14 open areas on tax reform

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, enacted at the end of 2017, promises on the whole good news for taxpayers for 2018, tax planning to take maximum advantage of those provisions has been difficult due to continuing uncertainties as to how to interpret various provisions of the tax reform legislation.

The Internal Revenue Service has yet to issue any proposed regulations on the subject, instead issuing a series of notices, information releases and frequently asked questions telegraphing what that guidance is likely to say on certain key points when it is eventually issued. Congress has also not been quick to follow up on the enacted legislation with technical corrections or with its promised Tax Reform II effort.

Acting IRS Commissioner Dave Kautter has indicated that TCJA guidance may take a couple of years and that, in some cases, the best guidance to taxpayers may come from the instructions to forms for 2018 tax returns.

In the meantime, here is a little of what we have been told so far. (For a text version of this article, click here.)

President Donald Trump holds up a tax-overhaul bill after signing it into law in the Oval Office.
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, enacted at the end of 2017, promises on the whole good news for taxpayers for 2018, tax planning to take maximum advantage of those provisions has been difficult due to continuing uncertainties as to how to interpret various provisions of the tax reform legislation.

The Internal Revenue Service has yet to issue any proposed regulations on the subject, instead issuing a series of notices, information releases and frequently asked questions telegraphing what that guidance is likely to say on certain key points when it is eventually issued. Congress has also not been quick to follow up on the enacted legislation with technical corrections or with its promised Tax Reform II effort.

Acting IRS Commissioner Dave Kautter has indicated that TCJA guidance may take a couple of years and that, in some cases, the best guidance to taxpayers may come from the instructions to forms for 2018 tax returns.

In the meantime, here is a little of what we have been told so far. (For a text version of this article, click here.)
1040 forms
Individual tax issues: The pass-through deduction
The principal issue of concern to individual taxpayers is how to prepare for and handle the new 20 percent deduction from qualified business income for pass-through businesses. The issues involve how “qualified business income” will be defined, what constitutes a “specified service business” that will have more limited access to the deduction, and how “W-2 wages” and “qualified property” will be defined. Taxpayers have been considering changing their business entity or splitting their businesses into more than one entity to maximize the availability of the deduction.

The IRS has indicated informally that, in evaluating the reasonable compensation exception to what constitutes qualified business income, it will consider “reasonable compensation” to only be applied in the S corporation context and will not try to come up with a new definition of reasonable compensation for partnerships or sole proprietorships.

The one technical correction that Congress has enacted so far corrected the so-called “grain glitch” that penalized farmers unless they sold their crops to a cooperative. There has been some hope expressed that proposed regulations might be issued by the end of July 2018.
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Individual tax issues: The SALT deduction, Part 1
The TCJA placed a $10,000 annual limit on the state and local tax deduction. While the legislation restricted the prepayment of 2018 income taxes in 2017, it did not address prepayment of property taxes. Many taxpayers prepaid property taxes normally due in 2018 before the end of 2017 to avoid the new limit. In Information Release 2017-210, the IRS stated that 2018 property taxes can only be prepaid if they were assessed by the local jurisdiction in 2017. Some tax professionals are questioning the IRS position on a matter on which the drafters of the legislation chose to be silent.
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Individual tax issues: The SALT deduction, Part 2
Several states have also enacted or are proposing alternatives to preserve a federal deduction, such as contributions to state charities or payroll tax deductions. In Information Release 2018-122, the Treasury and the IRS indicated that they intend to issue proposed regulations addressing the deductibility of such payments, indicating a likely attempt to restrict or prohibit such deductions. A number of states had historically allowed charitable deductions which were also allowed for federal tax purposes. Any change in the IRS position on this issue could also endanger those historic deductions.
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Individual tax issues: Interest on home equity loans
The TCJA prohibits the deduction of interest on home equity loans after Jan. 1, 2018, both for pre-existing and new home equity loans. In Information Release 2018-32, the IRS clarified that taxpayers may still be able to deduct interest paid on home equity loans where the funds were used to buy, construct or improve the home, subject to the overall limit on mortgage loan indebtedness.
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Individual tax issues: Withholding
With the new tax rates under the TCJA, the IRS issued new withholding tables, reducing withholding. The tables were not issued until January 2018 and were not required to be put into effect until March, likely leaving many employees somewhat overwithheld at the start of the year. The IRS, at the end of February 2018, released an updated Withholding Calculator and Form W-4 to help update 2018 withholding. Since then, the IRS has issued a number of reminders to do a “paycheck checkup” on the accuracy of 2018 withholding: Information Releases 2018-73, 2018-118, 2018-120, and 2018-124. Information Release 2018-93 also addresses revised estimated tax payments for 2018 due from many self-employed individuals, retirees and investors. Employees should be encouraged to take the time to check their withholding for 2018 to ensure it still accurately reflects their tax situation under the new tax law.
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Business tax issues: Deduction of business interest
The TCJA put new limits on the deduction of business interest, in particular a limit of 30 percent of adjusted gross income. This has resulted in a number of questions related to what constitutes investment interest rather than business interest, and how the limit is applied to pass-through entities and consolidated groups. Notice 2018-28 clarified that all corporate debt is considered to be business interest rather than investment interest. It also clarified that interest payments on debt of members of a consolidated group would be allocated at the consolidated group level. IRS representatives have expressed the hope that proposed regulations might be issued as soon as the end of June 2018.
S Corp, C corp, LLC and other entity types
Other pass-through tax issues: Carried interest holding period
The TCJA imposed a new three-year holding period for long-term capital gain treatment for carried interest but provides an exception for “corporations.” A number of hedge funds, seeking to take advantage of this exception, had been setting up Delaware limited liability companies and electing S corp status. Information Release 2018-37 and Notice 2018-28 state that the IRS intends to issue regulations to the effect that “corporation” for this purpose does not include S corporations. Some commentators feel that this interpretation is contrary to the express language of the statute and that only Congress can change the statutory language.
S Corp, C corp, LLC and other entity types
Other pass-through tax issues: Withholding of transfers of partnership interests
The TCJA, in conjunction with a new withholding tax on transfers of a partnership interest involving a foreign entity, requires that any transfer of a partnership interest without withholding must have a certification to the IRS that the transfer does not involve a foreign entity. Many practitioners have pointed out the significant administrative burden this could create for the many transfers not involving foreign entities. Information Release 2018-81 and Notice 2018-29 indicate that the IRS intends to issue regulations that provide for a number of exemptions from the withholding and certification requirements, and suspend secondary partnership-level withholding requirements.
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International tax: The transition tax
Multinational corporations have already had to deal with the obligation to pay a tax on unrepatriated foreign earnings under the TCJA. The tax is calculated for the 2017 tax year but can be spread over an eight-year period. The IRS released a set of frequently asked questions to help those taxpayers deal with calculating and reporting this tax obligation. In early June 2018, the IRS added some additional frequently asked questions providing some additional penalty and filing relief.

The IRS also issued Notice 2018-26 addressing some anti-avoidance issues, such as electing a November end to the fiscal year to try to defer the transition tax for an additional 11 months. It also addressed reduced deferred earnings and profits, reduced foreign cash and increased deemed paid foreign tax credits. The notice also provided some relief with respect to stock attributions rules and penalties with respect to estimated tax requirements. Further guidance has been released in Notices 2018-07 and 2018-13 and Information Releases 2017-212, 2018-09, 2018-25, 2018-53, and 2018-79. Proposed regulations are expected in 2018.
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International tax: Other international provisions
The TCJA, as part of the transition to what has been called a “quasi-territorial” tax system, has also proposed a new GILTI tax, a new BEAT tax, and a new FDII deduction. Many concerns have been raised as to the scope and unintended reach of these provisions. Proposed regulations are also expected in each of these areas as well.
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Tax administration: Fines and penalties
The TCJA expanded the categories of fines and penalties that do not qualify as a business deduction. The Treasury has indicated that proposed regulations will also be issued in this area. The Treasury has also indicated that these will be the first proposed regulations to qualify for review under a new agreement with the Office of Management and Budget calling for review of tax regulations with a sufficient non-revenue economic impact.
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Tax administration: IRS levy
The TCJA provided additional time to file an administrative claim or to bring a civil suit for a wrongful levy or seizure. Information Release 2018-126 provides some guidance on these issues.
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Tax administration: Inflation adjustments
The TCJA requires a change in the calculation of many inflation-adjusted items in the Tax Code to use of chained CPI. The IRS, before enactment of the TCJA, had issued inflation-adjusted numbers for 2018. In Information Release 2018-94, the IRS provided revised inflation-adjusted figures. One of the changes lowered the limitation on deductions for contributions to health savings accounts. To address problems that had been identified with lowering the limit after the start of the year, Information Release 2018-107 and Rev. Proc. 2018-27 modified the annual limitation and deductions for contributions to health savings accounts to return to the previous higher limit. Information Release 2018-19 also clarified that the TCJA does not affect the previously announced dollar limitations for retirement plans.
The 115th Congress convenes for the first time in 2017
Tax extenders
After enactment of the TCJA, Congress retroactively extended more than 30 tax breaks that had expired at the end of 2016 for 2017 only. Congress is currently reviewing the merits of extending each of these tax breaks for 2018. The uncertainty of their fate for 2018 only adds to the current uncertainty for tax planning.