ShuffieldLowman attorney Jordan Horowitz also contributed to this post
In December of 2017, the U.S. Congress established the Qualified Opportunity Zone (“QOZ”) program, designed to help economically-distressed communities where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible to generate preferential tax treatment for investors. Investments made in these designated QOZs through a qualified legal entity referred to as Qualified Opportunity Fund (“QOF”) are intended to provide much-needed new investment and capital into economically depressed communities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. In short, the QOZ program is an economic development tool designed to spur economic development, revitalize communities in need, and create jobs in distressed communities by attracting new investments in exchange for select income tax benefits.
In general, here is how the QOZ program operates. If an investor disposes of assets (e.g., stocks, real estate, an operating business), on or after Dec. 22, 2017, which triggers taxation of capital gains to the investor, then such investor may seek to utilize the QOZ program. The investor can either create or locate a QOF to invest a portion of its transaction proceeds (e.g., cash) within 180 days of the divestment (sale) transaction date. Once capitalized, the QOF must, in turn, invest a certain minimum amount of its assets (directly or indirectly) into an operational business or real property located in a QOZ. The QOF oversees and manages the investment in the QOZ until the QOF decides to divest from the QOZ investment at a future date. In exchange for this QOZ investment, the QOF receives certain income tax benefits that it passes along and up-the-chain to its owners and investors.
As you can imagine, the rules and regulations governing QOZs and QOFs are complicated and require detailed analysis; the previous paragraph is a rather simple summary of a QOZ transaction. Below is a list of some very important highlights to keep in mind when considering an investment using the QOZ program.
- The QOZ program is designed to provide three (3) tiers of income tax benefits to investors:
- The investors can defer income taxation on prior capital gains that are invested in a QOF until the earlier of December 31, 2026 and the date on which the investment in a QOF is relinquished (known as the capital gain deferral piece).
- If the investor holds the investment in the QOF for longer than 5 years then there is a 10% bonus exclusion of the deferred income taxation on the prior capital gains. If the investor holds the investment in the QOF for longer than 7 years then the bonus exclusion bumps up to 15% (known as the tax basis step-up piece).
- If the investor holds the investment in the QOF for no less than 10 years, then the investor is eligible to liquidate or cash-out from the QOF free of income taxation on any new tax gains generated from appreciation of this QOF investment (known as the non-recognition of new taxation piece).
- Only capital gains (although both long-term and short-term) are eligible for deferral under the QOZ program. Ordinary income (non-capital gains) is not eligible for deferral under the QOZ program. However, all capital gains are eligible for roll-over into a QOF. The QOZ program is not limited to gains from real estate, stocks or any specific asset or transaction, and a pot of various sources of capital gains can be used to invest in a QOF. In other words, an investor can dispose of many different assets in various transactions and trigger capital gains from these items, and then invest all (or a portion of) these capital gains into a QOF to receive the income tax benefits.
- An investor can defer payment of capital gain taxation to the latest date of Dec. 31, 2026, so long as such prior capital gains are invested into a QOF within 180 days of the divestment (sale) transaction that triggered the tax gain. The S. Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) clarified that the clock for the 180-day period for investing the capital gains in the QOF begins for most taxpayers on the date the capital gains would be recognized for U.S. federal income tax purposes. For individuals, this rule means the date on which the dispositions of assets trigger capital gains taxation. For partnerships, the 180-day period begins to run on the date the partnership disposes of assets triggering capital gains taxation. But, if the partnership does not reinvest its capital gains in a QOF, then the partners may reinvest their allocable share capital gains, and the 180-day period for each partner begins on the last day of the partnership’s tax year in which such disposition of assets occurred. This partnership rule also applies to S corporations (but not C corporations).
- Only the amount of the capital gains must be invested into a QOF to defer all the income taxation related to them. There is no requirement that all cash received by an investor from the disposition of assets must be reinvested in a QOF to receive the income tax benefits; just an amount of assets (e.g., cash) equal to the amount of the prior capital gains.
- Think of a QOF as an investment vehicle, whether a partnership or a corporation, that acts as the funnel for the various investors to collect money and other assets to invest it into the QOZs. The QOF can be a new or existing entity, and could be an entity created by the investor solely to invest its money and assets. A QOF becomes qualified with the IRS by self-certifying that it is a QOF and filing IRS Form 8996 (Qualified Opportunity Fund) with its federal income tax return. For example, a QOF could be a newly-formed Florida limited liability company that is organized by the investor, capitalized by the investor and at least one other person, taxed as a “partnership” for U.S. federal income tax purposes, and invests its money by acquiring QOZ property.
- The QOF must acquire, own and hold QOZ property to generate the income tax benefits. However, the QOF is not required to utilize all its cash and assets to acquire, own and hold QOZ property, but there is a minimum threshold that must be satisfied by the QOF. Also, there are strict limitations and rigorous requirements surrounding the QOZ property acquired, owned and held by the QOF.
- Current operating income generated from an investment in a QOF is subject to income taxation, and does not receive any special tax exceptions or tax exclusions.
- An investor does not need to live, work or have a business in a QOZ to receive the income tax benefits. All the investor must do is invest prior capital gains into a QOF and elect to defer the taxation on such capital gains pursuant to the U.S. federal tax code.
- For an investor to receive the full array of QOF taxation benefits, the latest date (according to the current S. federal tax code requirements) by which capital gains must be invested into a QOF is Dec. 31, 2019.
- For an investment to comply with and satisfy the requirements of the QOZ program, the investment must be an equity ownership interest in the QOF. Loaning money to a QOF (i.e., debt instruments) is not an eligible investment for purposes of the QOZ program.
- The income tax benefits generated by the QOZ program are not mutually exclusive of other tax benefits under the S. federal tax code, such as New Markets Tax Credits (NMTCs), Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs), and section 1031 like-kind exchanges (assuming some capital gains are triggered by the transaction). The QOZ program could be combined with other programs.
- The QOZs were designated by the Governor of Florida prior to March of 2018, and QOZs represent specific “census tracts” located within low-income communities. Here is a website link to a map showing the various QOZs within the State of Florida:
As you can see, the rules and regulations governing QOZs and QOFs are complicated and require very detailed analysis. All facts and circumstances should be taken into consideration when considering, and prior to making, an investment into a QOF using the QOZ program. Should you have any questions regarding the QOZ program, please feel free to contact Nathaniel Dutt, Esq. at ndutt@SLLaw.com or Jordan Horowitz, Esq. at jhorowitz@SLLaw.com, or either at 407-581-9800.
Congress recently passed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) earlier this year, the largest revision to the tax code in thirty (30) years. Among the many changes are significant increases in the Estate, Gift, and Generation-Skipping Transfer (GST) tax exclusion amounts. In effect, this means that fewer families will be subject to such transfer taxes and that many estate plans will need to be updated to properly address the new law. The changes under the TCJA present an important opportunity for high net-worth individuals and families to review their current estate planning documents and ensure that their plan is properly tailored to achieve their goals.
Overview of Changes
The most significant change is the doubling of the unified Estate and Gift tax exclusion amount – the combined amount that individuals can give away during life or at death before paying transfer taxes – from $5.59 million to $11.18 million per person. The new tax law also preserves “portability,” a surviving spouse’s ability to retain any estate or gift exclusion unused by a deceased spouse, meaning that for married couples, the exclusion is effectively $22.36 million. This exclusion is inflation adjusted, but current law provides that this doubled exclusion sunsets December 31, 2025, after which estate taxes are slated to revert to current levels.
The new law also increases the amount each person can make exempt from the GST tax. As with the estate and gift tax exclusion, the new GST exclusion will increase from $5.59 million to $11.18 million per person (in 2018 as indexed for inflation). Unlike with the estate and gift tax, however, there is no “portability” for GST taxes. Thus, each spouse must use their own GST exclusion before they pass.
In addition to the changes made by the new tax bill, 2018 also brings a routine increase in the annual exclusion from the Gift tax to $15,000 per person, per year. This annual exclusion allows each individual to make a gift of $15,000 to any other individual (and in some cases trusts) without reducing their lifetime Estate and Gift tax exclusion amount.
Review of Your Estate Plan
The changes in the Estate, Gift and GST tax law mean that many estate plans should be revised to take advantage of tax changes, ensure existing tax formulas still achieve the intended results, or simplify complex planning that is no longer necessary and shift a focus towards income tax planning for beneficiaries. There are also certain planning opportunities that you may want to explore.
First, the increased exclusion amount may be an opportunity to unwind complex planning that may no longer be needed to minimize transfer taxes. For instance, many estate plans created under assumptions of prior law provide that at the death of the first spouse, the deceased spouse’s assets are divided into two (2) separate trust shares: a Marital Trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse and a Credit Shelter Trust that may benefit the surviving spouse, your children and/or grandchildren, or combinations of those people. For married couples with large estates, this technique defers payment of any Estate tax until the passing of the second spouse. The trade-off is that the Credit Shelter Trust may not benefit the surviving spouse solely and the income tax basis of the Credit Shelter Trust is locked into place upon the first spouse’s death. Many couples who used such techniques to minimize Estate tax prior to the new increased exclusion amounts will prefer for the surviving spouse to retain greater control of assets and plan for the remainder beneficiaries to receive a step-up in income tax basis for all of the assets upon the surviving spouse’s passing. ShuffieldLowman can assist you with weighing that control over the asset protection and the certainty of the Credit Shelter Trust to determine what is best for each family.
As mentioned above, another scenario involving Marital and Credit Shelter Trusts may play out in other plans containing “formula gifts.” Certain estate plans leave assets up to the Estate tax exclusion amount to a Credit Shelter Trust for the benefit of children or grandchildren and leave assets in excess of that amount to a Marital Trust for the benefit of the spouse. Because the Estate tax exclusion amount is now so large, this could mean unintentionally disinheriting the spouse and leaving all assets to the Family Trust or just leaving significantly less to the surviving spouse than intended.
Next, we do not know if the federal increased exclusion amounts will not be extended and will in fact expire in 2025, which is what the TCJA provides. Under a subsequent administration the exclusion amounts may even return to the lower levels of the past that existed for most of the 2000s. If either of these events does indeed occur, then the current increase in the exclusion amounts provides a temporary, “use it or lose it” opportunity to transfer assets outside your taxable estate, thereby “locking in” the current exclusion amount before it is reduced and freezing values from future appreciation. This estate tax planning might involve increased contributions to Irrevocable Trusts such as Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts, Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (IDGTs), sales to these types of trusts, forgiveness of intra-family promissory notes, or other wealth transfer vehicles. You may want to consider further planning using the increased exemption amounts to remove assets from the estate.
Finally, some clients may even wish to use the increased exclusion amount to unwind prior planning and bring assets back into their gross estate to obtain a step-up in basis in those assets to fair market value at the time of their death. This type of planning is geared toward reducing income tax liability of your beneficiaries upon the sale of the inherited assets.
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which the TCJA may affect your estate plan. The TCJA makes significant changes to the Estate, Gift and GST tax regimes. If your estate plan was implemented under previous law, it would be beneficial to review your plan to ensure it accomplishes your current goals in light of these changes. If you would like a comprehensive review of your estate plan, contact ShuffieldLowman today.
The IRS announced on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 that it was ending its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program on September 28 of this year. It stated that they were alerting taxpayers now to give those taxpayers with undisclosed foreign income or assets a chance to come clean before then. More than 56,000 taxpayers have already done so, but the disclosures have tapered off with only 600 in 2017.
The IRS will continue its off-shore tax enforcement as a top priority. Future disclosures will proceed under the traditional Criminal Investigation voluntary disclosure program, but that program requires that all taxes AND penalties be paid and does not offer the 27 ½ % penalty available under the OVDP. Other programs, such as the Streamlined Filing Compliance Program and delinquent FBAR filings, etc. will remain in force for an indeterminate amount of time for those who may qualify. But if you have unreported off-shore income, your time is running out.
The IRS has announced two new and highly sophisticated approaches to criminal tax enforcement. The first, called the “data initiative”, sounds similar to the data analysis first used by FinCen to uncover money laundering operations. It will consist of data analysis from information provided by field offices throughout the country. This will allow the IRS to identify areas of non-compliance that have nationwide impact and use its resources to coordinate investigations and provide greater support to the field agents. It will also help to deal with decreasing personnel and resources due to budget constraints. The initial projects will focus on international tax enforcement, employment tax and SEC microcap fraud. It is also expected to identify new areas of non-compliance and start investigations in these new areas.
The second “new” program will be a specialized group of agents already experienced in international tax enforcement. Their expertise will provide specialized skills and knowledge in this area of enforcement. Their efforts, along with the Department of Justice, international tax partners and information gathered from the Bank Secrecy Act, FATCA, whistleblowers, the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs, the Panama Papers, etc., will allow them to identify, through data analysis, new or continuing non-compliance in the international area. Initially, the group will consist of 10 to 12 special agents working out of the Washington D.C. field office. Others will be located at “strategic” locations around the country.
These new programs should give further incentive to those who have yet to avail themselves of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure programs to give further serious consideration to doing so. Time continues to run out for those continuing to believe they will not be discovered.
Tax filing time is upon us again. But some taxpayers are in a tough spot. They may not have filed for prior years and are afraid that, if they do so now, their prior failure to file will come to light and lead to serious consequences, including criminal prosecution. This is known as the “snowball effect”, where one failure to file leads to another resembling a snowball rolling down a hill and getting bigger and bigger as each year goes by.
The consequences of not filing your tax return can be both criminal and civil. On the criminal side, if the failure is “willful”, meaning you knew you had a duty to file but chose not to, the government could charge a violation of 26 U.S.C. 7301, punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $25,000 fine for each year. In more elaborate circumstances, the government has also charged a felony violation under 26 U.S.C. 7201, the evasion statute, citing the failure to file as the method of evasion. This crime is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for each year involved.
In the past 4 years, the IRS initiated 977 criminal investigations of non-filers. Of these, the IRS recommended prosecution in 712 cases. Over 751 (not all cases are completed in the same year) were convicted and sentenced. Of these, approximately 83.2 percent received prison time with an average incarceration sentence of 39.7 months (there is usually more than 1 year involved).
So how does the IRS discover non-filers? The IRS has computer programs that match information returns (1099s; W-2s; etc.) to filed returns. If there is no match because the taxpayer didn’t file, an investigation is initiated. Another computer program, called the “Stopfiler” program, which identifies those who have filed a return in the past and then stopped filing, which also results in an investigation. Add to this informants, undercover operations of return preparers and tax protest leaders. The list of informants runs the gamut of whistleblowers, motivated by hopes of an award, to disgruntled ex-employees (especially book keepers), ex-spouses, scorned lovers, jealous neighbors and business partners. Often, an audit of someone or something else can lead to you as the other party may reflect payments to you and the IRS contacts you to confirm you received the payment. With the recent enactment of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA), the IRS is now receiving information from foreign banks about their American customers, thus eliminating the former secrecy of those overseas accounts.
On the civil side, there can be other serious consequences. If you are convicted of a tax crime, there is a 75 per cent of the tax penalty. Accordingly, if you would have owed $100 in tax, now you owe $175. There are other civil penalties including a failure to file penalty that caps out at 25 percent of the tax owed. There is another failure to file penalty, called the fraudulent failure to file, which is a civil penalty but higher than the “normal” late filing penalty. It is 75 per cent of the tax due.
Another dangerous possibility is that the IRS can and does prepare what are known as 6020(B) returns or substitute for returns. They take the information received from third party payers, such as 1099s and W-2s and prepare a return for the taxpayer. Only the standard deduction and 1 exemption is used in computing the tax. This is then sent out to the last address of record of the taxpayer and, if he doesn’t respond, they assess that amount of tax against him. This is usually a much higher tax than that the taxpayer would have computed had he filed. While the IRS may reduce this assessment when returns are filed later, several courts have said it doesn’t have to do so.
So, what to do? The obvious answer is to file the returns. But there are a lot of considerations in doing so. Is the taxpayer already under investigation? Is any of his income from unlawful activities? Is any of it from off-shore entities or bank accounts? How much does he owe? What is his compliance history? Is he or a related entity under audit? The taxpayer needs to consult and retain an attorney who has experience in this area. While some accountants try to resolve these issues on their own, they do so at their and the taxpayer’s peril. This is because there is no accountant privilege in the Federal tax system in criminal cases. Accordingly, should a criminal investigation exist or arise while the accountant is working on the matter, everything a taxpayer tells that accountant must be disclosed by the accountant if he is interviewed pursuant to an IRS subpoena or a Grand Jury subpoena. Further, if such an investigation arises, the returns themselves may be exhibit “A” in the case. However, if an attorney, who has been retained by a taxpayer, in turn retains an accountant, the attorney/client work product privilege then extends to the accountant, thus preventing disclosure by the accountant without the taxpayer’s consent. This is pursuant to a case called KOVEL. Hence, the appellation, “Kovel accountant”. Further, there are considerations as to whether the filing of delinquent returns should be done by “quiet” disclosure or formal disclosure pursuant to the IRS voluntary disclosure policies for domestic and foreign disclosure.
The goal is to get the taxpayer into compliance while limiting the potential that he may be prosecuted. Understanding how the IRS deals with these types of cases is critical to accomplishing the desired result.
This year will be the first to see the implementation of new filing deadlines for many forms. The first new deadline, that will occur shortly, is for filing W-2’s, which is now January 31 instead of the previous February deadlines. March 15 is the new deadline for Form 1065 (partnership returns) and Form 1120 (S-corporation returns). This includes the K-1s. Each is extendable to September 15.
Next comes April 15. Forms 1040 continue to be due on this date, but FINCEN 114 (Report of Foreign Bank Account) is now due at the same time instead of June 30, as in the past. Form 1041 (Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts) and Form 1120 (Corporate Tax Return) are due on April 15 and are extendable to September 30 and September 15, respectively.
Other forms, such as Form 5471 (Report of Foreign –Owned Corporations), that are due at the same time as some of the income tax returns, will change their due dates to correspond to the new due dates of these returns. Caution is advised in checking all deadlines and not simply relying on past experience.