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The IRS recently took a shot across the bow of limited partners of investment management companies with respect to the application of self-employment tax (or, SE tax, for short).  In fact, the ruling could potentially affect limited partners (including LLC / LLP partners) in every industry.  While this tax issue has been fought on several levels over the past 20 or more years, it had gone dormant since 1997.  Now, an IRS Chief Counsel Advice (ILM 201436049 (05/20/2014)), released on September 5, 2014, (the “ILM”) demonstrates that the IRS may be ready to renew the fight.

Currently, limited partners of limited partnerships and shareholders of Subchapter S corporations routinely take the position that their distributive shares of entity profits are exempt from SE tax.  The uncapped Medicare hospital insurance portion of the SE tax for high income taxpayers is now 3.8%, thanks to a 0.9% increase brought in at the close of 2012 to match up with the new Net Investment Income tax.  In the S corporation world this tax exemption is tempered by a requirement to pay reasonable compensation to S corporation shareholders (the compensation, unlike stock distributions, is subject to SE tax). In the world of limited partnerships the SE tax exemption does not extend to guaranteed payments for services which, for partners, are akin to salary.


The ILM deals with a fairly large investment management company (likely in New York City based on its structure), which acts as an investment manager for a family of funds (each treated as a separate limited partnership).  The IRS did not attack the allocations to the GP which held the profits interest in each underlying fund.  The Service was interested in only the management company and its treatment of the management fee income.  The management company in the ILM was structured as a limited liability company or LLC which was treated as a partnership for tax purposes.  It was stated that the LLC was a successor to a previous management company that was organized as an S corporation (this fact was not material to the analysis but did help explain why the management company was taking the tax positions it was). Each partner in the management company received a salary (erroneously reported on a Form W-2) and guaranteed payments, both of which were subject to SE tax.  In addition, each partner received allocations of partnership profits which were not subject to SE tax.  Some of the partners were investment managers but others were legal, human resources, information technology services and other infrastructure personnel.  

The IRS pointed out that Section 1402(a)(13), which exempts limited partners from SE tax, was enacted in 1977 prior to the proliferation of LLCs.  It also cited case precedent indicating that LLC members were not limited partners and were not entitled to the benefits of Section 1402(a)(13).  However, the Service went much further and pointed to the legislative history of the statute to advocate that the statute was not intended to shield limited partners from SE tax to the extent they were providing services to the partnership.  Rather, the Service claims, the statute was merely intended to exempt passive investors from SE tax.  The ILM also cites extensively to Renkemeyer vs Commissioner, 136 T.C. 137 (2011), in which the Tax Court unsurprisingly found that partners in a law firm formed as a limited liability partnership were subject to SE tax on their earnings.  The Tax Court also utilized broad language and cited to the intent of the statute and its related legislative history.  The ILM ultimately found that every partner of the management company was subject to SE tax on their allocations of earnings because the “Partners’ earnings are not in the nature of a return on a capital investment … [but rather]… are a direct result of the services rendered on behalf of Management Company by its Partners.”

 

This fight over SE tax related to limited partners and LLC members began in the early 1990s.  In 1994, Treasury issued proposed regulations that would have exempted LLC members from SE tax but only if the member lacked authority to make management decisions necessary to conduct the business of the LLC.  In January of 1997, Treasury withdrew the regulations and re-proposed new regulations.  The 1997 regulations would treat individuals as limited partners and able to take advantage of the SE tax exclusion unless the individual (i) had personal liability for the debts of the partnership, (ii) had authority to contract on behalf of the partnership, or (iii) participated in the activities of the partnership for more than 500 hours during the taxable year.  Importantly, the 1997 proposed regulations were not limited to LLC members.  Rather, it would have changed the SE tax situation for all partnerships.

Shortly after the 1997 proposal, Steve Forbes called the proposed regulations, “a major tax increase by a stealth regulatory decree.”  Others soon joined in a national campaign to kill the regulatory proposal including the then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and radio talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh.  In June 1997, the Senate passed a nonbinding resolution declaring the proposed regulations outside the scope of Treasury’s authority, urging Treasury and the IRS to withdraw the proposal.  Congress ultimately imposed a 12-month moratorium on Treasury’s authority to issue guidance regarding the definition of “limited partner” for purposes of Section 1402(a)(13).  Since that time Treasury and the IRS have remained silent on the issue.

Fourteen years later, the Renkemeyer decision threatened to open the debate again but since the IRS agreed with the decision and such decision was limited to LLC members within a very specific (and egregious) fact pattern, the argument remained dormant.  Now, seventeen years after Congress thrashed the IRS for overstepping its bounds with regards to limited partners they are at it again.  

In June 2014, Curtis Wilson, IRS associate chief counsel (passthroughs and special industries), said that the IRS had been thinking about the extent to which individuals who are limited partners under state law might be prohibited from relying on the SE tax exemption.  Additionally, in the 2014-2015 joint Treasury-IRS priority guidance plan released August 26, 2014, the agencies announced they would tackle guidance on the application of Section 1402(a)(13) to limited liability companies.   

The ILM is a clear indication that the Service has decided to go back on the attack against limited partner / LLC member utilization of the Section 1402(a)(13) exemption from SE tax.  This may be another act of regulatory fiat that Congress will once again quash, as in 1997, but let the taxpayer beware.  The IRS is of the opinion that active LPs should pay SE tax on their full allocation of management fee income.  Management companies may be better off as S corporations which have a different statutory genesis for their SE tax exemption.  But, of course, this begs the question.  Why should different forms of passthrough entities receive different SE tax results?  Stay tuned on this issue.

Authored by Anthony J. Tuths, JD, LLM, Partner 

There are two basic types of business combinations – taxable and nontaxable.

Taxable Business Combinations (Asset Purchase):

In a taxable business combination, new tax bases for acquired assets and assumed liabilities are generally determined on the basis of the fair market value. The acquirer “steps up” the acquiree’s historical tax bases in the assets acquired and liabilities assumed to fair market value.  Under the U.S. federal income tax law (IRC Section 338), certain stock purchases can be treated as taxable business combinations if an election to treat the stock purchase as a taxable asset purchase is filed.

Both the seller and purchaser of a group of assets that makes up a trade or business generally must use Form 8594 to report the transaction and both must attach the form to their respective income tax returns.  The taxpayers are not required to file Form 8594 when a group of assets that makes up a trade or business is exchanged for like-kind property in a transaction to which section 1031 applies and when a partnership interest is transferred. For stock purchases treated as asset purchases under Sections 338(g) or 338(h)(10), the purchaser and seller must first file Form 8023, to make the 338 election.  Form 8883 is then filed by both the purchaser and the target to supply information relevant to the election.

There is no legal requirement that the target and acquiring company take consistent positions on their respective tax returns, and therefore each could in principle take a different position favorable to itself.  However, if they do so, the IRS is likely to discover this fact and protect itself by challenging the positions taken by both parties.  To avoid this result, acquisition agreements almost always provide that the parties will attempt to agree on an allocation of price among the assets within a relatively short time after the closing of the transaction. 

Non-Taxable Business Combinations (Stock Purchase):

In a nontaxable business combination, the acquirer assumes the historical tax basis of the acquired assets and assumed liabilities. In this case, the acquirer retains the “historic” or “carryover” tax bases in the acquiree’s assets and liabilities. Generally, stock acquisitions are treated as nontaxable business combinations (unless a Section 338 election is made). Nontaxable business combinations generally result in significantly more temporary differences than do taxable business combinations because of the carryover of the tax bases of the assets acquired and liabilities assumed. To substantiate the relevant tax bases of the acquired assets and assumed liabilities, the acquirer should review the acquired entity’s tax filings and related books and records. This information should be evaluated within the acquisition’s measurement period.

The non-taxable corporate reorganization Internal Revenue Code provisions are concerned with the form, rather than the substance, of the transaction.  Therefore, it is important to document that the correct procedures have been followed.  Regulation Section 1.368-3 sets forth which records are to be kept and which information needs to be filed with tax returns for the year that such a transaction is completed.  Each corporate party to a non-taxable reorganization must file a statement with its tax return for the year in which the reorganization occurred that contains the names and EINs of all parties, the date of the reorganization, the FMV of the assets and stock transferred, and the information concerning any related private letter rulings.  All parties must also maintain permanent records to substantiate the transaction.  While there are no statutory penalties for failure to comply with the reporting requirements, the IRS has argued that failure to comply with the requirements could indicate that a transaction was a sale and not a non-taxable reorganization.

Authored by Robert Cutolo

One of the major advantages of owning real estate in a partnership is the ability to leverage the real estate and distribute the proceeds of the borrowing to the partners on a tax free basis. 

FOR EXAMPLE: 

Individuals A & B equally own a Limited Liability Company that is treated as a partnership for tax purposes.  The LLC owns real estate with a tax basis of $1 million and a fair market value of $5 million.  The LLC borrows $3 million from a bank on a non-recourse basis, that is, the bank can only look to the property for repayment.  Neither partner is personally obligated to repay the bank.  Immediately after the borrowing, the LLC distributes the $3 million equally to the two partners.

As long as the non-recourse liability is allocated equally to the two partners, the withdrawal of $1.5 million by each partner is a tax free transaction.  This follows Section 752 of the Internal Revenue Code which states that any increase in a partner’s share of the liabilities of a partnership shall be considered a contribution of money by such partner to the partnership.  In effect, the partner’s outside tax basis is deemed to increase by his share of the increase in the partnership’s liabilities.  This increase can provide sufficient tax basis to allow a withdrawal of funds to be considered a tax-free return of basis. Additionally, such an increase in outside tax basis can permit the use of valuable deductions, the benefit of which may have been deferred absent the increase in liabilities and tax basis.     

While an increase in a partner’s share of partnership liabilities increases the partner’s outside basis, a decrease in the partner’s share of partnership liabilities decreases the partner’s outside basis.  Thus, it is important for partner A and B that their share of the partnership’s liabilities does not significantly decrease.  A significant decrease may have the same effect as withdrawing money in excess of tax basis, i.e. resulting in a current taxable gain. 

Thus, a partnership that is contemplating taking in new partners or contributing its property to a larger partnership (for example, a real estate venture fund) must examine how the reallocation of its liabilities will affect the tax liability of its current partners.

A partner who is facing a taxable event due to the reallocation of liabilities may find it beneficial to guarantee a portion of the partnership’s non-recourse liabilities.  A guarantee will convert a portion of the non-recourse liability to a recourse liability.  Partnership recourse liabilities are allocated to that partner who may be ultimately liable for the debt. Thus, by guaranteeing the debt, the partner may be able to maintain a sufficient allocation of partnership liabilities to avoid gain.     

While a guarantee of debt is good for tax purposes, most partners are not willing to take on a possible liability that they did not have previously.  A guarantee may not be a good economic choice.

BOTTOM DOLLAR GUARANTEE

A method of guaranteeing the debt while mitigating the economic risk of satisfying the guarantee is a so-called “bottom dollar guarantee.”  This is a guarantee where the partner agrees to repay partnership debt only if the bank collects less than the guaranteed amount from the partnership. In the example above, if partner A signs a bottom dollar guarantee for $1 million, partner A will only have to satisfy this guarantee if the bank cannot collect at least $1 million of the $3 million debt from the partnership.  Once the bank collects $1 million from the partnership, partner A is relieved of all further liability on the debt.  This is contrary to a normal guarantee, where the guarantor is liable for any and all amounts of the debt left unsatisfied by the partnership up to the stated guarantee amount.

The Internal Revenue Service has been struggling with the issue of whether a bottom dollar guarantee is a real guarantee and should be respected as such for tax purposes.  Recently released proposed regulations under Section 752 make it clear that the IRS will not recognize bottom dollar guarantees as valid guarantees of partnership debt. Under the proposed regulations, a partner only bears the economic risk of loss if the partner is liable for amounts that the partnership does not satisfy. 

The new proposed regulations will not be effective until published in final form.  However, for those partners who have bottom dollar guarantees in place at the time the regulations are finalized, a seven year transition rule is provided. In conclusion, the proposed regulations, if finalized in their current form, will provide that a partner is not able to both mitigate his or her economic risk and increase his or her outside tax basis when he or she guarantees partnership debt.  Accordingly, maintaining a partner’s share of partnership debt will require that the partner take on a real economic burden.  

By Robert E. Demmett, CPA, MS, Partner | rdemmett@withum.com

If you have any questions about this real estate update, please contact your WithumSmith+Brown professional or a member of WS+B’s Real Estate Services Group. 

While the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) landscape remains entwined with issues regarding compensation of student-athletes, another element of the debate reached a “foothold”…

U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken (Oakland, CA) recently issued an injunction invalidating NCAA rules that prohibit student-athletes from being compensated for use of their names, images, and likenesses in television broadcasts and video games.

The decision is a win for certain student-athletes in the sense that it would allow football players in the top 10 conferences, and all Division I men’s basketball players, a limited share of the revenue generated by schools from the use of their likenesses. 

However, there are aspects of the injunction that provide factors somewhat beneficial to the NCAA.  Based on witness testimony and current NCAA rules, Judge Wilken determined that the NCAA and schools are allowed to cap the amount of money paid to college athletes while they are in enrolled in school; an eligible athlete must be paid at least $5,000 per year they are academically eligible, but schools do not have to necessarily pay more than that.  Furthermore, the compensation will likely be deferred as schools are permitted to pay the funds to a trust, which would then be held until after an athlete’s eligibility ends or he graduates, whichever occurs sooner. 

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon had filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and other former college athletes against the NCAA, alleging that the NCAA’s prohibition on allowing student-athletes from receiving any compensation other than scholarships and the cost of attendance at schools violated federal antitrust laws.

The NCAA traditionally required student-athletes to sign a form before participating in athletics, which gave the NCAA permission to use player images and likenesses to “promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs.”  Because of this document, student-athletes had been unable to negotiate deals for the use of their likenesses, which the plaintiffs alleged was an unreasonable restraint on trade conspiring to fix the price for the use of athletes’ image and likeness at zero.

The injunction stops short of allowing athletes to receive money for endorsements, nor does it prevent the NCAA from creating rules that prohibit athletes from selling their name, image, and likeness rights individually.  But Judge Wilkin’s ruling is certainly a battle won by the Ed O’Bannon plaintiffs in this continuing “war” with the NCAA over amateurism and legal rights of student-athletes.

An issue with the decision is that was confined “revenue sports” (football players in the top 10 conferences, and all Division I men’s basketball players).  Thus, for the time being it remains up to the NCAA and the individual conferences and schools to determine how, or if at all, “non-revenue athletes” will be compensated for use of their likeness.  “Non-revenue athletes” encompasses the remaining Division I, Division II, and Division III athletes, as well as female student-athletes.  Application of Title IX, which requires equal opportunities and resources for all male and female athletes, is seemingly called into question if only certain athletes are able to be paid for to use of their likeness.

The ruling will not affect any recruit enrolled in college before July 1, 2016.  The NCAA has announced that it will appeal the ruling.

Authored by CJ Stroh

We have all heard the term milestone payment in the life science field. Generally, milestone payments are made under a collaboration agreement upon the completion of a successful stage of research. These payments are generally deductible for financial accounting purposes. However, these payments are generally capitalized and amortized in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.

The Internal Revenue Code generally allows a deduction for all ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during a taxable year on carrying on a trade or business. However, expenditures that create or develop an asset with a useful life beyond the taxable year must be capitalized rather than expensed in the year paid.

The Internal Revenue Service believes that milestone payments relate to the acquisition or creation of intangibles and thus should be capitalized and amortized. They are generally amortizable over the life of the agreement, the remaining life of the patent or 15 years.

Authored by Stephen Talkowsky

This past week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew sent a letter to key members of Congress calling for the nation to embrace a “new sense of economic patriotism” and stop supporting corporations that are moving their tax home out of the U.S. to reduce their corporate income tax burdens by taking advantage of an existing loophole in the tax code.

The loophole, known as “corporate inversion,” is a transaction where a U.S. based multinational group acquires a foreign corporation located in a country whose tax rates are lower than in the U.S. These reorganizations have the effect of changing the U.S. corporation’s domicile to a foreign country but typically results in little change to the U.S. operations of the entity. Although operations in the U.S. would continue to be subject to U.S. tax, the foreign operations conducted by the newly formed group would be subject to the lower foreign country tax rates. In addition, the foreign income is not taxed to the U.S. shareholders until dividends are paid. Moreover, the U.S. corporation may engage in earnings stripping transactions where deductible payments to the parent company reduce U.S. taxable income.

These transactions are particularly attractive to pharmaceutical and medical device companies who seem to have more choices of appropriately sized targets overseas and enjoy many benefits of a global presence. Popular destinations seem to be Britain, Ireland and Bermuda for their lower tax rates and other attractive R&D incentives. Transactions involving pharma and medical device companies have spiked in recent years, most notably the recent merger of Medtronic and Covidien, the attempted acquisition by Pfizer of AstraZeneca, and the AbbVie takeover of Shire, the largest inversion deal to date.

Here’s a summary of how the proposed inversion of Pfizer might have worked:
A newly created UK holding company would acquire the shares of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca. In the resulting structure, Pfizer and AstraZeneca would be subsidiaries of the UK parent and the former Pfizer shareholders would own 73% of the UK company and AstraZeneca former shareholders would own 27%. Pfizer hoped to shift profits to the UK, where the tax rate is around 21% as compared to 35% in the US.

For similar types of inversion transactions like the one proposed in the Pfizer deal, the U.S. government has attempted to curb the use of these inversion transactions:

• Where shareholders of the U.S. corporation subsequently acquire over 50% of the new foreign parent corporation, section 367(a) causes a gain on the transfer of U.S. stock to the parent corp.
• Where shareholders of the U.S. corporation subsequently acquire 60% or more, but less than 80% of the new foreign parent corporation, section 7874 prevents the U.S. corporation from using tax attributes, such as NOLs, to offset section the 367(a) inversion gain.
• Where shareholders of the U.S. corporation subsequently acquire 80% or more of the new foreign parent corporation, section 7874 treats the new foreign parent company as a U.S. corporation for tax purposes, effectively removing any real U.S. tax savings from the transaction.

• In triangular reorganizations, section 367(b) and Notice 2014-32 causes a potential taxable dividend as a result of a “deemed” distribution between parent and subsidiary on the acquisition of the target foreign corporation in exchange for parent stock.

Under Pfizer’s proposed new structure, the corporation would not have been considered a U.S. corporation for tax purposes under section 7874 because less than 80% of the foreign parent company would be held by the former U.S. shareholders. The U.S. corporation might have had to pay tax under the other anti-abuse regulations of section 7874 and section 367, however it planned to save over $1 billion in tax due to the tax rate differential alone, according to some reports. In other inversion transactions, some corporations were able to avoid the imposition of section 367(a) inversion gain by manipulating certain aspects of section 367(b)(“Killer B reorganization” rules), in order to make the transaction nearly tax free. Much tax planning goes into achieving these various tax savings from moving overseas and the transactions can get very complicated.

The letter from Secretary Lew calls for a lowering of the U.S. corporate income tax rate, among the highest in the world. At the very least, he asks Congress to pass laws to prevent or deter companies from using these inversion strategies, including retroactive laws to prevent tax savings on restructuring deals already agreed to, such as the recent Shire takeover. Despite bipartisan disagreement on how to address the tax loophole, tax reform in this area is likely to occur in some form. However, many tax practitioners and financial experts believe that these transactions will continue to be used at an increased pace until real reform occurs to lower U.S. corporate tax rates. In the meantime, patriotism aside, corporate management will maintain its allegiance to its shareholders and continue to strive to improve the corporate bottom line in the ever increasing global economy.

Author: Susan San Filippo

So, you are development stage life science company located in New Jersey and, like the rest of us, in need of cash.  Your accountant tries to sell you a federal research and development tax credit study.  Your response is, “Why?  I don’t have any revenue and thus pay no taxes – get lost!”  While that may be the appropriate response from a federal perspective, that may not be the correct answer from the state of New Jersey’s perspective.

In 1999, New Jersey commenced a program that allows certain development stage companies (emerging technology or biotech companies) to actually sell their unused net operating losses (“NOLS”) and research and development tax credits for cash –  generally to the tune of 90 cents on the dollar.  So, if you have unused New Jersey R&D credits of $100,000, you may be able to sell those credits for $90,000!  The buyer is generally another New Jersey company in need of credits and NOLS.

As with any other program, when dealing with the Federal or State government you need to jump through some hoops and fill out some paperwork.  But, all in all, the process is not that painful.

So, if you are sitting on some unused credits and NOLS or you believe you may have some that you have not yet captured, it is probably worthwhile to taking a look to see if you are sitting on some cash.

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