Tag Archives: TCJA

A Rationale For Using QBI Tax Treatment For Traders

June 4, 2019 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

There are two opposing arguments made by tax professionals for applying Section 199A qualified business income (QBI) treatment on 2018 tax returns for traders with trader tax status (TTS).

Those for say Section 199A applies because Section 864(b)(2) is limited to nonresident traders only. U.S. resident TTS traders meet the requirements of Section 864(c)(3) “Other income from sources within United States.” As a result, a U.S. resident TTS trader has effectively connected income (ECI) and therefore, QBI. In this blog post, I refer to this stance as the affirmative or positive rationale.

Those against say Section 199A does not apply to U.S. resident TTS traders because Section 864(b)(2) applies to all traders. This scenario means that “trading for taxpayer’s own account” does not constitute ECI and therefore, QBI does not apply. In this blog post, I refer to this stance as the contrary or negative argument.

Here is what we know. Section 199A labeled TTS trading a “specified service trade or business” (SSTB). The contrary argument would lead to conflict: Why would 199A recognize TTS trading as an SSTB, if 864(b)(2) denied a QBI deduction to U.S. resident TTS traders? With the positive rationale, QBI includes TTS trading business expenses and Section 475 ordinary income/loss. QBI expressly excludes capital gains/losses, interest and dividend income, and forex and swap contract ordinary income/loss. A taxable income threshold, phase-in range, and income cap apply to SSTBs, which leads to some high-income taxpayers not receiving a 20% QBI deduction. (The QBI deduction rules are complex and beyond the scope of this blog post.)

Many traders filed 2018 tax extensions on March 15 (entities) and April 15 (individuals). Their tax preparers are waiting to resolve uncertainty over this issue before the tax return deadlines of Sept. 16, 2019, for partnerships and S-Corps and Oct. 15, 2019, for individual sole proprietorships.

A positive rationale to apply 199A to U.S. resident TTS traders
If you search the 199A final regs, you will find mention of 864(c) beneath the heading “Interaction of Sections 875(1) and 199A.” Section 875(1) states “a nonresident alien individual or foreign corporation shall be considered as being engaged in a trade or business within the United States if the partnership of which such individual or corporation is a member is so engaged.”

199A regs state, “Section 199A(c)(3)(A)(i) provides that for purposes of determining QBI, the term qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss means items of income, gain, deduction and loss to the extent such items are effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States (within the meaning of section 864(c), determined by substituting ‘qualified trade or business (within the meaning of section 199A’ for ‘nonresident alien individual or a foreign corporation’ or for ‘a foreign corporation’ each place it appears).”

A U.S. resident TTS trader meets the definition of Section 864(c)(3) “Other income from sources within United States.”

“All income, gain, or loss from sources within the United States (other than income, gain, or loss to which paragraph (2) applies) shall be treated as effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States.”

A U.S. resident TTS trader has Section 162 trade or business expenses. It’s consistent with 199A stating a TTS trading activity is an SSTB.

A U.S. resident TTS trader also meets the definition of 864(c)(2) “Periodical, etc., income from sources within United States—factors.”

“In determining whether income from sources within the United States of the types described in section 871(a)(1), section 871(h) , section 881(a), or section 881(c), or whether gain or loss from sources within the United States from the sale or exchange of capital assets, is effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States, the factors taken into account shall include whether—

(A) The income, gain, or loss is derived from assets used in or held for use in the conduct of such trade or business, or

(B) The activities of such trade or business were a material factor in the realization of the income, gain, or loss. In determining whether an asset is used in or held for use in the conduct of such trade or business or whether the activities of such trade or business were a material factor in realizing an item of income, gain, or loss, due regard shall be given to whether or not such asset or such income, gain, or loss was accounted for through such trade or business.”

A U.S. resident TTS trading business uses the capital for the sale of capital assets to derive its income, and money is a material factor.

Section 871(a)(2) provides that a nonresident individual residing in the U.S. for more than 183 days per year is subject to a 30% tax on U.S.-source capital gains. (A tax treaty may provide relief.)

Some accountants think that Section 864(b)(2) prevents all traders, U.S. residents, and nonresidents, from using QBI treatment.

“Section 864(b) – the term a “trade or business within the U.S.” does not include:

Section 864(b)(1) – Performance of personal services for foreign employer.

Section 864(b)(2) – Trading in securities or commodities.

(A): Stocks and securities.
(i)   In general. Trading in stocks or securities through a resident broker, commission agent, custodian, or other independent agent.
(ii)   Trading for taxpayer’s own account. Trading in stocks or securities for the taxpayer’s own account, whether by the taxpayer or his employees or through a resident broker, commission agent, custodian, or other agent, and whether or not any such employee or agent has discretionary authority to make decisions in effecting the transactions. This clause shall not apply in the case of a dealer in stocks or securities.
(C) Limitation. Subparagraphs (A)(i) and (B)(i) (for commodities) shall apply only if, at no time during the taxable year, the taxpayer has an office or other fixed place of business in the United States through which or by the direction of which the transactions in stocks or securities, or in commodities, as the case may be, are effected.”

The (C) Limitation relates to (i) nonresident investors engaging a U.S. broker. This exception applies if the nonresident does not have an office in the U.S. The exemption does not apply to (ii) “trading for taxpayer’s own account.”

In the 1.864-2 reg, there are several examples under “trading for taxpayer’s own account,” and all of the cases are for nonresident individuals and nonresident partnerships. If you read 864(b)(2)(A)(ii) as applying to nonresidents only, then it supports the affirmative rationale for using 199A on U.S. resident TTS traders.

Reg § 1.864-2(a) states:

“(a) In general. As used in part I (section 861 and following) and part II (section 871 and following), subchapter N, chapter 1 of the Code, and chapter 3 (section 1441 and following) of the Code, and the regulations thereunder, the term “engaged in trade or business within the United States” does not include the activities described in paragraphs (c) (trading in stocks or securities) and (d) (trading in commodities) of this section, but includes the performance of personal services within the United States at any time within the taxable year except to the extent otherwise provided in this section.”

The code sections in this heading are all for nonresidents:
861 – Income from sources within the United States
871 – Tax on nonresident alien individuals
Subchapter N – Tax based on income from sources within or without the United States
Chapter 3 – Withholding of tax on nonresident aliens and foreign corporations
1441: Withholding and reporting requirements for payments to a foreign person

Reg § 1.864-2(c) is for “trading in stocks or securities,” and (d) is for “trading in commodities.” Those sections discuss nonresident individuals and nonresident partnerships with U.S. brokerage accounts and explain that no matter how significant the volume of trades, that a nonresident trader does not have ECI in the U.S. This reg displays several examples, and all of them are for nonresidents. Again, this reg and related code Section 864(b)(2) is for nonresident traders only. A U.S. resident TTS trader is covered in Section 864(c), not in Section 864(b)(2).

The essential point is that the 199A regs do not state to “substitute qualified trade or business for nonresident or foreign” in Section 864(b) – so that code section remains applicable to nonresident traders only. The 199A regs required this substitution for 864(c) only.

Tax attorney Johnny Lyle J.D. weighs in:

“To read IRC Section 864(b) into the equation, you have to determine that the language ‘In the case of a qualified trade or business (within the meaning of section 199A) engaged in trade or business within the United States during the taxable year…’ requires you to determine ‘qualified trade or business under Section 199A,’ but then turn around and determine ‘trade or business within the United States’ under IRC Section 864(b),” Lyle said.

Further, Treasury Regulation Section 1.864-4, titled “U.S. source income effectively connected with U.S. business” states: “This section applies only to a nonresident alien individual or a foreign corporation that is engaged in a trade or business in the United States at some time during a taxable year beginning after December 31, 1966, and to the income, gain, or loss of such person from sources within the United States.”

Treasury Regulation Section 1.864-2, titled “Trade or business within the United States” uses only nonresident aliens and foreign corporations in its examples.

Lyle said two arguments could be made regarding Congress using the language specifically referencing IRC Section 864(c) in IRC Section 199A. First, if Congress wanted to incorporate Section 864(b) into the equation, it would have said effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States (within the meaning of section 864) without reference to 864(c). Second, under the Treasury Regulations, 864(b) only applies to nonresident aliens. Therefore, the restriction in 864(b)(2)(A)(ii) would only apply to nonresident aliens, and a taxpayer who was a day trader, but not a nonresident alien, would not be excluded from ECI.

“If Congress intended to exclude all trader income, it would have done so under IRC Section 199A(c)(3)(B) rather than a more roundabout, back door way, rendering IRC Section 199A(d)(2)(B) meaningless,” Lyle said. “If Congress wanted to specifically incorporate Section 864(b), it would have worded it this way: …effectively connected (within the meaning of section 864(c)) with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States (within the meaning of section 864(b)), determined by substituting ‘qualified trade or business (within the meaning of section 199A)’ for ‘nonresident alien individual or a foreign corporation’ or for ‘a foreign corporation’ each place it appears.”

It gives me some pause that some big-four accountants prepared a few 2018 hedge fund partnership K-1s without applying 199A tax treatment. Their K-1 notes indicated reliance on Sections 864(c) and or 864(b) to skip the application of 199A. When we asked some big-four tax partners for clarification, they said they were not wedded to that position. Did these accountants take an easy way out, by reading Section 864(b)(2) out of context? The hedge fund investors would have been hurt with QBI treatment since they would have QBI losses from TTS trading business expenses. The hedge fund had capital gains, which QBI excludes. The hedge fund did not elect Section 475 ordinary income or loss, which QBI includes.

On the other side of the debate, I’ve seen some K-1s from proprietary trading firms, and all of those K-1s did report 199A information. They reported QBI income since they elected Section 475 on securities. I asked their tax preparers about it, and they said 864(b)(2) applies to foreign partnerships, not these U.S. trading partnerships.

I spoke with a tax attorney in IRS Office of Chief Counsel listed on the Section 199A regs, and he thought the positive rationale makes sense. He even accommodated my request to add Section 475 by name to inclusion in QBI in the final 199A regs. The IRS attorney did not raise Section 864(c) or 864(b)(2) as being a problem for U.S. resident TTS traders.

It’s time to complete 2018 tax returns even with remaining uncertainty. I suggest that U.S. resident TTS traders, living, working, and trading in the U.S. consider applying 199A to their trading business. Consult your tax advisor.

CPAs Darren Neuschwander and Adam Manning, and tax attorney Johnny Lyle contributed to this blog post.

See my prior blog posts on 199A for traders at https://greentradertax.com/uncertainty-about-using-qbi-tax-treatment-for-traders/