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Tax planning strategies for
year-end

11.01.18

It’s that time of year. Kids have gone back to school, the leaves are changing color, the air is getting crisp and… year-end tax planning strategies are front of mind! It’s time to revisit or start tax planning for the coming year-end, and year-end purchase of capital equipment and the associated depreciation expense are often an integral part of that planning.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) expanded two prevailing types of accelerated expensing of capital improvements: bonus depreciation and section 179 depreciation. They each have different applications and require planning to determine which is most advantageous for each business situation.

100% expensing of selected capital improvementsbonus depreciation

Originating in 2001, bonus depreciation rules allowed for immediate expensing at varying percentages in addition to the “regular” accelerated depreciation expensed over the useful life of a capital improvement. The TCJA allows for 100% expensing of certain capital improvements during 2018. Starting in 2023, the percentage drops to 80% and continues to decrease after 2023. In addition to the increased percentage, used property now qualifies for bonus depreciation. Most new and used construction equipment, office and warehouse equipment, fixtures, and vehicles qualify for 100% bonus depreciation along with certain other longer lived capital improvement assets. Now is the time to take advantage of immediate write-offs on crucial business assets. 

TCJA did not change the no dollar limitations or thresholds, so there isn’t a dollar limitation or threshold on taking bonus depreciation. Additionally, you can use bonus depreciation to create taxable losses. Bonus depreciation is automatic, and a taxpayer may elect out of the bonus depreciation rules.

However, a taxpayer can’t pick and choose bonus depreciation on an asset-by-asset basis because the election out is made by useful life. Another potential drawback is that many states do not allow bonus depreciation. This will generally result in higher state taxable income in the early years that reverses in subsequent years.

Section 179 expensing

Similar to bonus depreciation, section 179 depreciation allows for immediate expensing of certain capital improvements. The TCJA doubled the allowable section 179 deduction from $500,000 to $1,000,000. The overall capital improvement limits also increased from $2,000,000 to $2,500,000. These higher thresholds allow for even higher tax deductions for business that tend to put a lot of money in a given year on capital improvements.

In addition to these limits, section 179 cannot create a loss. Because of these constraints, section 179 is not as flexible as bonus depreciation but can be very useful if the timing purchases are planned to maximize the deduction. Many states allow section 179 expense, which may be an advantage over bonus depreciation.

Bonus Depreciation Section 179
Deduction maximum N/A $1,000,000 for 2018
Total addition phase out N/A $2,500,000 for 2018


Both section 179 and bonus depreciation are crucial tools for all businesses. They can reduce taxable income and defer tax expense by accelerating depreciation deductions. Please contact your tax advisor to determine if your business qualifies for bonus depreciation or section 179 and how to maximize each deduction for 2018.

Section 179 and bonus depreciation: where to go from here

Both section 179 and bonus depreciation are crucial tools for all businesses. They can reduce taxable income and defer tax expense by accelerating depreciation deductions. Please contact your tax advisor to determine if your business qualifies for bonus depreciation or section 179 and how to maximize each deduction for 2018.

Related Services

Read this if you are a solar investor, developer, or installer.

With December well under way, thoughts turn to year-end and tax filing preparation. While we get many questions this time of year related to changes in the tax law and what taxpayers can do before the end of the year to minimize their tax burden, different this year is the impending phase-out of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Residential Energy Credit (REC) from 30% to 26%. 

Last month, we gave some pointers on the safe harbor provision available for the Investment Tax Credit which would allow qualifying projects to still be eligible for the 30% credit after the end of the year. No such provision exists for the residential credit, however, and any project not complete by 12/31/19 (and completed in 2020) will receive the reduced 26% credit.

The phase-out was designed to coincide with the projected decline in solar costs, and would help smooth the transition to a market where solar competes directly with fossil fuels for energy production. Since then, we have seen component costs increase due to artificially inflated prices resulting from the tariffs imposed on imported goods. This results in a mismatch on the timing of the phase-out to the cost of the materials, a still immature market for solar, and a missed opportunity. Enter a new bill in the House of Representatives.

Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now Act

On November 19, 2019 Chairman Thompson of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee released a discussion draft of a bill titled the Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now (“GREEN”) Act. This draft bill is not ready for a vote yet, but does promote an extension and/or expansion of tax incentives for taxpayers investing in cleantech. With the GREEN Act, solar investors, installers, and other related businesses would benefit from:

  • Revival and extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) through 2024
  • Delay of the ITC and REC phaseout until 2024
  • Expansion of the ITC to include additional technologies, most notably energy storage
  • A provision allowing the taxpayer to receive the ITC or PTC as a refund in the year it is claimed for 15% reduction in the value of the credit

A delay in the phase-out would allow time for the costs of components to return to pre-tariff levels and help achieve the original intention of the phase-out. The expansion of the ITC to include energy storage would be a huge boon to that emerging market, and provide an additional incentive for consumers to install storage on an existing project―creating a more efficient energy grid. 

Currently, due to accelerated depreciation, many taxpayers are not able to take the ITC or PTC in the first year due to not having a tax to offset. Allowing for the option to treat the ITC or PTC as a tax payment (which can be refunded) instead of a credit (which can’t) would help investors realize their return much faster and free up capital to invest in other projects. 

Some of these provisions are fairly aggressive, and it is unlikely that they will all remain as they are now in any future passed legislation. However, it is promising to see the House of Representatives considering these types of extensions and expansions when it comes to clean energy incentives. As renewable energy is still a relatively new and rapidly changing marketplace, this is a prime time for renewable energy professionals to keep representatives informed of what they need to help the industry continue to grow. 

Stay tuned, and please contact Mark Vitello if you have any questions or need more information.
 

Blog
The GREEN Act―a ray of hope for the solar carve out and the ITC?

Read this if you are a solar investor, developer, or installer.

The solar carve out of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has been a great incentive for taxpayers to invest in solar assets over the last several years. It established an increased 30% tax credit for solar assets placed in service, up from the normal 10%. 

Starting January 1, 2020, the solar carve out will begin to phase out and will return to 10% by January 1, 2024. 

With the first phase-out of the ITC set to drop the credit from 30% to 26% after December 31, 2019, many taxpayers are evaluating ways to make sure their project still qualifies for the 30% credit. The IRS has issued two safe harbor provisions (IRS Notice 2018-59) to allow for projects placed in service after December 31, 2019 and before January 1, 2024 to still qualify for the 30% credit, but timing is key and certain actions must be taken before midnight on December 31, 2019.

Safe harbor methods

The two safe harbor methods are the Physical Work Test and the Five Percent of Cost Test. If a project satisfies either of these tests it can still qualify for the 30% tax credit as long as it is completed and in service before January 1, 2024.

The Physical Work Test requires that the taxpayer performs, or has performed on their behalf, “work of a significant nature” on the project prior to December 31, 2019. This is a little open to interpretation, but generally involves physical construction of the asset, such as the installation of mounting equipment, rails, racking, inverters, or even the panels themselves. Purchasing of equipment generally held in inventory by either the taxpayer or the vendor does not qualify. However, if the equipment is customized or specially designed for the specific project, it might. Preliminary activities do not qualify, which include planning, designing, surveying, and permitting. 

In general, the purpose of this test is to prove that construction has already begun, and is in place to help projects that have been started but won’t be in service before year end still maintain the 30% tax credit. Projects that are substantially complete and waiting for an interconnection or a permission to operate in order to be considered as in service will most easily qualify for this safe harbor test.

The Five Percent of Cost Test is a little more straightforward, and is likely to be more commonly used to qualify projects for the safe harbor provision as the end of the year deadline approaches. This test requires at least five percent of the total project cost be paid or incurred before December 31, 2019. It is important to note that the denominator in this test is the final total cost of the project when it goes in service. The taxpayer may wish to pay more than the five percent to account for project overruns or unanticipated changes to the project in order to make sure they maintain the qualification for safe harbor. 

Another consideration is if the taxpayer files on the cash or accrual method as to whether the project cost needs to be paid or incurred in order to satisfy the chosen filing method.

In either case, the taxpayer should also evaluate the cost of prepaying for equipment that may decrease in cost in the future, compared to the benefit they will receive in maintaining the additional four percent of the tax credit that can safe harbor from the phase out. 

Additionally, an analysis of total project costs and eligible vs. ineligible ITC costs early on in project development can help identify how best to spend the cash before the end of the year, and ensure that the taxpayer receives the return they require once the project goes into service.

Have questions?

If you have questions on these safe harbors or need more information, please contact the green tax experts on our renewable energy team

Blog
Safe harbor options for taxpayers as the solar ITC begins to sunset

Editor’s note: read this if you are a Maine business owner or officer.

New state law aligns with federal rules for partnership audits

On June 18, 2019, the State of Maine enacted Legislative Document 1819, House Paper 1296, An Act to Harmonize State Income Tax Law and the Centralized Partnership Audit Rules of the Federal Internal Revenue Code of 1986

Just like it says, LD 1819 harmonizes Maine with updated federal rules for partnership audits by shifting state tax liability from individual partners to the partnership itself. It also establishes new rules for who can—and can’t—represent a partnership in audit proceedings, and what that representative’s powers are.

Classic tunes—The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982

Until recently, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA) set federal standards for IRS audits of partnerships and those entities treated as partnerships for income tax purposes (LLCs, etc.). Those rules changed, however, following passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) and the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act). Changes made by the BBA and PATH Act included:

  • Replacing the Tax Matters Partner (TMP) with a Partnership Representative (PR);
  • Generally establishing the partnership, and not individual partners, as liable for any imputed underpayment resulting from an audit, meaning current partners can be held responsible for the tax liabilities of past partners; and
  • Imputing tax on the net audit adjustments at the highest individual or corporate tax rates.

Unlike TEFRA, the BBA and PATH Act granted Partnership Representatives sole authority to act on behalf of a partnership for a given tax year. Individual partners, who previously held limited notification and participation rights, were now bound by their PR’s actions.

Fresh beats—new tax liability laws under LD 1819

LD 1819 echoes key provisions of the BBA and PATH Act by shifting state tax liability from individual partners to the partnership itself and replacing the Tax Matters Partner with a Partnership Representative.

Eligibility requirements for PRs are also less than those for TMPs. PRs need only demonstrate “substantial presence in the US” and don’t need to be a partner in the partnership, e.g., a CFO or other person involved in the business. Additionally, partnerships may have different PRs at the federal and state level, provided they establish reasonable qualifications and procedures for designating someone other than the partnership’s federal-level PR to be its state-level PR.

LD 1819 applies to Maine partnerships for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2018. Any additional tax, penalties, and/or interest arising from audit are due no later than 180 days after the IRS’ final determination date, though some partnerships may be eligible for a 60-day extension. In addition, LD 1819 requires Maine partnerships to file a completed federal adjustments report.

Partnerships should review their partnership agreements in light of these changes to ensure the goals of the partnership and the individual partners are reflected in the case of an audit. 

Remix―Significant changes coming to the Maine Capital Investment Credit 

Passage of LD 1671 on July 2, 2019 will usher in a significant change to the Maine Capital Investment Credit, a popular credit which allows businesses to claim a tax credit for qualifying depreciable assets placed in service in Maine on which federal bonus depreciation is claimed on the taxpayer's federal income tax return. 

Effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2020, the credit is reduced to a rate of 1.2%. This is a significant reduction in the current credit percentages, which are 9% and 7% for corporate and all other taxpayers, respectively. The change intends to provide fairness to companies conducting business in-state over out-of-state counterparts. Taxpayers continue to have the option to waive the credit and claim depreciation recapture in a future year for the portion of accelerated federal bonus depreciation disallowed by Maine in the year the asset is placed in service. 

As a result of this meaningful reduction in the credit, taxpayers who have historically claimed the credit will want to discuss with their tax advisors whether it makes sense to continue claiming the credit for 2020 and beyond.
 

Blog
Maine tax law changes: Music to the ears, or not so much?

A common pitfall for inbound sellers is applying the same concepts used to adopt “no tax” positions made for federal income tax purposes to determinations concerning sales and use tax compliance. Although similar conceptually, separate analyses are required for each determination.

For federal income tax purposes, inbound sellers that are selling goods to customers in the U.S. and do not have a fixed place of business or dependent agent in the U.S. have, traditionally, been able to rely on their country’s income tax treaty with the U.S. for “no tax” positions. Provided that the non-U.S. entity did not have a “permanent establishment” in the U.S., it was shielded from federal income tax and would have a limited federal income tax compliance obligation.

States, however, are generally not bound by comprehensive income tax treaties made with the U.S. Thus, non-U.S. entities can find themselves unwittingly subject to state and local sales and use tax compliance obligations even though they are protected from a federal income tax perspective. With recent changes in U.S. tax law, the burden of complying with sales and use tax filing and collection requirements has increased significantly.

Does your company have a process in place to deal with these new state and local tax compliance obligations?

What has changed? Wayfair—it’s got what a state needs

As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., non-U.S. entities that have sales to customers in the U.S. may have unexpected sales and use tax filing obligations on a go-forward basis. Historically, non-U.S. entities did not have a sales and use tax compliance obligation when they did not have a physical presence in states where the sales occurred.

In Wayfair, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state is no longer bound by the physical presence standard in order for it to impose its sales and use tax regime on entities making sales within the state. The prior physical presence standard was set forth in precedent established by the Supreme Court and was used to determine if an entity had sufficient connection with a state (i.e., nexus) to necessitate a tax filing and collection requirement.

Before the Wayfair ruling, an entity had to have a physical presence (generally either through employees or property located in a state) in order to be deemed to have nexus with the state. The Wayfair ruling overturned this precedent, eliminating the physical presence requirement. Now, a state can deem an entity to have nexus with the state merely for exceeding a certain level of sales or transactions with in-state customers. This is a concept referred to as “economic nexus.”

The Court in Wayfair determined that the state law in South Dakota providing a threshold of $100,000 in sales or more than 200 sale transactions occurring within the state is sufficient for economic nexus to exist with the state. This is good news for hard-pressed states and municipalities in search of more revenue. Since this ruling, there has been a flurry of new state legislation across the country. Like South Dakota, states are actively passing tax laws with similar bright-line tests to determine when entities have economic nexus and, therefore, a sales and use tax collection and filing requirement.

How this impacts non-U.S. entities

This can be a trap for non-U.S. entities making sales to customers in the U.S. Historically, non-U.S. entities lacking a U.S. physical presence generally only needed to navigate federal income tax rules.

Inbound sellers without a physical presence in the U.S. may have very limited experience with state and local tax compliance obligations. When considering all of the state and local tax jurisdictions that exist in the U.S. (according to the Tax Foundation there are more than 10,000 sales tax jurisdictions), the number of sales and use tax filing obligations can be significant. Depending on the level of sales activity within the U.S., a non-U.S. entity can quickly become inundated with the time and cost of sales and use tax compliance.

Next steps

Going forward, non-U.S. entities selling to customers in the U.S. should be aware of those states that have economic nexus thresholds and adopt procedures so they are prepared for their sales and use tax compliance obligations in real time. These tax compliance obligations will generally require an entity to register to do business in the state, collect sales tax from customers, and file regular tax returns, usually monthly or quarterly.

It is important to note when an entity has an obligation to collect sales tax, it will be liable for any sales tax due to a state, regardless of whether the sales tax is actually collected from the customer. It is imperative to stay abreast of these complex legislative changes in order to be compliant.

At BerryDunn, our tax professionals work with a number of non-U.S. companies that face international, state, and local tax issues. If you would like to discuss your particular circumstances, contact one of the experienced professionals in our state and local tax (“SALT”) practice.

Blog
Sales & use tax: A potential trap for non-U.S. entities

IRS Notice 2018-67 Hits the Charts
Last week, in addition to The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) album becoming the highest selling album of all time, overtaking Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the IRS issued Notice 2018-67its first formal guidance on Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(6), one of two major code sections added by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that directly impacts tax-exempt organizations. Will it too, be a big hit? It remains to be seen.

Section 512(a)(6) specifically deals with the reporting requirements for not-for-profit organizations carrying on multiple unrelated business income (UBI) activities. Here, we will summarize the notice and help you to gain an understanding of the IRS’s thoughts and anticipated approaches to implementing §512(a)(6).

While there have been some (not so quiet) grumblings from the not-for-profit sector about guidance on Code Section 512(a)(7) (aka the parking lot tax), unfortunately we still have not seen anything yet. With Notice 2018-67’s release last week, we’re optimistic that guidance may be on the way and will let you know as soon as we see anything from the IRS.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note last week’s notice is just that—a notice, not a Revenue Procedure or some other substantive legislation. While the notice can, and should be relied upon until we receive further guidance, everything in the notice is open to public comment and/or subject to change. With that, here are some highlights:

No More Netting
512(a)(6) requires the organization to calculate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI), including for purposes of determining any net operating loss (NOL) deduction, separately with respect to each such trade or business. The notice requires this separate reporting (or silo-ing) of activities in order to determine activities with net income from those with net losses.

Under the old rules, if an organization had two UBI activities in a given year, (e.g., one with $1,000 of net income and another with $1,000 net loss, you could simply net the two together on Form 990-T and report $0 UBTI for the year. That is no longer the case. From now on, you can effectively ignore activities with a current year loss, prompting the organization to report $1,000 as taxable UBI, and pay associated federal and state income taxes, while the activity with the $1,000 loss will get “hung-up” as an NOL specific to that activity and carried forward until said activity generates a net income.

Separate Trade or Business
So, how does one distinguish (or silo) a separate trade or business from another? The Treasury Department and IRS intend to propose some regulations in the near future, but for now recommend that organizations use a “reasonable good-faith interpretation”, which for now includes using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) in order to determine different UBI activities.

For those not familiar, the NAICS categorizes different lines of business with a six-digit code. For example, the NAICS code for renting* out a residential building or dwelling is 531110, while the code for operating a potato farm is 111211. While distinguishing residential rental activities from potato farming activities might be rather straight forward, the waters become muddier if an organization rents both a residential property and a nonresidential property (NAICS code 531120). Does this mean the organization has two separate UBI rental activities, or can both be grouped together as rental activities? The notice does not provide anything definitive, but rather is requesting public comments?we expect to see something more concrete once the public comment period is over.

*In the above example, we’re assuming the rental properties are debt-financed, prompting a portion of the rental activity to be treated as UBI.

UBI from Partnership Investments (Schedule K-1)
Notice 2018-67 does address how to categorize/group unrelated business income for organizations that receive more than one partnership K-1 with UBI reported. In short, if the Schedule K-1s the organization receives can meet either of the tests below, the organization may treat the partnership investments as a single activity/silo for UBI reporting purposes. The notice offers the following:

De Minimis Test
You can aggregate UBI from multiple K-1s together as long as the exempt organization holds directly no more than 2% of the profits interest and no more that 2% of the capital interest. These percentages can be found on the face of the Schedule K-1 from the Partnership and the notice states those percentages as shown can be used for this determination. Additionally, the notice allows organizations to use an average of beginning of year and end of year percentages for this determination.

Ex: If an organization receives a K-1 with UBI reported, and the beginning of year profit & capital percentages are 3%, and the end of year percentages are 1%, the average for the year is 2% (3% + 1% = 4%/2 = 2%). In this example, the K-1 meets the de minimis test.

There is a bit of a caveat here—when determining an exempt organization's partnership interest, the interest of a disqualified person (i.e. officers, directors, trustees, substantial contributors, and family members of any of those listed here), a supporting organization, or a controlled entity in the same partnership will be taken into account. Organizations need to review all K-1s received and inquire with the appropriate person(s) to determine if they meet the terms of the de minimis test.

Control Test
If an organization is not able to pass the de minimis test, you may instead use the control test. An organization meets the requirements of the control test if the exempt organization (i) directly holds no more than 20 percent of the capital interest; and (ii) does not have control or influence over the partnership.

When determining control or influence over the partnership, you need to apply all relevant facts and circumstances. The notice states:

“An exempt organization has control or influence if the exempt organization may require the partnership to perform, or may prevent the partnership from performing, any act that significantly affects the operations of the partnership. An exempt organization also has control or influence over a partnership if any of the exempt organization's officers, directors, trustees, or employees have rights to participate in the management of the partnership or conduct the partnership's business at any time, or if the exempt organization has the power to appoint or remove any of the partnership's officers, directors, trustees, or employees.”

As noted above, we recommend your organization review any K-1s you currently receive. It’s important to take a look at Line I1 and make sure your organization is listed here as “Exempt Organization”. All too often we see not-for-profit organizations listed as “Corporations”, which while usually technically correct, this designation is really for a for-profit corporation and could result in the organization not receiving the necessary information in order to determine what portion, if any, of income/loss is attributable to UBI.

Net Operating Losses
The notice also provides some guidance regarding the use of NOLs. The good news is that any pre-2018 NOLs are grandfathered under the old rules and can be used to offset total UBTI on Form 990-T.

Conversely, any NOLs generated post-2018 are going to be considered silo-specific, with the intent being that the NOL will only be applicable to the activity which gave rise to the loss. There is also a limitation on post-2018 NOLs, allowing you to use only 80% of the NOL for a given activity. Said another way, an activity that has net UBTI in a given year, even with post-2017 NOLs, will still potentially have an associated tax liability for the year.

Obviously, Notice 2018-67 provides a good baseline for general information, but the details will be forthcoming, and we will know then if they have a hit. Hopefully the IRS will not Take It To The Limit in terms of issuing formal guidance in regards to 512(a)(6) & (7). Until they receive further IRS guidance,  folks in the not-for-profit sector will not be able to Take It Easy or have any semblance of a Peaceful Easy Feeling. Stay tuned.

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Tax-exempt organizations: The wait is over, sort of

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