(c)(1)(D) (excess foreign currency gains) applied in each case by substituting “trade or business” for “controlled foreign corporation.”

(E) Any item of income, gain, deduction, or loss taken into account under section 954(c)(1)(F) (income from notional principal contracts) determined without regard to section 954(c)(1)(F)(ii) and other than items attributable to notional principal contracts entered into in transactions qualifying under section 1221(a)(7).

(F) Any amount received from an annuity which is not received in connection with the trade or business.”

Section 954 is for “foreign base company income,” and tax writers used it for convenience sake to define excluded items including transactions in commodities, foreign currencies (forex) and notional principal contracts (swaps). The latter two have ordinary income, but they are excluded from QBI.

Section 475 ordinary income
The new tax law excluded specific “investment-related” items from QBI. In earlier blog posts, I wondered if QBI might include “business-related” capital gains. The proposed regulations dropped the term “investment-related,” which seems to close that door of possibility.

I searched the QBI proposed regulations for “475,” and there were 20 results, and each instance defined securities or commodities using terminology in Section 475. None of the search results discussed 475 ordinary income and its impact on QBI. The proposed regulations seem to allow the inclusion of Section 475 ordinary income in QBI.

TTS traders are entitled to elect Section 475 on securities and/or commodities (including Section 1256 contracts). For existing taxpayers, a 2018 Section 475 election filing with the IRS was due by March 15, 2018, for partnerships and S-Corps, and by April 17, 2018, for individuals. New taxpayers (i.e., a new entity) may elect Section 475 internally within 75 days of inception. Section 475 is tax loss insurance: Exempting 475 trades from wash sale losses on securities and the $3,000 capital loss limitation. With the new tax law, there’s now likely a tax benefit on 475 income with the QBI deduction.

Section 1231 ordinary income
See REG-107892-18, page 37: “Exclusion from QBI for certain items.”

“a. Treatment of section 1231 gains and losses. (Excerpt)
Specifically, if gain or loss is treated as capital gain or loss under section 1231, it is not QBI. Conversely, if section 1231 provides that gains or losses are not treated as gains and losses from sales or exchanges of capital assets, section 199A(c)(3)(B)(i) does not apply and thus, the gains or losses must be included in QBI (provided all other requirements are met).”

If you overlay Section 475 on top of the above wording for Section 1231, there is a similar result: Section 475 ordinary income is not from the sale of a capital asset, and it should be included in QBI since it’s not expressly excluded.

Section 1231 is depreciable business or real property used for at least a year. A net Section 1231 loss is reported on Form 4797 Part II ordinary income or loss. Section 475 ordinary income or loss for TTS traders is reported on Form 4797 Part II, too. A net Section 1231 gain is a long-term capital gain.

Section 64 defines ordinary income
“The term ordinary income includes any gain from the sale or exchange of property which is neither a capital asset nor property described in section 1231(b). Any gain from the sale or exchange of property which is treated or considered, under other provisions of this subtitle, as ordinary income shall be treated as gain from the sale or exchange of property which is neither a capital asset nor property described in section 1231(b).”

The tax code does not define business income.

TTS traders with 475 ordinary income
A TTS trader, filing single, has QBI of $100,000 from Section 475 ordinary income, and his taxable income minus net capital gains is $80,000. He is under the TI threshold of $157,500 for single, so there is no phase-out of the deduction, and W-2 wage or property basis limitations do not apply. His deduction on QBI is $16,000 (20% x $80,000) since TI minus net capital gains is $80,000, which is lower than QBI of $100,000.

If his TI is greater than $157,500 but less than the income cap of $207,500 for a service business, then the deduction on QBI phases-out and the W-2 wage and property basis limitations apply inside the phase-out range.

If his TI is higher than the income cap of $207,500, there is no deduction on QBI in a trading service business.

Anti-abuse measures
The proposed regulations prevent “cracking and packing” schemes where an SSTB might contemplate spinning-off non-SSTBs to achieve a QBI deduction on them. “Proposed §1.199A-5(c)(2) provides that an SSTB includes any trade or business with 50 percent or more common ownership (directly or indirectly) that provides 80 percent or more of its property or services to an SSTB. Additionally, if a trade or business has 50 percent or more common ownership with an SSTB, to the extent that the trade or business provides property or services to the commonly-owned SSTB, the portion of the property or services provided to the SSTB will be treated as an SSTB (meaning the income will be treated as income from an SSTB).”

Other anti-abuse measures prevent employees from recasting themselves as independent contractors and then working for their ex-employer, which becomes their client.

Aggregation, allocation and QBI losses
There are QBI aggregation and allocation rules which come in handy for leveling out W-2 wage and property basis limitations among commonly owned non-SSTBs. If you own related businesses and one has too much payroll and property, and the other not enough, you don’t need to restructure to improve wage and property basis limitations. Aggregation rules allow you to combine QBI, wage and property basis limitations to maximize the deduction on aggregate QBI. Allocation rules are a different way to accomplish a similar result.

There are also rules for how to apply and allocate QBI losses to other businesses with QBI income and carrying over these losses to subsequent tax year(s).

Section 199A is a complicated code section requiring significant tax planning and compliance. The proposed regulations close loopholes, favor some types of businesses and prevent gaming of the system, which otherwise would invite excessive entity restructuring.

Hedge funds and investment managers
If a hedge fund qualifies for TTS, the fund is trading for its account through an investment manager partner. As a TTS trading business, the hedge fund is an SSTB.

A hedge fund with TTS is entitled to elect Section 475 ordinary income or loss. A hedge fund with TTS and Section 475 has ordinary income, which is likely includible in QBI. The SSTB taxable income thresholds and cap apply to each investor in the hedge fund; some may get a QBI deduction, whereas, others may not, depending on their TI, QBI aggregation and more.

The proposed regulations also describe investing and investment management as an SSTB (p. 66-67). I presume a carried-interest share (profit allocation) of capital gains should be excluded from QBI, but a carried-interest percentage of Section 475 ordinary income is likely included in QBI. Incentive fees and management fees are also included for management companies, which are SSTBs. QBI must be from domestic sources.

Service businesses
The proposed regulations state: “The definition of an SSTB for purposes of section 199A is (1) any trade or business involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, or any trade or business where the principal asset of such trade or business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees or owners, and (2) any trade or business that involves the performance of services that consist of investing and investment management, trading, or dealing in securities (as defined in section 475(c)(2)), partnership interests, or commodities (as defined in section 475(e)(2)).”

The proposed regulations exempted some types of service businesses from SSTBs, including real estate agents and brokers, insurance agents and brokers, property managers, and bankers taking deposits or making loans. It also narrowed SSTBs — for example, sales of medical equipment are not an SSTB, even though physician health care services are. Performing artists are service businesses, but not the maintenance and operation of equipment or facilities for use in the performing arts.

The proposed regulations significantly narrowed the catch-all category of SSTBs based on the “reputation and skill” of the owner. The updated definition is “(1) receiving income for endorsing products or services; (2) licensing or receiving income for the use of an individual’s image, likeness, name, signature, voice, trademark, or any other symbols associated with the individual’s identity; or (3) receiving appearance fees or income (including fees or income to reality performers performing as themselves on television, social media, or other forums, radio, television, and other media hosts, and video game players).”

Proposed vs. final regulations
The IRS stated that taxpayers are entitled to rely on these “proposed reliance regulations” pending finalization. The IRS is seeking comments, and they scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 16, 2018.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was a significant piece of legislation for this Congress and President. I presume the IRS will attempt to issue final regulations in time for the 2018 tax-filing season, which starts in January 2019. The IRS needs to produce tax forms for the 2018 QBI deduction, and that is best accomplished after finalization of the regulations. Tax software makers need time to program these rules, too.

The new tax law reduced tax compliance for employees by suspending many itemized deductions. They may have a “postcard return.” However, the new law and proposed regulations significantly increase tax compliance for business owners, many of whom would like to get a 20% deduction on QBI in a pass-through entity.

See IRS FAQs and several examples on Basic questions and answers on new 20% deduction for pass-through businesses. 

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to my blog post.

 

Investment Fees Are Not Deductible But Borrow Fees Are

July 12, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended “certain miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the two-percent floor,” which includes “investment fees and expenses.” However, the new law retained “other miscellaneous deductions” not subject to the two-percent floor, including short-selling expenses like stock borrow fees.

While individual taxpayers may no longer deduct investment fees and expenses on Schedule A starting in 2018, they are still entitled to deduct investment interest expenses, up to net investment income, as calculated on Form 4952.

The new law (page 95) has a complete list of suspended miscellaneous itemized deductions including “expenses for the production or collection of income.” That list does not include short-selling expenses. Section 67(b) excludes certain deductions from the “2-percent floor on miscellaneous itemized deductions;” including (8) “any deduction allowable in connection with personal property used in a short sale.”

DHN_AW_logo_Daily_News

This blog post was their Top Story on July 16

Carrying charges vs. itemized deductions
Because investment fees and expenses are no longer deductible, some accountants might consider a Section 266 election to capitalize investment management fees as “carrying charges” to deduct them from capital gains and losses. But that won’t work: The IRS said taxpayers could not capitalize investment management fees under Section 266 because they are managerial rather than transactional.

Short-sellers probably could capitalize borrow fees under Section 266 because they are transactional. However, it’s safer to deduct these short-sale costs as “Other Miscellaneous Deductions” on Schedule A (Itemized Deductions) line 28. The new tax law suspended the Pease itemized deduction limitation, so the deduction has full effect on lowering taxable income. One concern: The IRS lists all Section 67(b) exclusion items in the instructions for Schedule A line 28, but it left out (8) for short-sale expenses. The code has substantial authority, and it’s reasonable to conclude that Schedule A instructions for other miscellaneous deductions on line 28 are not an exhaustive list.

Stock borrow fees
Short selling is not free; a trader needs the broker to arrange a loan of stock.

Brokers charge short sellers “stock borrow fees” or “loan premiums.” Tax research indicates these payments are “fees for the temporary use of property.” Watch out: Some brokers refer to stock borrow fees as “interest expense,” which confuses short sellers.

For tax purposes, stock borrow fees are “other miscellaneous deductions” on Schedule A line 28 for investors. Borrow fees are business expenses for traders qualifying for trader tax status (TTS). Borrow fees are not interest expense, so investors should not include them in investment interest expense deductions on Schedule A line 14.

It’s a significant distinction that has a profound impact on tax returns because investment expenses face greater limitations in 2017, and suspension in 2018 vs. investment interest expenses which are deductible up to investment income. Other miscellaneous deductions, including borrow fees, reported on Schedule A line 28 remain fully deductible for regular and alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Investment management fees cannot be capitalized
In a 2007 IRC Chief Counsel Memorandum, the IRS denied investors from capitalizing investment management fees paid to a broker as carrying charges under Section 266. Investors wanted to avoid alternative minimum tax (AMT) and other limitations on miscellaneous itemized deductions, the rules in effect before 2018. The problem is worse in 2018 with investment expenses entirely suspended.

The memo stated:

  • “Consulting and advisory fees are not carrying charges because they are not incurred independent of a taxpayer’s acquiring property and because they are not a necessary expense of holding property.
  • Stated differently, consulting and advisory fees are not strictly analogous to common carrying costs, such as insurance, storage, and transportation.”

Borrow fees might be able to be capitalized
Borrow fees seem to meet the requirements raised in the 2007 IRS Chief Counsel Memorandum for capitalization as carrying charges under Section 266. (It’s safer to deduct them as “other misc. deductions” on Schedule A line 28.)

Treasury Regulations under 1.266-1(b)(1) highlight several types of expenses that qualify as carrying charges, including taxes on various types of property, loan interest for financing property, costs to construct or improve the property, and expenses to store personal property.

A short seller cannot execute a short sale without borrowing securities and incurring borrow fees; they are a “necessary expense of holding” the position open, and “not independent” of the short-sale transaction. Borrow fees are not for the “management of property,” they are for the “acquisition, financing, and holding” of property.

Investment fees vs. brokerage commissions
Investors engage outside investment advisors and pay them advisory fees including management fees and/or incentive fees. Other investors may pay a broker a flat or fixed fee. These costs are managerial and not transactional, based on how many trades the manager makes. They cannot be capitalized under Section 266 according to the above IRS memorandum.

Brokerage commissions are transaction costs deducted from sales proceeds and added to cost basis on brokers’ trade confirmations and Form 1099-Bs. This tax reporting for brokerage commissions resembles a carrying charge.

Short-seller payments in lieu of dividends
When traders borrow shares to sell short, they receive dividends that belong to the lender — the rightful owner of the shares. After the short seller gets these dividends, the broker uses collateral in the short seller’s account to remit a “payment in lieu of dividend” to the rightful owner to make the lender square in an economic sense.

Section 263(h) “Payments in lieu of dividends in connection with short sales” require the mandatory capitalization of these payments if a short seller holds the short position open for 45 days or less (one year in the case of an extraordinary dividend).

If a short seller holds the short sale open for more than 45 days, payments in lieu of dividends are deductible as investment interest expense.

Investment interest expenses
Section 163(d)(3)(c) states, “For purposes of this paragraph, the term ‘interest’ includes any amount allowable as a deduction in connection with personal property used in a short sale.” A broad reading of “any amount” could be construed as opening the door to borrow fees, but I doubt that. “Any amount” refers to dividends in lieu of dividends held more than 45 days.

Under certain conditions, Section 266 allows capitalization of interest to finance a property.  Short sellers and others might want to consider the possibility of a Section 266 election on investment interest expense, too — especially if they plan a standard deduction or don’t have sufficient investment income. Excess interest is a carryover to subsequent tax years.

Transactional vs. managerial expenses
The following investment expenses seem transactional, and therefore eligible for capitalization in Section 266: Storage of precious metals or cryptocurrency, borrow fees on short sales, excess risk fees on short sales, and margin interest expenses.

The following investment expenses seem to be managerial rather than transactional, and therefore cannot be treated as carrying charges under Section 266: Investment management fees, fixed or flat fees paid to brokers, computers, equipment, software, charting, education, mentors, coaching, monthly data feed fees, market information, subscriptions, travel, meals, supplies, chatrooms, office rent, staff salaries and employee benefits, accounting, tax and legal services, and most other trading-related expenses.

Section 266 election statement and tax reporting

Consider filing a Section 266 election statement with your tax return, including on an extension.

  • “For tax-year 2018, taxpayer herewith elects under Code Section 266 and IRS Regulations 1.266-1 to capitalize short-selling expenses as carrying costs applied to capital gains and losses.”

Explain the election and tax treatment in a tax return footnote.

Report short-selling expenses for realized (closed) short sales as “expenses of sale or exchange” on Form 8949 (Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets) in column (g) “adjustment to gain or loss.” Defer borrow fees paid on unrealized (open) short sales until realized (closed) in the subsequent year.

Consult a trader tax expert on using this potential alternative solution. If you get full deductibility on Schedule A, it’s safer to skip Section 266 capitalization, which the IRS might scrutinize.

Trader tax status
If a short-seller qualifies for trader tax status, then stock borrow fees and other short-selling expenses are deductible as business expenses from gross income.

If a TTS trader engages an outside investment manager, then investment advisory fees remain investment expenses.

Retirement accounts
Investors engage investment managers for taxable and retirement accounts. TCJA suspended investment fees and expenses for taxable accounts, but the new tax law did not repeal investment fees and expenses for tax-deferred retirement accounts. If your retirement account engages an outside investment manager, seek to pay their investment fees and costs directly from the retirement plan. Not all brokerage firms will cooperate if you use a manager other than the firm’s wealth management arm. An expense in a tax-deferred retirement plan is equivalent to a tax-deferred cost. Caution: Don’t have your retirement plan pay fees to you, or family, as investment managers. The IRS will deem it self-dealing and a prohibited transaction, which might blow up your retirement plan. (See The DOs and DON’Ts of using IRAs and other retirement plans in trading activities and alternative investments.)

Darren L. Neuschwander, CPA and Roger Lorence, JD contributed to this blog post.

Webinar July 19, 2018: Investment Fees Are Not Deductible But Borrow Fees Are. Recording available afterward. Click here.

Related blog posts: Short Selling: How To Deduct Stock Borrow Fees and Short Selling: IRS Tax Rules Are Unique.

 

How To Avoid IRS Challenge On Your Family Office

June 28, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Investors may no longer deduct investment expenses, including those passed through from an investment partnership. Restructuring these expenses into a management company might achieve business expense treatment providing it’s a genuine family office with substantial staff rendering financial services to extended family members and outside clients.

The IRS might assert the family office is managing “one’s own investments,” not for outside clients, so the management company is also an investment company with non-deductible investment expenses. Before you go in that direction, it’s wise to learn the lessons of the Lender Management court case from December 2017, which is one of the first on family offices.

Size matters
A single-family office serves one ultra-wealthy extended family, whereas, a multi-family office handles more than one family. Well-established single- and multi-family offices offer a wide variety of financial services, including wealth management, financial planning, accounting, tax, and personal finance. They have substantial staff and salaries, offices, equipment, and operations — the markings of an independent financial services company.

Family office requirements
A family office management company with underlying investment partnerships can use business expense treatment when it has the following characteristics, borne out of the Lender Management tax court case and earlier case law:

- It’s a functional financial services company with significant staff and salaries, an office, equipment and bona fide operations.
- It operates in a continuous and business-like manner.
- Its staff has expertise that is valuable to its clients.
- A profit-allocation of capital gains is considered advisory fee compensation for services rendered. It gets paid more than just its share of profits based on capital.
- It should be profitable.
- It caters to many extended family members with diverging financial needs. It does not operate with a single mindset but provides customized services to each family member.
- Family members and their investment partnerships are not obligated to use the family office.
- There should not be a majority of common ownership between the management company and investment partnerships (this factor is critical).
- It’s safer to have third-party clients who are not family members (a suggestion, not a requirement).

Small family offices have trouble
If two spouses own an investment partnership and management company, then the family office has 100% common ownership, which fails the requirements. The micro family office renders services exclusively to the spousal-owned investment partnership. The management company does not function as an independent financial services company, with outside staff or an outside office. It does not stand alone as a financial service provider. In the eyes of the IRS, it oversees its own investments. This management company should not use business expense treatment. (Some trader accounting and law firms sold this scheme to traders who do not qualify for trader tax status. I’ve always said it did not work and the Lender court confirms it doesn’t work.)

Management fees and carried interest
Consider this typical example: An investment partnership pays a 0.5% management fee on funds under management of $1M ($5,000 per year). The investment partnership also pays a 20% profit allocation (carried interest) based on performance (say, $50,000 for the year). The investment partnership passes through an investment expense of $5,000 for the management fee, which the investor cannot deduct on their tax return. The profit allocation avoids the investment expense deduction problem because it carves out a share of capital gains on each investor’s Schedule K-1.

The management company reports $5,000 of revenue for the management fee, which gives the impression of being a trade or business. However, that’s not enough revenue to cover expenses, so it lacks presumption of business purpose. The management company also reports capital gains income of $50,000 from the profit allocation of investment income. Total income is $55,000 minus business expenses of $52,000 equals a net income of $3,000. The capital gains help satisfy the presumption of business purpose test. The owner sacrificed the $5,000 deduction in the investment partnership to arrange $52,000 of deductions in the management company. However, the IRS might disallow the entire $52,000 deduction, asserting the management company is also an investment company with non-deductible investment expenses because it did not satisfy the requirements for a family office under the Lender court.

Hedge funds
Assume a hedge fund manager owns the management company, which deducts business expenses. The hedge fund partnership does not qualify for trader tax status, so it’s an investment partnership. Most hedge funds meet this scenario. The management company is genuine, and there is little common ownership because the hedge fund is predominately owned by outside investors. That satisfies the Lender court requirements for a management company.

It might be different for a startup hedge fund before outside investors become limited partners in the limited partnership. Until and unless that happens, the manager is managing his own investments, and it fails Lender. The limited partnership is probably not paying the management company advisory fees including profit allocation in connection with the managers capital.

Lender Management tax court case
In Lender Management v. Comm. (Dec. 16, 2017), the tax court overruled the IRS by awarding business expense treatment to Lender Management. It was a well-established single-family office servicing many family-owned investment partnerships. Lender provided customized investment and management services throughout the year to many different family members, with varying needs, across an extensive family tree. Lender Management and the investment partnerships did not have too much common ownership according to IRS and tax court calculations. Only a few of Lender’s dozens of family members owned the management company.

The IRS was unable to cite attribution rules that should apply to Lender. The Lender case also dealt with how to handle revocable vs. irrevocable trusts in the overlap test for common ownership. The Lender court did not define how much overlap ownership is permitted.

Other tax court cases
In Higgins v. Comm. (1941), the tax court said, “No matter how large the estate or how continuous or extended the work may be, overseeing the management of one’s own investments is generally regarded the work of an investor.”

In Dagres v. Comm. (2011), “Selling one’s investment expertise to others is as much an expertise as selling legal expertise, or medical expertise.”

Trade or business partnerships
In Higgins, replace the words “business” for “investment” and the outcome is favorable: “Overseeing the management of one’s own businesses is generally regarded as the work of a business.” If there is a trading partnership with trader tax status, or a rental real estate partnership with ordinary income, then the management company can look through to the business treatment.

A C-Corp management company
Some families and tax advisors are considering a C-Corp management company to take advantage of the new tax law’s 21% flat rate.

Be sure the management company meets the Lender court requirements for a family office. Otherwise, the IRS does not permit a C-Corp investment company to deduct investment expenses. Section 212 (investment expenses) applies to non-corporate taxpayers, not corporations. A C-Corp with a trade or business is entitled to deduct business expenses in connection with making ancillary investments, like investing treasury capital.

When taking into account the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, don’t focus solely on the federal 21% flat tax rate on the C-Corp level. There are plenty of other taxes, including capital gains taxes on qualified dividends, corporate taxes in 44 states, and IRS 20% accumulated earnings tax assessed on excess retained earnings, which is any amount above zero for an investment company. (See How To Decide If A C-Corp Is Right For Your Trading Business.)

Apportionment between investment and business partnerships
Family offices might want to consider having more of their underlying investment partnerships achieve business treatment, like trader tax status or rental real estate income. If a family office does not satisfy the requirements, and it services investment partnerships and business partnerships, it might consider using hybrid reporting to apportion business expenses vs. investment expenses.

Wealthy families diversify their interests and invest in family-owned investment partnerships in securities and commodities, outside hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds, and real estate partnerships and REITs. Consult a tax advisor to learn more about which underlying investment partnerships have investment expense treatment vs. trade or business activities.

Darren Neuschwander, CPA, and Roger Lorence, Esq., contributed to this post.

Hope For Active Crypto Traders With Massive Losses

June 16, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

The AICPA recently asked the IRS to permit cryptocurrency traders, eligible for trader tax status (TTS), to use a Section 475 MTM election on securities and commodities providing for ordinary gain or loss treatment.

In my March 2018 blog post Cryptocurrencies: Trader Tax Status Benefits And Section 475 Issues, I suggested crypto TTS traders consider filing a protective 2018 Section 475 election on securities and commodities, due by April 17, 2018, in case the IRS allowed it. Many crypto traders had significant losses in early 2018 with the market correction, and with a 475 election, they might avoid the $3,000 capital loss limitation using ordinary loss treatment. I said it hinged on whether the IRS changed its designation of crypto from intangible property to a security or a commodity.

The AICPA letter* implied that the IRS could keep its current classification of crypto as intangible property, yet still permit the use of Section 475.  However, it does raise other questions: The AICPA letter did not distinguish between securities and commodities, whereas, Section 475 does. TTS traders may elect Section 475 on securities only, commodities only, or both, and that has other tax implications.

If the IRS considers crypto a security, then Section 1091 wash-sale loss rules for securities would apply. Wash-sale loss adjustments are a headache and can be costly. (If you buy back a losing trade 30 days before or after, you must defer the wash-sale loss to the replacement position’s cost basis.) As intangible property, crypto is not currently subject to wash-sale losses. A Section 475 election on securities exempts TTS traders from making wash-sale loss adjustments.

If the IRS considers crypto a commodity, then a TTS trader should be able to elect Section 475 on commodities. However, that election has other tax consequences: If you trade Section 1256 contracts, including futures, you will surrender the lower 60/40 capital gains rates on 1256 contracts. For that reason, most traders elect Section 475 on securities only.

AICPA letter excerpt
8. Traders and Dealers of Virtual Currency

“Overview: Taxpayers considered dealers and traders who engage in buying and selling securities in the ordinary course of business to customers may make a ‘mark-to-market’ election under section 475. This election recognizes ordinary gains or losses on the deemed sales involved in the mark-to-market process. The securities holdings on the last day of the year are deemed as sold for their fair market value resulting in both ordinary income and ordinary expenses the same as for any other trade or business. Taxpayers who trade virtual currencies perform this activity on virtual currency exchanges that contain all the robust trading features available on trading platforms for securities and commodities, including the same level of liquidity. In this context, virtual currencies are akin to securities and commodities. This particular issue is also under consideration by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Suggested FAQ
Q-22: May taxpayers who trade virtual currency elect the mark-to-market rules under section 475 if they otherwise qualify as a dealer or trader?

A-22: Yes. The nature of virtual currency trading is akin to dealers and traders of securities and commodities and a taxpayer may elect mark-to-market treatment. The taxpayer must otherwise qualify as a dealer or trader in order to make the election.

* The IRS has made no indication that they intend to adopt all, or any, of the many excellent recommendations from the AICPA.

SEC update
On June 14, CNBC reported, “The SEC’s point man on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) says that bitcoin and ether are not securities but that many, but not all, ICOs are securities and will come under the regulatory control of the SEC and relevant securities laws.”

The official explained what constitutes a security in the eyes of the SEC. An initial coin offering is likely a security because a third-party company, which is not decentralized ownership, sells an investment product to the public. The sponsor uses the money raised for its internal use. The buyer/investor expects a profit — a return on the investment. Conversely, bitcoin and ether are likely not securities because there was no ICO, ownership is decentralized, and they were not sold as investments.

Spending Crypto For Personal Use Can Be A Tax Mistake

June 4, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

If a taxpayer purchases virtual currency (cryptocurrency) and spends it on personal use, the IRS requires him to calculate a capital gain or loss on each transaction. Capital gains on personal-use property are reportable and subject to tax, whereas, the IRS disallows capital losses.

The AICPA recently asked the IRS for some equitable relief by adopting a “de minimus election,” which provides a $200 threshold for excluding capital gains income on personal transactions. (See the AICPA letter and an excerpt of the de minimus rule proposal below.)

If a taxpayer acquires virtual currency as an investment, though, then all capital gains and capital losses are reportable, and the de minims rule should not apply.

The AICPA suggests the IRS apply a similar de minimus rule used for foreign currency transactions in Section 988(e)(2) (see below). The code section refers to personal purchases, not Section 162 business or Section 212 investment property. For example, if a taxpayer acquired Euros for a European vacation, the de minimus rule applies, and the taxpayer can exclude capital gains on the Euros spent if the capital gain is under $200 per transaction.

The IRS does not permit taxpayers to deduct capital losses on personal-use property, including foreign currency or virtual currency held for personal use. Taxpayers may not deduct capital losses on the sale of a private auto or a primary residence.

Examples of using crypto for personal use vs. investment property

1.    Joe purchased one Bitcoin in early 2017 for personal-use spending, and his Bitcoin rose in price substantially during the year. Joe planned on many vendors adopting Bitcoin as a means of payment. Joe’s original intention was for personal use, so a de minimus exemption should apply to him if the IRS approves that AICPA recommendation*. If Joe bought Bitcoin in 2018, he might have a capital loss, which would be non-deductible on personal-use property.

2.    Nancy invested in 10 Bitcoins in early 2017, and her intention was capital appreciation and diversification into a new asset class. She spent Bitcoin frequently during the year on personal transactions, buying goods and services wherever Bitcoin was accepted. She hoped it would be tax-free, but it’s not.

The intention of the taxpayer is critical in determining tax treatment. If the aim is for personal use, then the de minimus rule should apply to capital gains under $200, and capital losses are not deductible. If the intention is for investment, then it’s capital gains and losses. If the purpose is for business, ordinary gain or loss treatment applies.

With tax treatment hinging on category (personal use, investment, and business), it’s wise to segregate cryptocurrency into these buckets carefully. If the IRS agrees with the AICPA proposal on the de minimus exemption, declare a crypto wallet for personal use, and the rest as an investment to protect capital loss treatment on the bulk of your crypto that you don’t plan to spend.

Excerpt from the AICPA letter
4. Need for a De Minimis Election

“Overview: Some taxpayers may only have a minimal amount of virtual currency that is designated for making small purchases (such as buying coffee). Tracking the basis and FMV of the virtual currency for each of these small purchases is time consuming, burdensome, and will yield a de minimis amount of gain or loss. A binding election applicable for a specified amount of virtual currency is beneficial to taxpayers.

Currently, section 988(e)(2) allows for an exclusion of up to $200 per transaction for foreign currency exchange rate gain, if derived from personal purchase. The same exclusion should apply to virtual currencies even though they are considered property rather than foreign currency.

Suggested FAQ

Q-9: May individuals use a de minimis rule for virtual currency similar to the section 988(e)(2) exclusion of up to $200 per transaction for foreign currency exchange rate gain?

A-9: Yes. Individuals may use a de minimis rule, similar to section the 988(e)(2) exclusion, for virtual currency transactions to alleviate the burden or recordkeeping for individuals who use virtual currency as a medium of exchange. This de minimis rule allows taxpayers to exclude transactions resulting in $200 or less of gain.”

Section 988(e)(2) Exclusion for certain personal transactions
“If—

(A) nonfunctional currency is disposed of by an individual in any transaction, and

(B) such transaction is a personal transaction,

no gain shall be recognized for purposes of this subtitle by reason of changes in exchange rates after such currency was acquired by such individual and before such disposition. The preceding sentence shall not apply if the gain which would otherwise be recognized on the transaction exceeds $200.

(3) Personal transactions. For purposes of this subsection, the term “personal transaction” means any transaction entered into by an individual, except that such term shall not include any transaction to the extent that expenses properly allocable to such transaction meet the requirements of—

(A) section 162 (other than traveling expenses described in subsection (a)(2) thereof), or

(B) section 212 (other than that part of section 212 dealing with expenses incurred in connection with taxes).”

(Note: Section 162 is for business, and Section 212 is for investments.)

* The IRS has made no indication that they intend to adopt all, or any, of the many excellent recommendations from the AICPA.