CARES Act Allows 5-Year NOL Carrybacks For Immediate Tax Refunds

April 9, 2020 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Live Updates:

April 13: IRS Provides NOL Guidance and Deadline Extension:  Rev. Proc. 2020-24 issues guidance on IRC Sec. 172(b)(1), amended by Sec. 2303 of the CARES Act, which requires taxpayers to carry back NOLs arising in tax years beginning in 2018, 2019, and 2020 to the five preceding tax years, unless the taxpayer elects to waive or reduce the carryback period.” (Checkpoint.)

April 9: 
IRS provides guidance under the CARES Act to taxpayers with net operating losses. IR-2020-67, April 9, 2020 — “The Internal Revenue Service today issued guidance providing tax relief under the CARES Act for taxpayers with net operating losses. Recently the IRS issued tax relief for partnerships filing amended returns.”

The six-month extension of time for filing NOL forms: In Notice 2020-26 (PDF), “the IRS grants a six-month extension of time to file Form 1045 or Form 1139, as applicable, with respect to the carryback of a net operating loss that arose in any taxable year that began during the calendar year 2018 and that ended on or before June 30, 2019.  Individuals, trusts, and estates would file Form 1045 (PDF), and corporations would file Form 1139 (PDF).” (The IRS is temporarily allowing taxpayers to fax in these forms.)

Good news: TTS traders have until June 30, 2020, to file a 2018 Form 1045 for a 2018 NOL. They should get moving on these NOL carrybacks ASAP. Otherwise, they need Form 1040X which takes longer to process by the IRS.

March 28: On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This bill includes significant economic aid and tax relief provisions. Some tax relief applies retroactively to 2018, 2019, and 2020. Today, I focus on NOL carrybacks.

If you have a net operating loss (NOL) from business activities in 2018, 2019, and 2020, you should consider filing NOL carryback claims going back five years. 

Active traders who are eligible for trader tax status (TTS) are considered businesses with NOLs. A TTS trader might have significant trading expenses or Section 475 ordinary losses comprising an NOL. 

CARES temporarily suspends tax-loss limitations from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) for 2018, 2019, and 2020. TCJA had repealed two-year NOL carrybacks, only allowing NOL carryforwards limited to 80% of the subsequent year’s taxable income. As you may remember, TCJA introduced the excess business loss (EBL) limitation, where aggregate business losses over an EBL threshold ($500,000 for married and $250,000 for other taxpayers for 2018) were considered an NOL carryforward. 

CARES lifts these TCJA limitations and allows taxpayers to recalculate 2018 and 2019 NOLs and file refund claims going back five years for immediate tax relief. Taxpayers will be able to carryback 2020 NOLs five years, too, but not until they file 2020 tax returns in 2021. 

TTS traders with Section 475 ordinary losses and those without 475 but who have significant NOLs from expenses (i.e., borrow fees on short-selling) should consider NOL carrybacks, too. 

Here’s an example

Joe Smith, a TTS trader with Section 475, filed a 2018 income tax return showing a $400,000 NOL. Joe’s NOL came from trading expenses ($50,000) and Section 475 trading losses ($350,000); he had no other income or loss.

Under TCJA, Joe’s only option is an NOL carryforward; therefore, his draft 2019 tax return has a low income, utilizing a small portion of his NOL. Joe has more trading losses and expenses YTD for 2020, so he is holding a deferred tax asset. Joe is thrilled that CARES opens the door to NOL carrybacks because he had substantial taxable income from other activities in years previous to 2018. 

We await IRS and state guidance on CARES to indicate precisely how Joe and his tax preparer should proceed with NOL recalculation and carryback returns. We have questions:

  1. Must taxpayers with EBL limitations amend 2018 tax returns to remove EBL and recalculate NOLs? Is CARES retroactive application to 2018 and 2019 an optional or mandatory requirement? Some taxpayers might prefer to leave things the way they are under TCJA.
  2. CARES allows taxpayers to carryback NOLs from 2018, 2019, and 2020 five years. Usually, tax years close after three years, so how will this work for 2018 NOL five-year carrybacks? For example, 2016 income tax returns filed by April 15, 2017, might close three years after by April 15, 2020. Is that postponed to July 15, 2020, with the IRS relief? Can a taxpayer go back five years before 2018? 
  3. The usual tax deadline for filing a 2018 Form 1045 (Application for Tentative Refund) for NOL carrybacks was Dec. 31, 2019. Will this deadline be extended? (We prefer using this form since the IRS must address the form within 90 days.) Alternatively, taxpayers may use Form 1040X (Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return) for each NOL carryback year, which often takes the IRS six months or more to address and pay the refunds. Will the form be expedited during this unprecedented time? There are other procedural questions beyond the scope of this blog post.
  4. Which states will conform with CARES on these tax changes, especially NOL carryback refund claims? During the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, stimulus tax legislation allowed generous NOL carrybacks. However, some states decoupled from federal law on those changes. For example, California did not allow NOL carrybacks at all, and it restricted NOL carryforwards in several ways. 

Stay tuned to our blog post as we seek answers to these questions. I plan to cover other CARES tax changes that affect TTS traders, too. 

March 27: Congress and President Trump enacted into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This “virus bill” includes significant economic aide and tax provisions to help all taxpayers. The House did not make any changes to the Senate version.

March 25: Senate Passes Updated Economic Relief Plan (CARES Act) for Individuals and Businesses (Tax Foundation). The final version of the law includes the tax-loss provisions covered in the March 20 update below. Here are the code sections from Thomson Reuters CheckPoint:

  • “NOLs arising in a tax year beginning after December 31, 2018 and before January 1, 2021 can be carried back to each of the five tax years preceding the tax year of such loss. (Code Sec. 172(b)(1) as amended by Act Sec. 2303(b)(1))
  • temporarily removes the taxable income limitation to allow an NOL to fully offset income. (Code Sec. 172(a), as amended by Act Sec. 2303(a)(1))
  • temporarily modifies the loss limitation for noncorporate taxpayers so they can deduct excess business losses arising in 2018, 2019, and 2020. (Code Sec. 461(l)(1), as amended by Act Sec. 2304(a))
  • temporarily and retroactively increases the limitation on the deductibility of interest expense under Code Sec. 163(j)(1) from 30% to 50% for tax years beginning in 2019 and 2020. (Code Sec. 163(j)(10)(A)(i) as amended by Act Sec. 2306(a)).” (See special rules for partnerships.)

March 20: Congress should proceed with new legislation like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to provide additional tax relief, beyond the Treasury Department moving the April 15 tax deadline to July 15, 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s CARES Act bill temporarily suspends the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) business loss limitations, including reauthorizing NOL five-year carrybacks, repealing the excess business loss (EBL) limitation, and loosening the business interest expense limitation. That’s fantastic news, as businesses need tax relief for losses ASAP. Here are the related CARES Act provisions:

  • 2203: Section 172(b)(1) – “Net operating loss carrybacks and carryovers” – Special Rule for losses arising in 2018, 2019, and 2020, such loss shall be a net operating loss carryback to each of the five taxable years preceding the taxable year of such loss.
  • 2203: Temporary repeal of 80% income limitation to deduct a 2018 and forward NOL for year beginning before 2021.
  • 2204: Repeal of 461(l) for 2018, 2019 and 2020 – excess business losses.
  • 2206: 163(j) special rules for 2019 and 2020, increasing ATI percentage from 30% to 50% for limitation on business interest.

CPA industry groups are also asking Congress to raise the $3,000 capital loss limitation, which was never indexed for inflation.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced President Trump’s directive to move the April 15 tax deadline to July 15, 2020, thereby postponing tax filings and tax payments for all taxpayers. Mnuchin said the extension would give “all taxpayers and business this additional time” to file returns and make tax payments “without interest or penalties.” I expect Treasury and the IRS will issue specific guidance soon. Hopefully, all states will follow suit with this federal change, so taxpayers don’t face conflicting rules.

Traders and 475 elections: Although it’s not guaranteed, I think the IRS might accept a 2020 Section 475 election submitted by July 15, 2020, since that is the new tax filing date. It would afford traders 90 days of additional hindsight. IRS FAQs might not address elections, although the CARES Act includes moving of election deadlines, too. If you have a massive Q1 2020 trading loss as a TTS trader, and you are counting on an NOL carryforward, or carryback if allowed, then it might be wise to file an extension by April 15, 2020, and attach a 2020 Section 475 election statement. I think you should be able to revise the election by July 15, 2020, if warranted. (See Massive Market Losses? Elect 475 For Enormous Tax Savings.)

March 19: Senator John Thune introduced a two-page bill Tax Filing Relief for America Act “To extend the due date for the return and payment of Federal income taxes to July 15, 2020, for taxable year 2019.” Treasury and the IRS recently issued guidance to delay certain tax payments for 90 days until July 15, 2020. Still, Treasury did not postpone the April 15 tax filing deadline, putting an undue burden on taxpayers and accountants. Thune’s legislation syncs tax filings with tax payments in a simple manner, whereas Treasury’s guidance is causing tremendous confusion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which incorporates Thune’s bill. Thanks to the AICPA for pushing Congress and Treasury hard to get this critical April 15 tax relief. Why rush an April 15 tax filing, exposing clients and accountants to coronavirus, if Treasury already postponed tax payments? See the AICPA Coronavirus Resource Center.

For prior updates, see Updated: April 15 Tax Deadline Moved To July 15.

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