The IRS has several initiatives underway that affect traders and investors.[...] Read blog post.
The IRS and some states have been playing havoc with traders in exams, claiming traders did not properly comply with Section 475 rules for segregation of investment positions from trading positions. Noncompliance gives the agent license to drag misidentified investment positions into Section 475 mark-to-market (MTM), or to boot misidentified trading losses out of Section 475 into capital loss treatment subject to the $3,000 capital loss limitation. Both of these types of exam changes cause huge tax bills, penalties and interest.
Traders don’t want to lose capital gains deferral and lower long-term capital gains rates on investment positions in securities. With misidentified investments the IRS has the power to drag those positions into Section 475 subjecting them to MTM and ordinary income tax rates.
Section 475 improper identification
Section 475 contains a clause to limit unrealized losses on investment positions dragged into Section 475. Under Section 475(d)(2) (which is applicable to traders pursuant to Section 475(f)(1)(D)), if a security was misidentified as an investment, then there is Section 475 MTM unrealized loss recognition only against other Section 475 gains, and any excess unrealized losses are deferred until the security is actually sold. Limiting MTM treatment on unrealized losses on investment positions is not much different from unrealized capital losses on those same positions.
Carefully identify investments
If you claim trader tax status and use Section 475 MTM, you can prevent this problem by carefully identifying each investment position on a contemporaneous basis. When you receive confirmation of the purchase of an investment position, email yourself to identify it as investment position as that constitutes a timestamp in your books and records. Don’t hold onto winning Section 475 trading positions and morph them into investment positions, as that does not comply with the rules. If identifying each separate investment is inconvenient, then ring-fence investments into identified investment accounts vs. active trading accounts. Use “Do Not Trade” lists for investing vs. trading accounts so you don’t trade the same symbol in both accounts.
But this compliance is not enough. If you hyperactively trade around your investments, the IRS can say you failed to segregate the investment in substance.
Section 475 clean up project
In 2015, the IRS acknowledged lingering problems with Section 475 and announced a Clean Up Project welcoming comments from tax professionals. I started a successful petition on Rally Congress to fix Section 475 and TTS rules and also sent a cover letter and comments to the IRS. The American Bar Association ABA Comments on Mark-to-Market Rules Under Section 475 are good. See my blog post in Aug. 2014 IRS warns Section 475 traders, which focuses on the segregation of investment issue.
Individuals have a problem
Section 475 misidentification of investments is a huge problem for individual sole proprietor traders who have both trading and investment positions. Section 475 is very valuable since it exempts trades from wash sale loss rules and the $3,000 capital loss limitation allowing full net operating loss (NOL) treatment for losses which generates huge tax refunds. A capital loss limitation is the biggest pitfall for traders.
Individuals often have a few trading accounts and also several investment accounts. Married couples may each have individual accounts, some joint accounts and IRA accounts. They may buy and hold popular equities in investment accounts and then hyperactively trade those same symbols in their designated trading accounts.
Entities navigate around the problem
The simple fix is to form an entity like a single-member or spousal-member LLC with an S-Corp election. Conduct all business trading with Section 475 on securities in those entity accounts. (The entity may elect Section 475 MTM internally within 75 days of inception of the entity.) Trader tax status, business expenses and Section 475 trading gains and losses are reported on the S-Corp tax return.
It’s wise to avoid investment positions in the entity accounts. But some traders want to use portfolio margining, and brokers don’t allow that between individual and entity accounts, so they want to transfer some large investment positions into the entity accounts. That can become a problem for Section 475 segregation of investment rules, especially if you trade the same symbols. Consult a trader tax expert.
Keep investments in your individual investment accounts. The individual and entity accounts are not connected for purposes of Section 475 rules since they’re separate taxpayer identification numbers.
The entity also looks much better in the eyes of the IRS claiming trader tax status and using Section 475 ordinary loss treatment. Plus, an S-Corp trading company can have employee-benefit plan deductions — health insurance and high-deductible Solo 401(k) retirement plan) — whereas a sole proprietor trader may not.
Tax court cases are for individual traders
A senior IRS official stated at an industry conference that the IRS is going after (auditing) “Chen cases,” referring to the landmark Chen tax court case. Chen was a part-time individual trader for just three months and he deducted TTS expenses and a huge Section 475 ordinary loss requesting a huge tax refund. The court denied TTS and use of Section 475.
Other recent trader tax court cases are individual traders claiming large TTS expenses and Section 475 losses. I covered these cases on my blog: see posts for Poppe, Assaderaghi, Nelson, Endicott, Holsinger and Chen (covered in my guides). Some of these traders may have been okay if they used an entity, however many did not qualify for trader tax status, and several botched or lied about electing Section 475.
In my blog post on the Poppe case, I point out that individuals face pitfalls in electing Section 475. The IRS granted Poppe TTS but denied Section 475 ordinary loss treatment because he botched or lied about the Section 475 election and he never filed a Form 3115. A new entity wouldn’t have that problem.
Wash sale losses are similar
Section 1091 wash sale rules are similar, yet different in one important aspect from Section 475 rules. While the entity is a different taxpayer from the individual for wash sale loss purposes, the IRS can apply Section 267 related party transaction rules to connect the entity and individual accounts if the trader purposely tries to avoid wash sale losses between the entity and individual accounts. I have not seen Section 267 mentioned in connection with Section 475 segregation rules.
Section 475 tax loss insurance is a huge tax break for traders who qualify for trader tax status but be careful with properly identifying investments. Be safe on using TTS and Section 475 by trading in an entity. Now is a good time to form one for 2016.
The IRS Chief Counsel (ICC) recently gave auditors advice on challenging Section 475 mark-to-market (MTM) traders trying to game the system with segregated investment positions. Section 475 MTM means ordinary gain or business loss treatment, whereas investment positions are capital gain or loss treatment. It’s important not to mix up the two on tax return filings. If you are unclear on your situation, check with one of our CPAs.
In new IRS Chief Counsel Advice 201432016, the IRS focuses on options created on “basket transactions,” which I feel are rarely used tax avoidance schemes. During the past decade, some very large hedge funds parked their trading activity inside of banks and arranged option transactions with the banks to reclaim their trading profits after year-end. These hedge funds avoided application of Section 475 MTM income on their trading gains during the tax year, and replaced it with an option allowing them tax deferral and long-term capital gains tax rates in the following year(s). They converted 40% ordinary tax rates to 20% capital gains rates and received a tax deferral to boot. Their tax savings from these transactions was in the billions of dollars and it attracted the attention of Congress and the IRS. The hedge funds’ arguments about “economic substance” sound pretty hollow to me in relation to tax savings from this tax avoidance scheme. The IRS wants to treat these segregated option transactions as part of the trader’s Section 475 MTM ordinary income trading activities, since they see a connection to those activities (see rules below). To learn more about these schemes, read Hedge Fund Chief Testifies at Senate Tax-Avoidance Hearing (New York Times, July 22, 2014).
There’s a lesson for retail traders using Section 475
We haven’t seen retail traders attempt these complex schemes with bank counterparties. Yet it’s a good time to revisit the segregation rules in Section 475 MTM. It’s a nuanced area of the law and it can have significant consequences on tax returns for business traders who have investments.
All business traders using or considering Section 475 MTM should learn its segregation of investment rules. (One way to prevent this problem is to conduct your business trading activity in an entity separate from individual and IRA investment accounts. The entity has a different taxpayer identification number, so there is no connection in the activity.)
We’ve recommended Section 475 MTM since 1997 when Congress expanded it for traders. The biggest tax benefit is unrestricted business ordinary loss treatment, with taxpayers escaping the onerous rules for wash-sale loss deferrals and the capital loss limitation ($3,000 against ordinary income per year on individual tax returns). Section 475 MTM can be the ticket to receiving huge tax refunds, often on NOL carryback returns.
An example of investments vs. business trades
Many traders want to make long-term investments as well in order to benefit from deferral on taxable income (until sale) and to hold investment securities 12 months for lower long-term capital gains tax rates (currently up to 20% vs. 39.6% the ordinary tax rate on short-term capital gains).
Each year we run into a handful of confusing situations on what’s considered a trading position vs. an investment position. Here’s a common example: A trader may want to house his investment portfolio inside a business trading account for portfolio margining purposes and hyperactively trade stock options around his core investment stock positions.
Suppose a trader holds Apple stock as an investment and trades Apple options for business around it to manage risk. Apple stock and Apple stock options are substantially identical positions for purposes of wash sales and Section 475 MTM. By doing this type of commingling activity, the trader may inadvertently subject his Apple stock investment to Section 475 MTM treatment at year-end, thereby losing deferral on the stock and subjecting his gains to ordinary rates rather than lower long-term capital gains rates.
There are all sorts of scenarios that can come up and in some cases it appears to benefit the taxpayer. It’s important to keep in mind that the IRS is entitled to apply the rules in a way that does not prejudice the government’s position. In the previous example, if the trader had a material loss in the Apple stock held for investment, the IRS is entitled to bar the application of Section 475 on that losing investment position. The IRS can have its cake and can eat it too.
Segregation of investment position rules
Per Thomson Reuters/Tax & Accounting, “Any securities held by the trader are subject to marking unless they fall within the exception to marking under Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B). In the case of traders, there is only one exception to marking. Under that exception, two requirements must be met. First, it must be established to IRS’s satisfaction that the security has no connection to the activities of such person as a trader. (Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B)(i)) Second, any such security must be clearly identified in such person’s records as being described in Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B)(i) before the close of the day on which it was acquired, originated or entered into (or such other time as IRS may by regs prescribe). (Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B)(ii)) An identification that a security is held for investment for financial reporting purposes is not sufficient for Code Sec. 475 purposes. (Rev Rul 97-39, 1997-2 CB 62).
Generally, gains and losses recognized under Code Sec. 475 are ordinary income or loss to a trader that has made an election under Code Sec. 475(f). (Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(A)(i) and Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(D)) However, Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B) provides exceptions to the automatically ordinary rule under Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(A). If a taxpayer can establish that it held securities as hedges, or that the securities were not held in connection with its trading business, or that a security is improperly identified (see Code Sec. 475(d)(2) ), then gains and losses are not automatically ordinary. (Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B)(i), Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B)(ii) and Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B)(iii)) Character must then be determined by other relevant Code sections.”
Many hedge funds and some traders skip a Section 475 election because they don’t want to be burdened with identifying investments on the time and date of purchase. They establish a trade and may let their profits run and morph the position into an investment position for long-term capital gain and deferral.
How Section 475 MTM and the segregation rules work
A business trader using Section 475 MTM has ordinary gain or loss treatment, plus open business positions are marked-to-market as imputed sales at year-end. On the first day of the subsequent year, the trader imputes a purchase of that same position at the same year-end price.
Duly segregated investment positions are not subject to Section 475 MTM. For example, a business trader organized as a sole proprietor may have a business trading account at Interactive Brokers and a segregated investment account held jointly with his spouse at Fidelity for making long-term investments. Like all professionals, it’s expected that a business trader would have investments, too.
It’s important for the business trader to contemporaneously segregate investment positions from business positions in “form and substance.” Form means a separate account and substance means don’t trade substantially identical positions with business trading positions. While proposed IRS regulations required a separate account, that rule never became final law, so a trader can have investment positions within a business trading account. Just make sure to email yourself contemporaneously when purchasing an investment position. Don’t trade around investment positions with your business positions, as that runs afoul of the substance rule. The lines of distinction can be blurred in some cases and you should consult a trader tax expert about it.
Read Green’s 2014 Trader Tax Guide Chapter 2 on Section 475 MTM to learn more.
Recent trader tax court cases
In recent trader tax court cases covered on our blog, Assaderaghi, Nelson and Endicott, the IRS won denial of trader tax status partially because these option traders did not segregate active option trading from investing in stocks (similar to the example above). However, even if these traders did follow segregation rules and our above guidance, I still don’t think they traded options enough to qualify for trader tax status. They also sought Section 475 MTM ordinary loss treatment on stock investments, which is not possible.
Section 475 MTM is fantastic for most business traders — we call it “tax loss insurance.” But the fine print requires discipline on dealing with investments. It’s best to trade in a separate entity to skip these handcuffs.
IRS pressure and new Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) rules taking effect July 1, 2014 are intimidating Swiss banks into breaking their sworn legal promise of bank secrecy. Foreign banks are forcing American clients to turn themselves in to the IRS before the bank does so. Turning yourself in on time can lead to lower (but still very significant) penalties and no jail time.
After too many horror stories (see “Expatriate Americans Break Up With Uncle Sam to Escape Tax Rules”) about normal middle-class Americans getting caught up in this tax dragnet, the IRS changed its rules to catch and release the smaller fish. See the IRS news release “IRS Changing Offshore Programs to Ease Burdens, Increase Compliance” (IR-2014-73). Here’s the new IRS program.
“IRS Eases Up on Accidental Tax Cheats” says “The Internal Revenue Service is sharply increasing the penalties on U.S. taxpayers who hide assets abroad, while lowering or eliminating fines on taxpayers if their failure to disclose offshore accounts was unintentional, the agency said Wednesday.”
If you want to learn more about these IRS programs, consider a consultation with our tax attorney who is an expert in this area and has handled many cases successfully. Attorney-client privilege will apply.
Update about OVDI: Under transition rules, a taxpayer who entered OVDP before July 1 is entitled to use Streamlined even without opting out of OVDP. On or after July 1, a taxpayer must choose between Streamlined and OVDP and cannot opt out of one into the other. Therefore, a taxpayer who is unsure whether he would be considered negligent or willful should weigh entering OVDP before July 1. Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.
The IRS is piling up victories in tax court against individual traders who inappropriately use Section 475 MTM business ordinary loss treatment for deducting large trading losses. Fariborz Assaderaghi & Miao-Fen Lin v. Commissioner is yet another IRS win that can be added to the list. According to Tax Analysts, “The Tax Court held that a husband’s trading activity in securities didn’t constitute a trade or business and, thus, he wasn’t eligible for a mark-to-market accounting method election under section 475(f) and the couple was limited to a $3,000 deduction of losses from the purchase and sale of securities under section 1211(b) for each year at issue.”
Only traders who qualify for trader tax status (Schedule C business expenses) may elect and use Section 475. Lots is at stake since without trader tax status or a timely Section 475 MTM election, traders are forced to use a puny $3,000 capital loss limitation against other income.
We agree with the IRS that Assaderaghi did not qualify for trader tax status in any of the years examined. Assaderaghi had many day trades, and he used professional trading equipment and charts. But he had a demanding full-time career as an engineer/executive and the IRS is more skeptical toward part-time traders claiming trader tax status. Assaderaghi was unable to prove his hours spent in trading and his evidence lacked credibility in the eyes of the IRS and tax court.
Most importantly, Assaderaghi came up short on meeting our golden rules for 2008, the one year he had a chance to qualify for trader tax status. He had 535 trades and our golden rules call for 1,000 total trades. He traded just over 60% of available trading days and our golden rules call for trade executions on 75% of available trading days. In the other years examined, he came up far short of trader tax status and when you view the years together it’s especially weak.
Perhaps Assaderaghi could have fought harder to win trader tax status in 2008, and concede the other years, but that is generally not the main issue. A bigger issue is filing a timely Section 475 MTM election and Assaderaghi and his accountant did not do that. It’s significant since Assaderaghi’s CPA deducted $374,000 in trading losses for his 2008 Schedule C, but the IRS forced them to use a puny $3,000 capital loss limitation instead. Once again, a trader and professional go to tax court with a clear losing case on technical grounds, missing or botching a Section 475 MTM election, and there is nothing that can be done about it. They wasted their money and effort in tax court.
Assaderaghi made some tragic rookie tax mistakes which sealed his fate as a loser with the IRS. He made the common mistake of asking his local CPA tax preparer to elect trader tax status and Section 475 MTM, but after not getting an answer from his CPA, he didn’t do anything about it. His accountant was clueless about trader tax benefits and rules — which is sadly still often the case. When it comes to timely Section 475 elections, there is no excuse allowed for relying on an accountant, and there is no IRS relief. The IRS is lenient on many things, but not Section 475.
His accountant grasped the idea of trading as a business — filing a Schedule C — but he jumped to the tragic conclusion that he could simply report trading gains and losses on schedule C like other types of businesses. He should have filed a timely election for Section 475 and reported trading gains and losses on Form 4797 Part II with ordinary gain and loss treatment. It’s clear the accountant did not know that Section 475 MTM had to be elected by April 15, 2008 for 2008 or perfected with a 2008 Form 3115 change of accounting filed in 2009 with the 2008 tax returns. Had Assaderaghi known the golden rules, perhaps he would have traded more to meet them.
Assaderaghi’s tax return screamed for an IRS beat down. The IRS computers see trades on Schedule C and issue a tax notice because trades don’t belong on Schedule C. The IRS tries to match broker 1099-Bs to Schedule D (in 2008 and Form 8949 after 2010), Form 4797 Part II (section 475 MTM) and Form 6781 (Section 1256). The IRS agent asked the CPA preparer about his filing of a Section 475 MTM election and the CPA did not even know what the agent was talking about. Case closed — it’s a loser! You can never file a Section 475 MTM election late (or with hindsight).
Lessons learned: Learn trader tax benefits and rules with our content and hire a proven trader tax CPA like our firm Green NFH, LLC to assist you with the election, Form 3115, Form 4797 and tax return footnotes.
It’s important to note that 2014 Section 475 MTM elections are due by April 15, 2014 for individuals and existing partnerships, and March 15, 2014 for existing S-Corps. “New taxpayers” (new entities) file a Section 475 MTM election in their own books and records (internally) within 75 days of inception of the new entity formation. We recommend Section 475 MTM on securities only, so you retain lower 60/40 capital gains rates on Section 1256 contracts like futures. Section 475 MTM does not apply to segregated investment positions. If you have capital loss carryovers, you may want to wait until you generate more capital gains to use them up first.
Make sure you meet our golden rules for trader tax status based on tax court cases. The Assaderaghi case does not change our golden rules. The Assaderaghi court reinforced the notion that business traders must be consistent in trading volume and frequency and avoid sporadic lapses in active trading. The tax law requires “regular, frequent and continuous trading based on daily market movements and not long-term appreciation.”
It’s wise to stop trading as an individual and form an entity that qualifies for trader tax status and files an entity business tax return that resembles many active trading hedge funds. As pointed out in Green’s 2014 Trader Tax Guide, a high ranking IRS person in the trader tax status and Section 475 area recently warned at a tax conference that the IRS is going after individual traders inappropriately using trader tax status and Section 475 MTM ordinary loss treatment. Get the help you need to be a winner.
Chalk up another win for the IRS on denying trader tax status. But it’s not a result of IRS excellence. Rather, it’s another case of a taxpayer filing a huge red-flag tax return with crazy unsupportable positions.
See the latest tax court case decision denying trader tax status: Nelson, TC Memo 2013-259. Here is an RIA summary with my highlights in yellow.
First off, the taxpayer seems to have been a tax cheat and that never bodes well in an exam. What trader in his or her right mind files a Schedule C for trader tax status deducting $800,000 of trading business expenses over two years? Nelson did, and when pressed, she conceded most of these expenses early on (see footnote 8 in the case). Most of those Schedule C expenses were probably unsubstantiated even as investment expenses on Schedule A. The IRS did not allow a Schedule C, since Nelson did not qualify for trader tax status.
Our firm has always pointed out that a sole proprietor trading business Schedule C is a red flag as it only shows expenses. We prefer a pass-through entity tax return for reporting a trading business. Traders generally have business expenses of $5,000 to $25,000. If the trader has trading gains, we use our income-transfer strategy to zero out Schedule C.
In another recent IRS tax court win denying trader tax status, Endicott reported $300,000 of margin interest on his trading business Schedule C and that triggered his tax exam. The IRS was correct; it should have been reported as investment interest expense on Schedule A.
As with Endicott, we agree with the Tax Court and IRS that Nelson did not qualify for trader tax status in 2005 and 2006. First, it sounds like Nelson’s live-in boyfriend, perhaps a trader himself, made many of the trades on her trading account. Nelson seemed focused on her active and successful mortgage business. We’ve always pointed out that trades made by an outside manager do not qualify for trader tax status. This can be a problem even with married couples, when one spouse trades the other spouse’s individual account. This is why we recommend a general partnership or LLC filing a partnership tax return for married couples — or significant others — so the trader/partner can bring trader tax status to the entity level for the benefit of all partners, even passive owners.
The tax court is right to point out that even if Nelson was credited with making all the trades — which clearly she did not — the activity did not rise to the level of trader tax status. The account failed our golden rules for trader tax status. Our rules call for 1,000 total trades and the Nelson account had half that in one year and one-quarter of that in the other year. Even considering a partial year, it was too few trades. Our golden rules call for executions on 75% of available trading days, and the Nelson account had executions of less than 50% one year and less than 30% the other year. The IRS was not clear about the average holding periods; they may have been under 31 days, which could be okay. But there were far too many sporadic lapses in trading, which is against the tax law requiring “regular, frequent and continuous” trading.
“I appreciate the break down of trading within this case,” says Green NFH co-managing member Darren Neuschwander, CPA. “This will be good to show clients how the IRS is clearly reviewing trader tax status.”
Notice Nelson couldn’t get relief from significant accuracy-related penalties. According to the RIA summary, “Nelson’s claim that she spoke with a friend who is an accountant was insufficient to show what advice the accountant provided and whether her reliance on same was reasonable.”
Get educated on trader tax status before you claim it. Conservatively assess it at year-end before deploying it on your annual tax returns. Consider an entity going forward. If you’re examined by the IRS, consult with a trader tax status expert and consider their representation. Don’t bring a losing case to tax court and argue it on your own.
We agree with the IRS and tax court on denying trader tax status (TTS) — otherwise known as business treatment — to Endicott (TC Memo 2013-199, Aug. 28, 2013) for 2006 and 2007 since he clearly was a long-term stock investor managing risk in his long portfolio with call options held on average one to five months and a number of stock positions held for over a year, with some over four years.
Many investors use options in this manner. They hold significant long positions in stock and are exposed to bearish headlines, so during “risk off” periods they may sell calls or buy puts on their underlying stock. When they expect little movement they may “write premium” to enhance their income.
Management of an investment portfolio is a far cry from being a business trader with an entity, day and swing trading weekly and monthly options full-time with executions almost every day of the week, average holding periods of less than seven days, and no connection to management of risk in an investment portfolio.
Endicott failed all our golden rules for TTS qualification in 2006 and 2007. Our rules call for 500 round trip trades and Endicott had 204 trades in 2006 on 75 days and 303 trades on 99 days in 2007. Our rules call for executions on 75% of available trading days and Endicott had well under 40%. Additionally, there were seven months in 2006 in which he executed less than three trades in a given month.
Endicott was even less frequent than Holsinger, another landmark trader tax court case we covered on our blog dated 9/3/08. Holsinger executed 372 options trades on 45% of trading days. Holsinger was at least trading and not managing his investments like Endicott.
We have some questions about Endicott’s 2008 trading activity since his numbers —1,543 trades on 112 days, including investments — exceeded our 500 round trip requirement. But, he still was stuck at 45% of day executions, well below our 75% requirement. He started trading ETFs instead of options in 2008, perhaps in connection with his portfolio of investments, although we don’t know for sure. The court clearly focused on the big picture over three years (2006 to 2008) and couldn’t get past the fact that Endicott was a significant investor managing his portfolio and was not running a separate and distinct trading business.
Endicott begged for a beat down from the IRS. He deducted $300,000 on a trading business Schedule C, including huge margin interest on his long stock investment portfolio. Investors deduct investment interest expense on Schedule A (itemized deductions) and it’s limited to investment income.
There are some interesting precedents that come out of the Endicott court.
We’ve written about presenting the “hotel analogy” for options traders to the IRS and this ruling seems to deny one pillar of that argument. Although we would have presented the argument better, Endicott did not deserve to make this case. It’s only for a very close call on TTS.
Endicott argued his number of trading days should include days his option investments were actually open — not just the execution days for buys and sells. He said he did not trade options on a daily basis because commissions made it unprofitable. That’s bogus. Option traders can trade enough to surpass our golden rules if they are running a business. The court agreed and said counting days that investments are open doesn’t hold muster for counting trading days. We don’t consider this a denial of our hotel analogy, but it’s certainly a shot across the bow on that argument.
There are some interesting technicalities in the Endicott ruling. The court broke down qualification for TTS into two sub-part tests, although we think they are basically one test. The first test was “substantial” for size and number of trades. The court erred in viewing Endicott’s significant stock portfolio as part of the TTS test, as although it was large, it doesn’t count in a TTS analysis.
The second test was for “frequency” and it focused on trading execution days as a percentage of available trading days. Endicott knew he came up far short and he tried to claim days for options being open.
We agree with the tax court that Endicott was not attempting to catch the swings in the daily market because his overall holding period of the call options. Holding periods of one to five months are definitely not, as the tax court implies, “indicative” for a trader seeking such swings in the daily market.
(Note: Upon our complete reading of the Endicott case, we found a footnote by the tax court of what is deemed as an “executed trade.” The tax court appears to take the position that the expiration of an option in itself does not count within a trader’s number of “executed trade” for TTS qualification due to lack of any required action of the trader himself. The following example was given: If a taxpayer “purchased stock, sold a call option that expired unexercised, and subsequently sold the stock,” only three trades were deemed executed. This is contrary to our position that the expiration of an option is a trade itself.)
The lesson in the Endicott court case is it’s very important to ring fence investments vs. business trading. If you have material investments, it’s wise to use a trading business entity for that separation. When trader tax status is analyzed, don’t let investments infect your analysis. Don’t count investments in the numerator or denominator for the percentage of days traded, number of trades or average holding period.
Had Endicott had a consultation with our firm in the years in question, we would have certainly told him he did not qualify for TTS. As we have said for several years, it’s more challenging for an options trader to qualify for TTS. Especially when they have a full-time job and trade monthly options on the side a few days per week, bunching trades around explorations.
There is plenty of good news in the Endicott court ruling, too. It affirms TTS and reinforces what does qualify.
What should options traders do to qualify for TTS?
We advise setting up a separate trading business entity that disconnects trading from an individual’s investment portfolio. Don’t manage your investments with options and other “risk on and risk off” instruments like ETFs and indexes. Rather, day and swing trade options, ETFs and indexes on a stand-alone business-trading-program basis. Make sure you meet our golden rules.
Side note: The Edicott Court raised a concern about Endicott’s other Schedule C for consulting income. Endicott retired in 2002 and received income on a yearly basis as part of a non-compete agreement as the president of his former company. He reported this income on a separate “Consulting” Schedule C for each respective tax year. There appears to be no actual daily work requirement for Endicott in association with the receipt of this income and therefore it had no interference on his attempt to trade. The tax court pointed out that a taxpayer that qualifies for TTS “generally” should have the business of trading as his/her “sole or primary source of income.” The key term is “generally.” Just because a taxpayer has another source of income and net trading losses in a given tax year does not in itself deny a taxpayer from qualifying as TTS. In Endicott’s case, this other income was for past services and it should not have been a contributing reason for denial of TTS.
Watch our Sept. 10, 2013 Webinar recording on this subject.
Updates include 90-day extension, lower penalties for smaller problems, and opt-out opportunities.
The IRS updated its offshore voluntary disclosure initiative FAQ page on June 2, 2011.
The IRS seems to be pulling out the stops to encourage more taxpayers to come clean and join its 2011 offshore voluntary disclosure initiative by the Aug. 31, 2011 deadline. (See our original blog detailing the program.)These filings are very complex and have many unintended consequences. For some, joining the program means accepting huge tax bills — a hard thing to swallow. As the clock ticks, many taxpayers might not have sufficient time to get their affairs and filings in order to meet this deadline. Gathering years of offshore information isn’t an easy task. Rather than scare these taxpayers away, the IRS made these important changes to make its initiative more attractive to join. First, the IRS will grant a 90-day extension providing the taxpayer makes a good faith attempt to file on time. Second, penalties for various less problematic scenarios have been lowered, including smaller accounts, inadvertent omissions, and inherited foreign accounts. Last, it provides various ways to opt out of the initiative if the taxpayer could do better with other filing options.
90-day extension: According to the IRS, “A taxpayer may request an extension of the deadline to complete his or her submission if the taxpayer can demonstrate a good faith attempt to fully comply with FAQ 25 on or before Aug. 31, 2011. The good faith attempt to fully comply must include the properly completed and signed agreements to extend the period of time to assess tax (including tax penalties) and to assess FBAR penalties. Requests for up to a 90-day extension must include a statement of those items that are missing, the reasons why they are not included, and the steps taken to secure them.”
Lower penalties under certain conditions: New FAQ 52 & 53 state, “Taxpayers making voluntary disclosures who fall into one of the three categories … will qualify for 5-percent or 12-percent offshore penalties, respectively.” Read these sections to see if you qualify for the lower penalties.
Consequences of opting out: New FAQ 51 shows why some taxpayers may want to opt out of the initiative and how they can do so. These escape hatches are helpful to many who are weighing their options to join the program in the first place. Rather than dither and miss the deadline, the IRS encourages you to join and allows you to opt out later. For example, suppose you join the program and realize you actually would not owe any income tax due to foreign tax credits or losses. The update states: “Electing to opt out might subject the taxpayer to a much smaller FBAR penalty than the penalty that would be due under the 2011 OVDI (or possibly no penalty at all, if the taxpayer’s violation was due to reasonable cause).”
This offshore disclosure full-court press is a nightmare for many, but the IRS seems to be improving its customer service with the extension, opt out, and lower penalty regime. The IRS motto may be “join first and opt out later.” The lower penalties are a good incentive for those who qualify to come clean. Why should they risk the same major problems as the purposeful tax cheats do? Skipping the program entirely might be the costliest and more problematic option, especially when you consider the possibility of criminal charges.
Update on June 22, 2011:
Information reporting suspended for foreign financial asset holders & PFIC shareholders. Notice 2011-55 http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-11-55.pdf
Per RIA, “A new Notice suspends information reporting required under the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE Act, P.L. 111-147 ), for certain individuals with an interest in a “specified foreign financial asset,” as well as for shareholders of a passive foreign investment company (PFIC). The information reporting is suspended until IRS issues the forms necessary to report the requisite information.”
Mark Feldman tax attorney contributed to this blog post.
Alert. In a recent tax exam, an Arizona agent applied federal hobby-loss rules to trader tax status incorrectly.
See how we protested this below. We seek to win in the appeals process. If your home state or the IRS tries to apply the hobby-loss rules to your trading business, use these arguments to defend your position. Also see Jan 11, 2011 – Arguments to use in IRS exams, appeals and tax court.
This protest letter was provided free of charge by our Traders Association. Please read our plea to join us below.
The Arizona auditor applied federal hobby-loss rules (Section 183) and “trader in securities” rules from IRS Publication 550 Chapter 4 incorrectly. Arizona does not decouple from federal law on Section 183 or “trader in securities” rules. Therefore, the federal treatment on this issue governs.
Regs. §1.183-2(b)(9) provides: “The presence of personal motives in carrying on of an activity may indicate that the activity is not engaged in for profit, especially where there are recreational or personal elements involved.”
Section 183(d) gives a taxpayer a presumption of profit intent if his gross income from an activity exceeds the deductions from the activity for at least three taxable years out of five ending with the relevant taxable year.
However, this is just a presumption. The actual test is whether or not the taxpayer conducts the activity with a profit motive, irrespective of the number of years of profit. Regulation section 1.183-2(b) states “In determining whether an activity is engaged in for profit, all facts and circumstances with respect to the activity are to be taken into account.” The regulation goes on to list nine different factors.
Even if a taxpayer does not clearly fulfill many of the factors, a profit motivation may be indicated where an activity lacks any appeal other than profit; i.e., the absence of any personal or recreational motives is a factor indicating that the taxpayer had a profit objective. As Currie v. Comr., 28 T.C.M. 12, 21 (1969) noted, “there is nothing aesthetic or pleasant about thousands of decaying apples on a 10-acre farm.” Similarly, the tax court commented that “the need for the skeptic eye cast on hobby cases” is not present if there are no personal elements in the activity. Cohen Est. v. Comr., 29 T.C.M. 1221, 1228 n. 9 (1970).
Trading, as opposed to horse breeding or gentleman-farming, is almost by definition an activity engaged in for profit, not recreation. There are no personal elements in the activity of trading.
A trading business can make a profit in some years and losses in others. IRS Publication 550 Chapter 4 states:
“The following facts and circumstances should be considered in determining if your activity is a securities trading business.
• Typical holding periods for securities bought and sold.
• The frequency and dollar amount of your trades during the year.
• The extent to which you pursue the activity to produce income for a livelihood.
• The amount of time you devote to the activity.”
The taxpayer meets these factors as a trader in securities. We covered this clearly in our tax return footnotes.
We have shown the taxpayer’s intention to make a business profit and the agent never went through the detailed hobby-loss audit procedures that federal agents must use in an exam. In the few cases the IRS has raised the hobby-loss rules for traders, they have always agreed with us that these rules do not apply to trading businesses.
A membership drive plea for our Traders Association
The Traders Association prepared the protest letter above for this client to use in the exam. The Arizona tax bill for the proposed tax changes in this exam was only $400. The taxpayer figured the bill was materially smaller than the costs of protesting, especially if he used professional help – which we do recommend.
This frames the problem for traders around the country. Traders get embroiled in tax exams and they may capitulate to the IRS and/or state on their findings, perhaps because the tax bill is low enough so its not worth the extra effort and cost to fight the matter. Although tax exams do not set legal precedent, as tax court cases do, allowing state and IRS agents to deny trader tax status serves to undermine that important tax status for all traders nationwide.
Our Traders Association believes that we must contest any IRS and state agent on any level, including exam, appeals and tax court. Plus, we continue to communicate our thinking to Congress, the administration and other legislators.
Conceding issues to the IRS or states can come back to haunt you too, if it expands exam years or broadens the changes to other parts of your tax return. Note that the IRS and states communicate their changes to each other too, so the tax bill can grow. Penalties and interest can make things much worse than they may first appear as well. It’s important to nip these problems in the bud.
Please join our Traders Association to help us continue to do pro-bono work for traders around the country – when they need our help and either can’t afford our fees, or our fees are higher than their tax bills. We use membership dollars to help cover the costs of these pro-bono services. The trading community needs to stick together to defend trader tax status, fight off financial transaction taxes and user fees and not let regulators put undue burdens on trading.
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