Code Section 385
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IRS Proposes to Withdraw Debt-Equity Documentation Regulations

Over the years, the determination of whether an item constitutes debt or equity has generated significant litigation. Courts have developed multifactor tests and engaged in intensive fact finding to make this determination. Arguably, part of the reason for the numerous disputes was the lack of regulations under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 385, which explicitly authorizes the US Department of Treasury (Treasury) to issue regulations to determine whether an interest in a corporation is to be treated for purposes of the Code as stock or indebtedness.

Proposed regulations under Code Section 385 were issued on April 14, 2016, but did not receive a warm welcome from the tax bar. This was particularly so with respect to strict contemporaneous written documentation requirements in the proposed regulations. After receiving substantial comments, Treasury released final regulations effective as of October 21, 2016, which retained the strict documentation requirements. However, President Trump subsequently issued Executive Order 13771 and Executive Order 13789 calling for a reduction in regulatory burdens and costs. In late 2017, Treasury indicated that it might revoke the documentation requirements under the Code Section 385 regulations. That day has now come.

Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have now issued proposed regulations removing the strict documentation requirements. Written or electronic comments and requests for a public hearing must be received by the IRS by late December.

Prior coverage of the Code Section 385 regulations can be found in our previously posted articles.

Practice Point: Although the strict requirements for documenting may be just a memory at this point, the need to document your lending transactions, especially intercompany transactions, is still present. At the very least, the old rules may have instilled more discipline into lending transactions, which may help support positions (e.g., Code Section 165 deductions) on your return.




IRS Releases Second Quarter Update to 2017-2018 Priority Guidance Plan

On February 7, 2018, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) released its second quarter update to the 2017-2018 Priority Guidance Plan to identify tax issues it believes should be addressed through regulations, revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices and other published administrative guidance. The Priority Guidance Plan contains projects the Treasury hopes to complete during the 12-month period from July 2, 2017 through June 30, 2018. We previously posted on the first quarter 2017-2018 Priority Guidance plan here.

Most of the projects do not involve the issuance of new regulations, instead focus on guidance to taxpayers on a variety of tax issues important to individuals and businesses in the form of: (1) revocations of final, temporary, or proposed regulations (for our prior coverage, see here); (2) notices, revenue rulings and revenue procedures; (3) simplifying and burden reducing amendments to existing regulations; (4) proposed regulations; or (5) final regulations adopting proposed regulations. The initial 2017-2108 Priority Guidance Plan consisted of 198 guidance projects, 30 of which have already been completed. The second quarter update reflects 29 additional projects, including priority items as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) legislation enacted on December 22, 2017, and guidance published or released from October 13, 2017 through December 31, 2017.

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The Slow Death of the Section 385 Regulations

Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 385 provides that the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) is authorized to issue regulations to determine whether an interest in a corporation is to be treated for purposes of the Code as stock or indebtedness. After decades of inaction, proposed regulations were issued on April 14, 2016. The proposed regulations were not well-received; the tax bar had serious and substantial comments to the proposed regulations. Among the most important critiques, there were criticisms for the potential overbreadth of the regulations’ application to foreign-to-foreign transactions, the lack of a de minimis exception for smaller companies and for the anticipated burden of the contemporaneous documentation requirements.

Treasury released final regulations under Code Section 385, which are effective as of October 21, 2016. Although the proposed regulations were changed in some respects, the final regulations retained strict documentation requirements.

In Executive Order 13789, the President called on Treasury to identify and reduce tax regulatory burdens that impose undue financial burdens on US taxpayers, or otherwise add undue complexity to federal tax law. In response, Treasury indicated on October 2, 2017, that it would potentially revoke the documentation requirements under the proposed regulations. (more…)




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